Fostering a company culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion has become essential for organizations and their employees. While diversity initiatives play a vital role in creating a more inclusive environment, what truly shapes workplace allyship is the collective actions and behaviors of every individual at work.
Whether you’re a seasoned professional or new to the workforce, this article can guide you on how you can actively practice Allyship at work. By embracing these strategies, you can contribute to a more equitable and harmonious workplace where everyone feels valued and supported.
What is Allyship at Work?
Allyship at work is the active and intentional support demonstrated by individuals within an organization to promote inclusion, equity, and fair treatment for marginalized or underrepresented colleagues. This goes beyond being a passive bystander or having good intentions.
Allyship requires deliberate actions to challenge and dismantle discriminatory practices, promote equal opportunities, amplify marginalized voices, and create a more inclusive and supportive work environment.
What Brought About This Conversation?
The concept of Allyship originates from social justice movements and activism such as the Back Lives Matter movement. It is often associated with the civil rights movements in the United States, where individuals from different backgrounds joined forces to fight against racial discrimination and segregation.
Over time, the concept expanded beyond racial justice and encompassed other forms of oppression, such as:
It became a broader framework for individuals who recognize their privilege and use it to advocate for and support marginalized communities. While Allyship has gained prominence in recent years, it is essential to note that marginalized communities have long relied on allies to help amplify their voices and effect change.
The term “allyship” itself may have become more widely used and discussed, but the underlying principles of solidarity and advocacy have been central to social justice movements throughout history.
How to Practice Effective Allyship at Work
Allyship emerged as a way to address systemic inequalities and promote solidarity among marginalized groups. Here are a few things you can apply to practice Allyship in the workplace.
1. Educate Yourself
Seek knowledge about marginalized communities, their experiences, challenges, and perspectives. This includes understanding the historical context, social structures, and systemic inequalities contributing to oppression.
You can read books, articles, and online resources written by authors from diverse backgrounds to gain multiple perspectives. Depending on preferences, you can also consider sources like:
- Watching Documentaries
- Attending Seminars
- Listening to personal stories
- Following thought leaders
- Participating in panel discussions or affinity group meetings
Pay attention to narratives that challenge stereotypes and be open to new perspectives. You may have to examine your own perceptions, assumptions, and circumstances so that you can better understand different views. Being open to learning new beliefs and re-evaluating yours is the beginning of fostering a more inclusive mindset.
2. Listen and Amplify
Focus on listening to the experiences of marginalized individuals. Recognize that as an Ally, you may need to step back and allow their voices to be at the forefront. Avoiding dominating conversations and actively encouraging them to speak up is a great start.
When engaging in conversations about diversity and inclusion, consider other perspectives rather than centering the discussion around your own experiences and actions.
In collaborative projects, seek their input, involve them in decision-making, and ensure their perspectives are considered.
3. Use Inclusive Language
Inclusive language includes using gender-neutral terms, person-first language, and avoiding stereotypical assumptions. Creating an inclusive work culture starts with you.
If you’re unsure about someone’s pronouns, politely ask or use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them until you receive clarification. Be mindful of using gendered language that assumes everyone fits into binary gender categories. Instead, use gender-neutral terms whenever possible.
For example, use “they” instead of “he” or “she” when referring to a person of unknown gender or when discussing a hypothetical scenario.
When discussing disability or health conditions, use person-first language that emphasizes the individual rather than defining them by their condition, recognizing their humanity before their disability. You can say “person who uses a wheelchair” instead of “disabled person.”
When addressing people with disabilities, it’s best to communicate with them about their preferences.
Avoid Stereotypes and Assumptions
Be cautious of making assumptions or generalizations based on someone’s race, ethnicity, gender, or any other characteristic. When uncertain, ask individuals or use widely accepted terms that communities use to self-identify. Try to avoid perpetuating stereotypes or making sweeping statements such as:
- People from that country are all rude.
- Immigrants steal jobs and burden the economy.
Alternatively, it’s better to avoid making assumptions and stereotypes altogether. Everyone is unique, and we should acknowledge that there are differences in every community, place, ethnicity, gender, and age.
Be Mindful of Microaggressions
Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional, actions or comments that belittle others.
For example, telling a woman, “You’re too emotional,” implies that her feelings are invalid or excessive. Or saying to a person with a disability, “You’re so brave/inspiring,” perpetuates the notion that disability equates to bravery or inspiration. Eventually, this kind of thinking fails to recognize the qualities and achievements people with disabilities prefer to be recognized of.
As much as you can, avoid microaggressions, such as making assumptions about someone’s cultural background, questioning their abilities based on stereotypes, or invalidating their experiences.
Use Inclusive Terms
Choose inclusive terms that encompass a diverse range of identities. For example, use “partner” instead of assuming someone’s marital status or “parent” instead of assuming gender or family structure.
Language and terminology evolve over time. Stay open to learning and adapting your language usage based on new information and feedback.
4. Challenge Bias and Microaggressions
You can’t control what everyone does, but you can use your influence to improve the situation. If you witness microaggression or biased comments, speak up and address them respectfully. This may require you to intervene in conversations, advocate for fairness, or report incidents through appropriate channels.
Consider challenging biased statements or engaging in thoughtful questioning to encourage individuals to reflect on their microaggressions or biases. For example, you can ask:
- Have you considered the impact of your words on others?
- What led you to believe that stereotype?
Most importantly, model inclusive behavior and language in your interactions. Treat others with respect, value diverse perspectives, and actively challenge your own biases. By being an example of Allyship, you inspire others to follow suit and contribute to a more inclusive workplace culture.
5. Support Affinity Groups and Initiatives
Find out if affinity groups or employee resource groups (ERGs) exist in your workplace. These are voluntary, employee-led communities that bring together individuals who share a common identity or experience.
- Reach out to these groups and express your interest in supporting their initiatives.
- Engage and learn more about the group’s experiences, challenges, and achievements.
- Actively listen and offer your support when appropriate.
If you have specific skills or expertise that can benefit the group, offer your assistance respectfully and collaboratively. Recognize that the group’s autonomy and leadership should be respected, and your role is to support and uplift their initiatives.
6. Use Your Privilege to Advocate
Privilege can manifest in various ways, such as based on race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or ability. Reflect on how your privilege may afford you certain advantages or opportunities others may not have.
You can take on the role of an educator by engaging in conversations and raising awareness about privilege, bias, and social justice. Speak up in meetings, write letters, or join advocacy groups to support initiatives that address systemic barriers and create more equitable structures.
7. Support and Respect Boundaries
Respect the boundaries and comfort levels of marginalized colleagues. Understand that their experiences may differ from your own, and avoid pressuring them to educate you or share personal stories unless they willingly choose to do so.
8. Reflect and Learn from Mistakes
Allyship is a continuous learning process, and it’s essential to acknowledge and learn from your mistakes. Be open to feedback, reflect on your actions, and commit to personal growth and improvement.
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