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10 Tips for Allyship: Becoming a Better Advocate

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Do you know how to be a better ally in the workplace? Workplace allies are employees who use their privilege to support their colleagues who belong to underrepresented groups. So their privilege comes from their gender (male), their race/color (white), or their rank in the office (senior level or management).

Allies support their LGBT colleagues, women of color, or other marginalized members.

Additionally, allies use their influence to give these underrepresented people a voice, building partnerships with them to raise awareness, support, and advocate for them so they feel heard and valued.

Research shows:

  • Employees at companies with a culture of allyship report feeling more comfortable and more willing to do more for their employer. They are 50% less likely to leave the company, 56% less likely to work on improving their performance, 75% less likely to take sick leave, and 75% less likely to 167% higher in recommending their company as a great place to work.
  • Women of color who rise to the top say the importance of supportive allies.
  • For people with disabilities, workplace allies play an important role in creating an inclusive climate by helping to break down the stigmas associated with disabilities and encouraging people with disabilities to talk about them.

Real allyship in the workplace vs. performative allyship

Just like the alibi function, there are also performative allies. Although both real and performative allies support marginalized groups, they have different motivations, actions, and impacts:

  • True connection means truly believing in equality and justice. True allies therefore have empathy and understanding for the experiences of marginalized people. Performative allies, on the other hand, are often motivated by social recognition and self-expression. They feel obligated without any real understanding or commitment to diversity.
  • True allies actively work to break down barriers through ongoing effort, self-education, and taking steps to promote and empower marginalized employees. Performative allies, on the other hand, limit themselves to superficial gestures such as sharing posts on social media or attending rallies without actually taking action.
  • True allies create lasting positive change by addressing the root causes of injustice to create a more equitable work environment. In contrast, performative allyship can be counterproductive because it creates the appearance of progress without addressing systemic problems. It can prioritize the experiences of allies over the needs of the underprivileged.

According to Catalyst, performative allyship looks like this:

  • Publishing racial justice posts on social media without a commitment to change
  • Celebrate Equal Pay Day but do not conduct racial or gender dis-aggregated pay audits to assess and correct pay disparities
  • Show support for Pride Day but continue to work with vendors and suppliers that exclude LGBT employees

True connection is a long-term commitment that requires continuous growth and learning. Therefore, performative connection is often temporary and fades without sustained effort.

How to be a good ally in the workplace (as an employee)

1.Reflect on your privileges.

It is important to realize that you are privileged (race, gender, social and economic status). Realize that you don't have to feel guilty about this, but recognize the advantages you have in society because of the factors you were born with.

So go through your own life experiences and consider how your privilege has influenced them. Think about the moments when your privilege has given you an opportunity or protected you from certain disadvantages that people from marginalized groups have suffered.

2.Examinate your Prejudiced

By recognizing your bias, you will become aware of your conscious and unconscious biases and how they influence your interactions and decisions when dealing with people from underrepresented groups. This awareness can help us control our actions and be more considerate towards others.

You can take unconscious bias training or take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to determine your biases.

3.Be an active listener

When you listen to the thoughts and stories of people from less privileged groups, you learn more about their struggles and what life is like for them. This is very important to be a true ally. Listening carefully also shows that you care about them, respect them, and want to learn from them. It helps you recognize and challenge unfair perceptions, which can prevent you from accidentally hurting others.

When you listen, focus on the speaker. So be present at the conversation. Ask questions for clarification. Acknowledge their feelings. Show compassion. Avoid giving unsolicited advice. Additionally, thank them for opening up to you and express your willingness to support them.

4.Inform yourself and do your research

Educate yourself about privilege, systemic oppression, and social justice issues. So read books and articles and watch documentaries that explore these topics from different perspectives. Take DEI training. This will give you insight into how privilege works in society.

Also participate in workshops that promote cultural competency and awareness of unconscious bias.


Challenge prejudiced behaviors, micro-insults, micro-putdowns, microaggressions, and discriminatory practices when you see them. Do this in a respectful and constructive way.

So if someone is under attack, offer your support and intervene discreetly if possible. Additionally, report serious incidents to your supervisor, human resources, or appropriate authorities.

6.Build relationships

Get to know colleagues from different backgrounds and cultures. Attend cultural events and celebrations to understand them better. Look for opportunities to socialize outside of work, by participating in employee groups, social events or casual conversations.

Building relationships takes time and effort. Recognize that you may not fully understand the experiences of marginalized groups, so don't make assumptions.
Also, ask respectful questions and respect the boundaries and right to privacy of those involved.

How you as a manager can be a better ally in the workplace

1.Lead example

Show that you are inclusive through your behavior and conversations with your team. Use words that are inclusive and don't make assumptions about who they are or what they've been through. Instead of words that suggest a specific gender, use words that apply to everyone. Don't use stereotypes and be nice to people from different backgrounds. Treat everyone with kindness and understand that every person is different.

Regularly ask team members for feedback on your leadership style. Get their suggestions and how you can improve as an ally. Be open to constructive criticism and use it to grow.

2.Create a safe and supportive work environment

In her book, How to Be an Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace, author Melinda Briana Epler writes that managers tell their members Allow people to express themselves and be themselves to promote equality within the team. Consider introducing shared values to strengthen the group's sense of belonging.

Managers and colleagues must be open to new ideas, provide thoughtful feedback, and be willing to support and collaborate with each other. As a leader, take responsibility for the team's risks and share credit for the team's successes.

Become a leader where people around you dare to speak their mind, even if it leads to discomfort or disagreement. Make sure everyone has an equal say in your meetings and that every idea is heard and respected.

As a leader, you should trust your team members and empower them to make decisions. Help them understand how their work connects to the team's larger goal. Recognize your employees for their achievements.

Create opportunities for team members to get to know each other, develop empathy for one another, and develop collective intelligence together. Host team dinners or afternoon meetings, company outings, volunteer trips, or other activities that create informal connections.

Make sure tools, resources and communication channels are accessible to everyone. Make the necessary adjustments to individual needs.

3.Develop integrative leadership qualities

According to Epler, TED speaker and founder of Empovia (formerly Change Catalyst), IceHrm's six defining characteristics of an inclusive leader have resonated most with some of her clients:

  1. Commitment - Developing personal values that include DEI: fairness, respect, kindness, justice, and belief in the value of diversity
  2. Courage - recognizing strengths and weaknesses, admitting mistakes, holding yourself and others accountable
  3. Awareness – becoming aware of your personal biases and self-regulating to ensure that biases do not influence decisions and processes
  4. Curiosity - openness to different perspectives and tolerance for ambiguity. In the search for personal growth, accepting uncertainty is inevitable.
  5. Cultural intelligence – empathizing with and learning from people with identities and cultures different from your own, accepting unique work styles without judging them, and adapting behaviors to work well across cultures
  6. Collaboration - giving people autonomy, trusting them and empowering them to make their full contribution

In the context of leaders, according to IceHrm, inclusive leadership means:

  • Treating people and groups fairly based on their unique characteristics
  • Personalizing individuals, understanding and appreciating the uniqueness of different people while accepting them as members of the group
  • Harnessing the thinking of diverse groups for better ideation and decision-making

4.Be a sponsor or mentor

Use your professional network and experience to sponsor or mentor employees from marginalized groups. Help them overcome professional challenges, connect them with opportunities, and advocate for their continued development.

You will develop your communication, leadership and coaching skills by providing guidance and support. This personal growth leads to you being a more effective ally in the company.

5.Be an advocate for change

Use your position or the opportunity to promote diversity in your workplace.

As a manager, examine how things work in your workplace to see if certain groups are inadvertently being treated unfairly. For example, if you notice that a man you supervise makes more money than a woman doing the same job, you might ask HR to check that pay is fair for everyone. You can also suggest to HR that they make it easier for employees with disabilities to work by offering flexible working hours.

IceHrm empowers workplaces to cultivate allyship, fostering inclusion, equity, and support for all employees.

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