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What Does It Mean To Be an Ally in the Workplace?

Jose Triana

October 22, 2021

What Does It Mean To Be an Ally in the Workplace?

An important takeaway from the Women in the Workplace study from McKinsey & Company was that women, especially women of color, are continuing to have challenging experiences at work. Whether it’s caused by excess workload or a lack of representation in leadership, this environment is leading to an increase in burnout, and in many cases, forcing women to consider taking a step back from their careers. While there have been efforts to improve DEI initiatives and remove barriers for women entering leadership roles, there is still work to be done. 

Related: 4 Crucial Facts About Women in the Workplace Today
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What are workplace microaggressions?

The first step to making the workplace more welcoming is to understand what is disrupting that peace in the first place. A common issue that many workers may not even realize is happening is a microaggression. A microaggression can be an act or comment that undermines someone professionally. 

According to the data, some common workplace microaggressions women face include:

  • Being spoken over or interrupted more than others
  • People commenting on your emotional state
  • Having your judgment questioned in your area of expertise
  • Hearing people express surprise at your language skills or abilities
  • Feeling as though you are expected to speak on behalf of all people with your identity

These microaggressions are also having a major impact on morale. According to the study, “These experiences can take a heavy toll: women who regularly experience microaggressions are twice as likely as those who don’t to be burned out.” They are also more likely to feel negative about work and struggle with concentration due to excess stress. 

Understanding Allyship

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, allyship is critical to creating healthier organizational cultures. While anyone can be an ally, workers in leadership positions have the most power to enact change. 

An important aspect of becoming an ally is recognizing privilege. According to former Chevron Chief Diversity Officer and current PROS Holdings board director Lee Jourdan, “Privilege does not mean that you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth and never had to work hard or that you achieved success with no struggle. It simply means that you are likely to have enjoyed certain tailwinds because, based on parts of your demographic makeup, you are in the majority.”

By acknowledging these privileges, you can do a better job recognizing potential discrimination and also lower your defenses to be a better ally to minority coworkers. 

3 ways to be an ally in the workplace

Another major challenge to DEI in the workplace is the gap between those who consider themselves an ally and those who are actually taking allyship actions. Based on the data, 77% of employees say they are an ally, but only 21% actually advocate for new opportunities for women of color, and only 10% mentor or sponsor one or more women of color. 

So how can you be an active ally?

1. Advocate for new opportunities  

Based on the data, only 21% of employees who consider themselves allies actively advocate for new opportunities for women of color. New opportunities come in many shapes and sizes and are not strictly promotion-related. 

For example, is there a new project in your organization that would benefit from a subject matter expert? Working on a blog or conference submission? Understand that privilege could be a factor behind this project and work to include a diverse cast of those who have potentially missed out on previous networking and growth opportunities. 

2. Confronting discrimination 

As mentioned above, microaggressions can occur at any time, but often happen when discussing new ideas or plans. For example, if a minority team member is making a presentation and someone is actively questioning their judgment, even if it is their expertise, simply reinforce their authority. 

Something as simple as “Since (name) has the most experience with X, I believe we should follow her lead on the strategy.“ 

Another way to combat discrimination is to be proactive. According to the study, top-performing companies are investing in education to combat these issues. For companies leading progress, 69% are offering anti-racism training and 92% are investing in allyship training. 

3. Become a mentor or sponsor

A major driving force behind inclusivity is mentorship. Why? Because you are actively involved in empowering underrepresented members of your organization. This gives you an opportunity to understand the challenges they are facing while also giving them advice. Additionally, by introducing them to other leaders and industry professionals, you are increasing their chances for growth opportunities. 

Of course, it is also important to seek out mentorship too. As mentioned above, many people in leadership roles may not even realize that mentorship is an important part of advocacy, so asking someone to be a mentor can be a great first step to improving DEI efforts in your organization. 

Overall, there is still a lot of work to be done to be an ally in the workplace. However, by following some of these methods organizations can do more for women and underrepresented workers.

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Jose Triana

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