What is allyship?
Diversity in the workplace is commonly discussed, but unfortunately, inclusion is often forgotten. This is a mistake. Inclusion is essential: it ensures that all employees, no matter their background, feel comfortable in the workplace and can work without feeling marginalized or excluded. Inclusion leads to lower attrition rates among minority employees, higher employee satisfaction, and a more innovative workplace.
A fundamental cornerstone of inclusion is allyship. Allyship, which Merriam-Webster defines as a "supportive association with the members of a marginalized or mistreated group to which one does not belong," is vital for an inclusive workplace culture. In order for minority groups to feel comfortable, other employees must support them and speak out about injustices. When privileged employees remain silent during injustice, they are complicit in that injustice. Therefore, allyship is a necessary action for those aiming at inclusion.
For workplaces to be genuinely inclusive and equitable, all employees must have the same opportunities and be treated with the same respect. Allyship is a way to show solidarity and respect, as supporting others' rights acknowledges those rights and affirms them. However, sometimes even the best intentions fall short. While over 80% of white employees see themselves as allies, only about half of Black and Latina women feel they have strong allies at work. It's important to remember that allyship is an active act - it must be engaged in purposefully and not abandoned when it becomes inconvenient. Below are some suggestions and best practices for allyship in the workplace:
Learn about others' experiences
Educate yourself about social justice issues and attend conferences and other events focused on promoting diversity in the workplace. To be an effective ally, it's essential to understand the challenges that many employees belonging to minority groups face. A strong understanding of critical issues will allow you to better support your coworkers and promote policies that improve equality. Likewise, if a coworker discusses their experiences as a person of color or other minority, listen actively and center the conversion around their experiences.
Listen to feedback
There will be times when you make mistakes or fail to be supportive. Don't get defensive or make excuses; instead, use feedback to educate and motivate you to be a better ally. Acting upset or overly apologetic draws attention away from minority employees and puts a burden on them. Instead, apologize quickly and take steps to remedy your mistake. View feedback as a learning opportunity and use it to influence your future actions.
Take action regularly
Don't be performative about social causes. It's essential to be actively anti-racist, anti-ableist, and anti-injustice. Failing to act allows discrimination to go on unchecked. To be an ally, action is vital. Go to marches, join workplace organizations dedicated to diversity and inclusions, and be actively anti-racist, anti-ableist, and anti-injustice. Speak up when you see injustice and advocate for others if you see them facing discrimination.
Use your privilege
Harness your privilege to make space for minority viewpoints and stories. Avoid making conversations about you and ensure that discussion includes and listens to all voices. Providing space for the thoughts, ideas, and experiences of minority employees is vital.
Allyship on a corporate level
Companies can be allies too. They can donate their proceeds to organizations that support human rights and diversity, make public statements supporting minority groups, and ensure that discrimination isn't present in their workplace. However, companies are often particularly vulnerable to performative allyship. CEOs and company leaders often view diversity initiatives as PR-friendly campaigns instead of opportunities to create real change and support underrepresented groups. It's imperative, then, that corporations develop action plans to contribute to change instead of merely issuing statements.
While allyship is often overlooked when discussing corporate diversity and inclusion, it's an essential cornerstone of workplace equality. The steps outlined earlier in the article can help you be a better ally, both in and out of the office. Companies also need to ensure that their allyship isn't merely performative. Clear action plans and a commitment to diversity and inclusion can help ensure that their allyship benefits minority groups. Allyship is a powerful tool for equality in the corporate world, but only when used effectively.