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How to Be an Ally

by | Sep 15, 2021 | Diversity, Inclusion, Leadership

Over the past year, allyship has been an increasingly popular and much-needed discussion. Being an ally is not simply saying that you stand with marginalized communities, it’s about understanding deeply why people are marginalized and how allyship can help you be more deeply engaged to create sustained cultural change.

The past year has allowed us to engage in substantive conversations around a topic that was deemed uncomfortable or untouchable: white privilege. Movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have shed light on the inequalities and injustices that are present in our systems–including our workplaces. These movements, as well as the racial injustices that came to light during the COVID-19 pandemic, have forced those in power to step up and do something to make workplace culture and communities more diverse, fair, and inclusive.

Simply acknowledging injustice isn’t enough to spark change.

Simply acknowledging injustice isn’t enough to spark change. That’s where allyship can play a deep role in reshaping our communities and culture. Allyship is key to unlocking diversity and it means committing yourself to a lifelong practice of building trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized communities. Being an ally allows you to grow and learn about yourself while simultaneously advocating and being there for others.

3 steps you can take now to become an ally

Declaring yourself as an ally is simply not enough in the journey of allyship. There are a few things that need to happen as you embark on your journey towards allyship. These three steps are crucial and should be a constant practice as you commit yourself to being an ally.

1. Start educating yourself

You might think that the natural first step in becoming an ally is asking women, people of color, or women of color their life experiences with inequality and marginalization. Although intentions might be good, this is a deeply personal question and puts the responsibility of educating you on those who have been marginalized. However, if you are wanting to start a meaningful and sensitive conversation, remember to always ask permission first, and be compassionate and sensitive to their experience. As an ally, it is your responsibility to take the time to watch, read, and listen to resources available to deepen your understanding of systemic racism and marginalization. If unsure of where to start, research the U.S.’s history of systemic racism. While researching, consider how you might have perpetuated discrimination, even if it was unintentional.

Remember that your journey as an ally is about constant education. You can start with some of our insights:


2. Confront and acknowledge your power

As an ally, it is your responsibility to acknowledge the opportunities, experiences, advantages, and more that you have had because of your race or gender. This can be a painful process that creates cognitive dissonance for you. Because you will recognize that some systems were designed to help you succeed while negating the same opportunities to others. Also, it may contradict the individual merit narrative you had grown up with.

Consider the last time you were interviewing for a new job. Did you have to change your name on the resume to get a call back? Did you have to change your style of speech? Did you have to answer how the demands of the job would affect your ability to care for your spouse or kids? These are extra stressors that marginalized professionals often face when making career decisions.

Keep in mind that although this process can be difficult, as an ally, you can use your power for good.


3. Become an advocate

As an ally, you are always seeking to level the plain field. You are not a member of the marginalized group but you have committed to understanding the discrimination and your role in it, even if subconsciously.

As an advocate, you will support and promote the interest of the marginalized group. Utilize your privilege and your voice to call out others when you see them engage in acts of exclusion for instance presenting homogeneous groups for promotion discussions. In the workplace, recommend marginalized employees for high-level positions. Volunteer to mentor them. Publicly acknowledge them for their achievements and work in front of others.

To be a great advocate, you can use your privilege to take action to help lift up your allies both in the community and in the workplace.

Challenges of being an ally (and how to overcome them)

Becoming an ally is an equally rewarding and challenging journey. As an ally, it takes courage to educate yourself, confront and acknowledge your privilege, and step up to advocate for marginalized groups.

Some of the common challenges that allies face are feelings of being considered a fraud, being excluded, concern over aptitude for allyship, and feeling like they don’t have the resilience for continued and ongoing allyship. These fears are common and a natural part of the journey.

To overcome these common fears and challenges, tell yourself that becoming an effective ally includes feeling uncomfortable but continuing the journey regardless. It’s also important to understand that as humans, we make mistakes and that you aren’t going to get everything right every time. The main takeaway is that even when allyship gets hard, an effective ally will persevere and stay committed to the journey.

Start your allyship journey

Getting started on this life-long process is important. As an ally, you can help reshape our culture, workplaces, and communities so they are diverse and inclusive for all. Take time to understand the importance of an ally, learn about marginalized communities, confront and acknowledge how you have participated–even unknowingly–in discriminatory behavior, and start advocating for equality in your workplace and in your community.

If you’d like to learn more about how the underpinnings of behavioral science can help you make better diversity and inclusion decisions at your company, reach out to us to set up a consultation.

We Can Help

If you’d like to learn more about how the underpinnings of behavioral science can help you make better diversity and inclusion decisions at your company, reach out to us to set up a consultation.

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