What Makes an Ally? 4 Tips for Workplace Equity

In 2020, the problem with performative allyship became painfully apparent. It’s easy to add #BLM, #stopbullying, a rainbow flag emoji, or links to a fundraising project for marginalized people in your bio. But taking steps to create change through allyship is a more challenging, ongoing process that requires self-awareness, empathy and courage. Being an ally has never been about making ourselves feel better and less responsible for inequity at work. Allyship is about bringing employees together while respecting their differences and identifying how an organization must adapt. 

What is an ‘Ally’ in the Workplace? 

According to Mireille Wozniak-Michalak, founder of Petiole HR, “an ally is someone who supports employees from marginalized groups — they speak up without speaking over.” An ally is the first to take a stand against bullying, racially motivated remarks, sexist jokes, and other discriminatory behaviors. Allies are usually receptive to constructive criticism and self-aware. 

Wozniak-Michalak emphasizes that anyone can suffer from discrimination, and it can be difficult for management to recognize what’s happening. “Some colleagues [who need allies] are targeted because they are shy, perceived as too old or too young, have a speech impediment, or don’t wear the same clothes as everyone else, among other things.” 

4 Tips to Take Action With Allyship 

The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, hate crimes against Chinese-American citizens, and pronounced minority stress among members of the LGBTQ+ community — the last 12 months have tested so many of our most vulnerable workers. In 2021, compassionate allyship will be tantamount to helping underrepresented workers get back on their feet. Allies utilize these strategies to help create workplaces where differences are respected and everyone can thrive.

Do Mindset Check-ins Before Meetings

Mindset check-ins are important for two reasons: demonstrating that you care about your employees’ well-being and encouraging active listening among team members. Check-ins invite employees to share anything on their minds, from personal problems to work-related concerns to small wins. Each person receives the same amount of time to speak — no conversation allowed. Along with giving marginalized team members a platform to express themselves without fear of interruption, check-ins highlight shared experiences and foster tolerance. 

If someone’s check-in statement resonates with you, tactfully offer your support or thoughts over email (but avoid giving unsolicited advice). If you are a leader, use your check-in window to restate your employees’ concerns and commit to a time frame to come up with solutions. End the meeting by inviting each employee to offer suggestions about how you can improve. In private, offer one-on-one strategizing sessions for minority colleagues who express feeling frustrated or stuck. 

Ensure Everyone Receives Credit 

The antithesis of an ally is someone who takes credit for someone else’s idea — and anyone who turns a blind eye is just as culpable. Even the tiniest contributions must receive credit. Wozniak-Michalak recalls an incident that reflects how plagiarism has lasting consequences on team dynamics:

“Allyship can support or undermine your authority. For instance, a manager asked an employee to create a report for their meeting. Unfortunately, this person took full credit. During the meeting, the manager could not answer a very specific question about the report. The owner went directly to the manager’s employee and found out the truth. The manager lost credibility in the eyes of not only the owner but their entire department.” 

If you witness someone stealing a colleague’s idea, don’t hesitate to tactfully come to their defense. For instance, if someone gets excited during a goal-setting meeting and loses track of the idea’s owner, you can interject with: “Jessica, I like the direction you want to take Andrea’s plan for our next fundraiser. Let’s talk about how we can refine that. Andrea, what do you think?”

Mentor Marginalized Employees

Research shows that traditional diversification tactics often fail. To promote allyship and tolerance at work, break barriers by implementing mentorship opportunities. Typically, employees who identify as BIPOC, disabled, and/or LGBTQ+ can feel reluctant to ask higher-level management for advice and individualized training. When other staff members see you interact with marginalized employees, it gives them the confidence to take on leadership roles in projects and meetings.

Being an effective ally means educating yourself about intersectionality. In other words, you can better serve employees by understanding how each facet of their identities affect their needs. Along with exposing yourself to literature and media outside of your culture, commit to attending diversity workshops and educational events. If you identify as a minority, your experiences are a jumping off point to obtain more knowledge — not the big picture.  

Celebrate Coworkers’ Ideas and Culture ­

Marginalized employees are less likely to receive direct praise for their contributions. The easiest way to be an ally? “Always keep track of who worked with you on an idea or a problem, no matter how small,” Wozniak-Michalak stresses, “and don’t be afraid to brag about their work.”

Speaking up on behalf of your coworkers is especially significant if you are a person of privilege. The more privilege you have, the further your voice will carry the names of your underrepresented colleagues. 

Creating a more diversified workplace is important. However, being an ally to minority employees means finding unique ways to make them feel included. Underrepresented employees are more likely to feel excluded from networking and out-of-work social events. Before your next company event, send out surveys to learn about your employees’ food, music and drink preferences. You should also prompt team leads to survey their subordinates’ work styles in round table discussions. If employees understand how their cultural values influence their work, team leads can avert misunderstandings. 

Allyship Evolves With Your Work 

Women continue to fight for equitable opportunities in the workplace, especially women of color. Prosper for Purpose aims to help women from all backgrounds achieve their professional goals. We lead Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Ohio, a seminar that celebrates and supports women in business, particularly from those underrepresented groups. Each year, we draw in diverse voices to inspire women from all walks of life to pursue their dreams. 

Many of our clients are women-led organizations that assist underprivileged communities and diverse populations. As they respond to crises and laws that impact how they serve their clients, we step back and examine how we can be an ally to their cause. We ask questions; we recognize the gaps in our knowledge and strive to overcome them through training and research. Allyship is a pillar of our brand, and the ever-changing scope of our work informs its execution. 

That’s why we’re expanding Peerless Brand Builders, a Facebook mentoring group where business owners and entrepreneurs from all backgrounds support each other’s goals. Click here to get started. 

About Mireille Wozniak-Michalak 

Mireille has 20+ years of experience working with HR professionals, entrepreneurs, and large organizations with 400+ employees as an in-house employee and a consultant. Mireille applies her expertise to review each discussion, idea, process, or document to deconstruct the objectives, extract desired outcomes, and come up with innovative options to achieve results. Her forte is anticipating obstacles by hypothesizing all the ways a document or a situation can impact the human side of management. Visit Petiolehr.com to learn how Mireille can support your business. 

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