It is easy to conflate allyship with friendship. An ally can be a friend, of course, but allyship in the workplace is about more than building camaraderie. As part of its anti-racism resources, Harvard University defines an “ally” as someone who makes the commitment and effort to recognize their privilege and work in solidarity with oppressed groups in the struggle for justice.
To become a better ally at work, one must understand the true meaning of allyship and an ally’s role and then take action.
WHAT IS ALLYSHIP?
The Rochester Racial Justice Toolkit frames allyship not as an identity but a process of building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. This is an important distinction. In order to be a true an ally, one must also actively take part in efforts to make places and spaces more equitable and inclusive.
ACTIONABLE STEPS TO ALLYSHIP
Being an ally requires effort and commitment. However, allyship is not an exclusive membership. Anyone can be an ally, and there are many ways to support these efforts. Here are five ways to become a better ally:
- Get educated. Following the social justice protests of 2020, many people were compelled to use their platform and resources to support movements such as #BlackLivesMatter. Many non-people of color posed questions to friends and co-workers about what to do. No matter the cause, allies recognize it is their responsibility to first educate themselves about the issues. Only then can an ally understand their role and how to provide support.
Last year, GHJ hosted several listening sessions for employees to talk about the events related to the protests and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. These forums allowed others the opportunity to listen, learn and become better allies through education. This is also a great example of how firms can advocate for allyship on a larger scale.
- Speak out against discrimination. In a study conducted by LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey, only four in 10 white employees said they have spoken out against racial discrimination at work. Underrepresented groups often do not speak out about discrimination because of fear of backlash. This is why it is important for allies to use both their privilege and platform to bring these issues to light. If an employee is being treated unfairly on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, age or disability, it is important to speak out or report to HR.
- Microaggressions — defined as verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group — is another form or discrimination. Statements like “I do not see color,” or “You are so articulate,” are examples of this. Allies must be aware of microaggressions, how it shows up it in the workplace and then be willing to correct themselves if they committed the offense.
- Bring diversity to the table. Affinity bias is a type unconscious bias. It implies that people have a tendency to connect with those who have similar interests, backgrounds and experiences. This bias can play out in the workplace when assembling teams to pitch new business or resolve a client conflict. Allyship combats this bias by seeking out team members with diverse perspectives and backgrounds.
- Sponsor marginalized co-workers. Sponsorship takes mentorship a step further. A mentor is a confidant and someone who provides advice. A sponsor puts someone in a position to grow and develop in their career. An ally helps put others in the position to win. Examples of sponsorship can be recommending someone for a speaking opportunity or a board appointment. These opportunities might seems insignificant at first but are important building blocks to career development.
- Join or start an Employee Resource Group (ERG). Being visible is important in allyship. It is a misconception that ERGs are only for that specific group. GHJ has started and supported several resource groups, including Women’s Empowerment, BIPOC and most recently a Parenting Cohort. These groups are a safe space for employees to have discourse and have a diverse membership makeup. Allies play a key role in these groups’ success at GHJ and on a larger scale. An ally should join (or partner with others to start) an ERG, listen and take notes to share with other employees.
BECOME PART OF THE CHANGE
Every workplace can use more allies. The reason why allyship has the potential to make such a powerful impact is that it is accessible to everyone. Allyship does not need to be sponsored nor enacted as a firm-wide initiative. Take the first step to become an ally by committing to creating a more equitable workplace.
Already doing the work? Take it a step further with one of the actions above or by recruiting other allies to the cause.