It’s no secret that diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not only beneficial for employees but also for business results. In fact, diverse organisations boast improved problem-solving, productivity, and innovation, leading to a bigger bottom line. One of the best ways to cultivate an inclusive work environment is to create allies who will support and empower other employees. In this guide, we look at how to be an ally in the workplace and why it matters.
What Is An Ally In The Workplace?
An ally in the workplace is a person who supports and empowers other people in their organisation. In particular, allies in the workplace will speak up when they see someone being treated unfairly or a lack of representation.
One of the biggest challenges people face when becoming an ally at work is recognising their own privilege and learning how to navigate it. It involves holding yourself and others accountable for behaviours that may lead to marginalised groups feeling discriminated against at work.
5 Ways To Be An Ally In The Workplace
Being a strong ally in your workplace is rewarding and the right thing to do, but it does require some research. The last thing you want to do is harm underrepresented groups in your company or step on their toes. As such, we recommend following these best practices on how to be an ally in the workplace.
1. Let go of assumptions
Making assumptions can be harmful, especially in sensitive issues surrounding discrimination or inclusion at work. As such, the first step in how to be an ally in the workplace is letting go of any assumptions. Before you can be an ally, you must first address your own bias.
Take some time to reflect on what assumptions you tend to make about people based on their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. Now, think about how they could potentially alienate someone. Finally, consider how you can cast those assumptions aside or, at the very least, catch yourself in the act.
Rather than making assumptions about your co-workers, try asking them questions to get to know them better. However, be sure to look for cues or signs that they aren’t comfortable with your questions, and always be professional.
This also goes for making assumptions about any personal details your colleague tells you about their life. For instance, if your colleague comes out to you or confides in you about their religion, mental health, or anything else, don’t spread this information around. What may seem pretty innocent or “not a big deal” to you could actually cause a lot of stress for someone else.
As a result, start by asking how you can help, if they want you to spread the word, or if they just want to confide in a trusted ally.
2. Learn to listen
Even if your heart is in the right place, it’s important not to impose your own opinions when dealing with discrimination or inclusion at work. Your most important job is to listen with the aim of understanding how you can best support your co-worker.
Learning how to listen will build empathy and help you better understand the issues your colleague is facing. Only then can you properly support your peer in finding a solution (if there is one).
Remember, allies in the workplace offer safe spaces. And that involves making your peers feel comfortable coming to you with their problems without worrying that you will judge, react, or tell the whole office.
3. Be mindful of how you advocate for others
Learning how to advocate for others takes time and requires a certain set of soft skills. First and foremost, you must develop your active listening skills. This will help you represent marginalised groups in the best way possible without taking away their voice or misrepresenting their identities and experiences. Always check that others feel comfortable with you advocating on their behalf and listen to any feedback they offer.
Secondly, being a good ally at work involves learning when to stay quiet. By recognising your privilege, you can learn when it’s best to stay quiet and amplify underrepresented groups. This is a powerful step in empowering others and creating inclusive spaces at work.
Finally, seek out ways to create platforms for marginalised groups in your workplace to be seen and heard. This is how a true ally can be of service.
Of course, allyship also means speaking up when you see or hear discriminative or unfair behaviour at work. Again, it’s always best to discuss the issue with the marginalised person in question to ensure you advocate for them in the best way.
4. Educate yourself
The more you know, the better ally you can be. So, take accountability for your own learning. Speaking with your HR or L&D team is a good starting point. Ask them what resources or training are available and explain your intention.
Then, continue learning by reading up on how to be an ally in the workplace. Resources such as this guide from Harvard Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging can be beneficial.
Here are some other resources that can support you as you learn to become an ally.
- How to be an LGBTQ+ ally all year round – Government security
- How Workplace Allyship Supports People With Invisible Disabilities
- A Guide on How to Be an LGBT Ally at Work
- How to Run Disability-awareness Training in Your Workplace
In the words of Katie Burke, Hubspot’s Chief People Officer: “Allyship at its core is the act of unlearning and relearning.” As such, being an ally in the workplace means expanding your knowledge and actively searching for learning opportunities. It also means learning to challenge your beliefs, biases, and shortcomings.
5. Work with DEI specialists
As you begin your allyship journey, you may find it valuable to work with diversity, equity, and inclusion specialists. These organisations can support and advise your organisation, helping you build a workplace of allies.
For instance, at Embracing Future Potential, we work with organisations to help them reach their diversity and inclusion goals. Our careers network offers the latest inclusive job opportunities for young job seekers, professionals with disabilities, and career changers.
We work exclusively with the most diversity-friendly employers so you can find a job that feels like home.
To continue learning, browse our blog for free resources on how to be an ally in the workplace, diversity and inclusion, and more.
In this section, we answer the most common questions about being an ally in the workplace.
FAQ 1. How can I be a better ally in the workplace?
If you’re wondering how to be a better ally in the workplace, start by following the best practices in this article. By learning how to listen, cast aside your own judgements, seek education, and work with experts, you can offer your colleagues the support they deserve.
FAQ 2. What is the biggest misconception about workplace allyship?
There are several misconceptions about being an ally in the workplace. However, one of the biggest is that it’s about “saving” marginalised groups. Allyship is about supporting colleagues and amplifying their voices, not about speaking for (or over) them.
FAQ 3. What skills should a good workplace ally have?
A good workplace ally has strong active listening skills, empathy, and self-awareness. In addition, good workplace allies have the patience and drive to learn, address their own biases, and hold themselves accountable.