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5 steps to achieving allyship in the workplace

By Lina Arshad

Diversity is at the top of everybody’s agenda right now. With an ever-widening digital skills gap and the aftermath of the Great Resignation still causing an imbalance between the number of vacancies and the number of skilled professionals to fill them, more businesses are broadening their searches and rightly focusing on diverse talent attraction and retention strategies. And while there’s no doubt that businesses should be implementing diversity and inclusion best practices to ensure their organization is a safe space for everybody to be exactly who they are, it’s also important that the whole workforce is on board with this—therefore creating a culture of allyship.  

But with our Nigel Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: Microsoft 365 and Azure Edition 2021-22 revealing that just 42% of employees had taken part in equality, diversity, and inclusion training, it’s clear there are many businesses out there who still need to focus on their ED&I efforts and work to build allyship within their workforce.  

In this blog post, we’ll be exploring what it means to be an ally and the importance of allyship in the workplace, as well as sharing our top tips for achieving a culture where everyone prospers.  

What does it mean to be an ally? 

Look for what it means to be an ally, and you’ll find many different descriptions and definitions. The most generalized definition of an ally is someone who unites with another to promote a common interest—the important distinction being that although an ally helps others, they do also have a common interest with the person or group they’re helping. But when we consider the definition of the word from a standpoint of social injustice, the concept of an ally is a person or group who is key in identifying issues such as oppression, privilege, discrimination, and prejudice.  

But being an ally isn’t just believing equality needs to exist and being sympathetic to people or groups typically targeted by social injustices. True allies are willing to take action with and for others in the hope of challenging and ending oppression and encouraging equality. The list below includes ideas of how you can show up for others within the workplace. 

How to be an ally at work: 

  1. Independently educating yourself on different experiences, identities, and cultures
  2. Be willing to challenge your own perspectives and beliefs—no matter how uncomfortable!
  3. Learn the skills of being an ally and put them into practice daily
  4. Speak up and take action

Why is allyship important in the workplace? 

We all want to feel accepted and that we have someone who will fight our corner for us if needed, and this is just as important within a work setting as it is on a global scale—there’s the real possibility that someone’s livelihood can be impacted if they’re subjected to social injustice at work. This can be seen in situations where people belonging to diverse groups are mistreated or overlooked, for example, in terms of promotions, pay increases, and project opportunities.  

There are benefits for everybody in creating a culture of allyship in the workplace, with the most obvious one being that it’s a main driver of inclusion. Allyship recognizes that to feel included means to feel heard and seen. This means not just acknowledging the systemic issues and discrimination certain groups of people face, but also actively advocating for their rights, equal opportunities, and ultimately, for change.  

As well as fostering an authentic inclusive culture, allyship in the workplace helps to bring different teams and departments together and minimizes the chances of an “us versus them” culture being built between these teams. Not only is this great for ensuring everybody feels comfortable with their peers, but it helps to improve collaboration and increases clear communication between the entire workforce. 

Building a culture of allyship also promotes the creation of a business where fair opportunities are given—and while in the workplace we’re all vying for the chance to progress our careers, helping others who may be subject to bias and therefore overlooked will never take anything away from you. Being an ally doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing your own growth for someone else’s, but that you’re willing and able to use your voice to speak on behalf of diverse groups to ensure they are also dually recognized for their work—and get any promotions or recognition that they deserve.  

In fact, in Deloitte’s 2019 The Bias Barrier report, the company found that allies in the workplace may be the missing link in the mission to make organizations everywhere, more inclusive. Additionally, international research from the Boston Consulting Group found a correlation between inclusivity and happiness on the job. More specifically, of employees who reported working in an organization with an inclusive culture, 81% reported they are happier—that’s three times more than those who don’t feel included. It’s also important to note how working in a non-inclusive environment can impact even those who the prejudice is not directly aimed at. Research into this area has found that employees who witness discriminatory behavior or that of a bullying or harassing nature are likely to feel uncomfortable or even become disengaged—this loss of productivity is something Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report revealed costs the economy approximately $7 trillion.  

On top of that, those part of an inclusive workforce were 2.2 times more likely to report a better work-life balance—something the Great Resignation and the digital skills gap has taught us is crucial for attracting and retaining your top talent.  

By now it should be clear that allyship can benefit everyone and plays an integral role in modernizing and leveling workforces everywhere. Although it can be easy to often overlook the missing work that still needs doing within your organization if as an employer, you yourself act as an ally, it’s imperative to your ED&I progress that you ensure everyone is acting in the same supportive way. Allyship is the future and is what will move us forward, so ensuring it’s weaved into every level of your organization is crucial.  

Not sure where to start, or if you’re on the right track? Below, we have listed some of our top ideas for what you can do to become an ally at work, and encourage others to do the same—plus, what, as an employer, you can do to build a culture of allyship in the workplace.  

5 steps to building allyship in the workplace 

Knowing where to start or how to progress your allyship efforts in the workplace isn’t always easy, and often, the fear of doing something wrong means a lot of people do nothing at all—but learning is all part of the journey to becoming an ally. Here are five things you can do to make your workplace a more inclusive place for everyone.  

  1. Start with your own education of allyship
  2. Be an active listener and request feedback
  3. Set an example to others by being an active bystander
  4. Acknowledge important dates and celebrate life milestones
  5. Invest in allyship in the workplace training

1. Start with your own education of allyship

To become an ally, the journey should start by learning about discrimination and using your newfound knowledge to recognize where you have privilege and power. There’s plenty of information and resources available for you to learn from, including podcasts, articles, and books, so there’s sure to be something to suit your learning style.  

An important thing to remember when conducting your self-learning is that what you learn can expire at any given time, so it’s important to keep learning and relearning. Allyship should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint—it’s a lifelong journey with no end point. And, naturally, as we learn and implement more inclusivity practices as a society, areas where more measures can be taken will crop up. 

If you’re struggling with where to begin, the areas that cause the most discomfort to you are a good starting point—this helps to build up your ability to challenge reluctance; something that you’ll be doing a lot of when putting your allyship into practice. 

2. Be an active listener and request feedback

Although your research is sure to have inspired you with ideas for where you can improve your inclusion efforts, the people who know what’s likely to be the most effective are those diverse people in your workforce already. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that you’re frequently running focus groups or giving everybody within your teams the chance to give their feedback both before and after the implementation of inclusivity measures.  

For example, you may think that your best bet at fool-proofing your inclusion strategy is to provide the oppressed groups with a platform to speak up about them, but often this can be uncomfortable and make them feel as though they’re coming across to others as “difficult”.  

On the other side of the scale, it’s important to avoid giving advice from a privileged place and instead realize that the decisions we make as individuals can be drastically different given the diverse identities we hold. For example, advising someone who is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community on when and how to tell their family doesn’t necessarily consider the context of that person’s mental, financial, emotional, or physical well-being in that situation.  

We must all be willing and able to interrogate any privileges we hold and acknowledge we don’t have all the answers, to appropriately support the people we work with. 

3. Set an example to others by being an active bystander

When you’re in a leadership position, it’s only natural for those you employ to look up to you, and often mirror the behavior you elicit—which ideally will be this promoting inclusivity and celebrating diversity.  

Because of this mirroring effect, being an active bystander is a very essential part of being an ally, and for building a culture of allyship in the workplace. But what does being an active bystander actually mean? Well, in simple terms, it means taking action when you see someone being subjected to discriminatory or disrespectful behavior, or being the victim of any sort of bias—including speaking up about any hiring staff who may be executing recruitment bias 

And this may sound like the simplest part of being an ally, but it can often feel the most uncomfortable and people often second-guess themselves about whether something is actually discriminatory or not. For example, in the same Deloitte study cited earlier, 30% of employees reported ignoring bias they witnessed or received. And while it can be nerve-wracking to get something like this wrong, the chances are if something doesn’t sound right to you, it won’t sound right to others—or they will at least be able to see why you interpreted it as harmful. Similarly, employees should know it’s always better to report behavior they were unsure about, than to ignore it and leave it to someone else.

4. Acknowledge important dates and celebrate life milestones

When we create a company culture where certain diverse groups are celebrated and included, their beliefs and values will become more of a norm in the eye of other colleagues. Just as we acknowledge important dates like birthdays and Christmas, it may be important to diverse members of your team to recognize key dates for them—for example, this may include Black History Month for your Black employees, transition dates for your transgender colleagues, or International Women’s Day for the women in your teams.  

As well as this, we should be aware that given the work we’re doing to celebrate diverse groups of people, as we knock down some of the hurdles and points of anxiety for them, we may give them new opportunities for celebration. Of course, there are some milestones your staff will reach they’d prefer to keep to themselves or only within a close circle of people, and being understanding of this is key. It’s important to gauge how each individual feels before sharing anything further, and all information should be treated confidentially unless the employee gives you permission to share their news further.  

But if there’s news of something that impacts a whole community on a local, national, or international level, celebrating it can encourage important conversations within your employees and further your overall inclusivity efforts.  

5. Invest in allyship in the workplace training

Acknowledging that you don’t know everything is important, but it doesn’t mean you should remain avoidant to the topic—instead, use it as an opportunity to educate yourself and others. If you’re still having difficulty understanding something or knowing what the best practice is, why not call in experts who can provide your company with allyship in the workplace training?  

These programs will differ depending on which provider you use, but at the most basic level should cover the following: 

  • What is allyship? 
  • Privilege—what it looks like and how to recognize your own 
  • Workplace inequalities 
  • Understanding positional power 
  • Providing your team with an active allyship framework to follow—and examples of it in use 

If it’s within your budget, it’s also worth setting up a follow-up session or two with the training provider where your teams can practice holding each other accountable in a range of scenarios. This helps to prove what they’ve learned and gives a further opportunity for guidance in areas where they may be getting things slightly wrong. 

Building a culture of allyship in your workplace is key to driving your diversity, inclusion and equality efforts forward. Not only will this help you to attract and retain top Microsoft professionals, but it’ll also encourage better collaboration, communication, and motivation among your workforce. And by investing in third-party training, you’ll benefit from your whole team learning diversity and inclusion best practices, so you can be sure you’re all taking measures that matter and avoiding performative allyship.  

If you need some help figuring out what to do to diversify your team, why not get in touch with our expert team for a no-obligation chat? You can also visit our Nigel Frank blog where you’ll find plenty other helpful diversity, equality, and inclusion articles. 

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