Allyship is essential to be aware of in today's workplace. The good news is that it does not require grand gestures. Allyship is about taking small steps to create a significant impact. If you are looking for ways to increase your impact, consider these five suggestions.
It all starts here. There are no shortcuts to allyship. Allyship begins with knowledge and awareness. It’s as much about learning about yourself and your blind spots as it is about helping those of marginalized identities. While I am not huge on unconscious bias training, I advocate understanding our biases and educating ourselves in areas where we are not knowledgeable. One of the most common complaints of those with marginalized and racialized identities is the uncomfortable way others outside of their group ask questions about their experience. While we may be well-meaning and genuinely curious, asking one person questions about an entire community or putting someone on the spot to explain some cultural practice shifts the burden onto the marginalized community member. True allies take the time to research topics that may be uncomfortable to ask others. So the next time you are tempted to ask a question like “What’s problematic with the phrase “spirit animal?”” or “What is genderqueer?” Try Google Scholar first before you ask your Native American or LGBTQ+ coworker.
Meaningful allyship requires action. However, to act, we need to learn the options available to intervene. Often people think there is only one way to act when they are witnessing harassment or discrimination; that they have to confront the person engaging in the awful behavior directly. But let’s be honest, it can be intimidating to intervene when we observe microaggressions or discrimination, and there even be situations where it’s not safe to do so directly. The tools of bystander intervention are helpful when in this situation. Bystander intervention teaches the 5 D’s, providing different options to intervene. The 5D’s allow allies to either directly speak up, delegate to a trusted person, distract (draw attention away in the moment), delay (check in on a person at a later date), or document (take a video with your cellphone or mark down the date and time of an incident) as a way to step in when seeing harassment or discrimination happening around them. When you understand the 5 D’s, you will always be able to intervene no matter what you witness.
Another way to become an impactful ally is learning the skill of advocating for others without centering. At its heart, allyship is learning how to be of service to others. Therefore, we should never make an action for others about us. Stepping up for others should not lead to stepping into the spotlight. What can this look like? It’s interrupting a person in a marginalized community discussion of their experiences to explain how they’ve felt “different” too—or bragging about accomplishments as an ally or tokenizing others by discussing your friendship.
One of the most significant barriers to allyship is the mistaken belief that we must be in total agreement or understanding of the experiences of others. Complete understanding isn’t a prerequisite for allyship. We will never fully understand what it's like to be in another person’s shoes. However, it shouldn’t prevent us from validating others’ experiences.
Another barrier to allyship happens when we engage in contentious debates around what may or may not be racist, homophobic, or exclusionary. Conversations around these topics can be powerful and healing. However, when these nuanced and emotionally charged topics become arguments, it can undermine allyship and strain relationships. Waiting for everyone to be in 100% agreement prevents allyship from happening. Instead of searching for consensus on a matter, accept and validate different perspectives even when you may not wholly agree. Learning this mindset will create impactful allyship.
Allyship always looks to elevate those in marginalized communities. This happens in both small and large actions. If we are in a position of power, hire diverse staff and look for ways to promote overlooked marginalized colleagues. However, even if we don’t have authority in the workplace, we can elevate those around us. Ask the opinion of a colleague during a meeting where they are silenced or frequently spoken over, championing their ideas and initiatives—or attribute credit to their work products when others falsely claim the credit. Take the time to think about projects or aspects of your work where diverse perspectives and opinions are absent and find ways to bring balance and inclusion to these efforts.
Impactful allyship requires personal work combined with meaningful actions. It is a skill that can take time to develop but is worth the effort. Engaging in allyship ensures personal and professional growth and creates healthy work cultures and a healthier world.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Kelley Bonner, LCSW, Expert Company Culture Strategist and Founder of Burn Bright Consulting, transforms workplaces by reducing burnout and bias, resulting in increased innovation and inclusion. Kelley provides a framework for leaders to understand the deeper organizational issues that lead to symptoms of burnout and how to solve them at their core.
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