We are now more than three years removed from when workplaces shut down because of a deadly global pandemic, as well as the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s also been nearly six years since the reignition of the #metoo movement. In those years, allyship reemerged as a powerful way of fighting injustices and supporting marginalized groups. We used the appropriate hashtags, read the right books, and connected over shared experiences.
As many are still fighting for equality, representation, and a voice, do you feel change? According to the latest World Economic Forum report, it will take us 132 years to reach gender parity. (That number is even higher for some intersectional identities.) So, while progress has been made, there’s still much to be done—especially in the workplace.
Allyship isn’t a new concept, but it’s gained considerable momentum over the last decade. In the context of the workplace, Harvard Business Review defines allyship as becoming “collaborators, accomplices, and co-conspirators who fight injustice and promote equity in the workplace through supportive personal relationships and public acts of sponsorship and advocacy.” Put simply, it’s the act of supporting and being the voice for individuals who are treated unfairly or unjustly. For example, as a result of my work related to gender equality, I’ve seen men serve as allies by championing women and advocating for their seat at the table.
While allyship is arguably more important to those in marginalized groups, everyone needs allies. Every single person deserves to have people in their corner. And conversely, every single person has the capacity to be an ally to someone else.
Allyship doesn’t have to take the form of some monumental, emotional confrontation. It’s less about proving people wrong and more about being a listening ear and a safe place for people who need it. The goal is elevating someone’s name and voice when they’re not in the room.
Being an ally in the workplace isn’t so different from being an ally anywhere else, but there are certain nuances. Often people are afraid to take action because they think they’ll do it incorrectly. But we’re all human. We all make mistakes. Meaningful and sustainable change won’t happen unless we take action in spite of the fear.
You know these moments. It’s when something doesn’t feel right in your gut, when someone makes you uncomfortable. They’re the moments when you should lean in, speak up and educate. For example, if you hear someone using inappropriate language when talking about a particular group of people, correct them. Bring a marginalized voice into the conversation when they’ve been left out or advocate for someone’s career advancement if they’re being overlooked.
Seizing these moments means also identifying unconscious bias in a process and having the courage to speak on how to improve it. HR teams must develop clear policies against inappropriate behavior and communicate the importance of reporting it. These policies should outline the reporting process, investigation procedures and protections the company will provide to those who come forward. It’s important to regularly review and update these over time, and employees should have opportunities to provide feedback.
Allyship isn’t something only meant for those in the trenches because it isn’t just the plight of entry- and mid-level workers. While it’s sometimes easier to stand up for your peers, allyship should be modeled and supported across all levels.
Leaders should model it from the top down. As an organization, allyship should be encouraged, explained, and embraced. This includes having conversations about what it looks like and giving recognition to those who have been courageous allies. HR leaders, in particular, must lead by example. They should demonstrate a commitment to a respectful, inclusive workplace and hold other leaders accountable when their behaviors aren’t in alignment with company policy.
Often, employees don’t know how to come forward with concerns, or they’re afraid of the consequences. Company leaders must ensure there are training sessions to educate employees about appropriate workplace behavior, diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias. This will help employees understand what constitutes harassment, discrimination, or bullying.
There are ample opportunities for hiring and talent acquisition teams to be allies on behalf of candidates. Speak up if your talent pools are homogeneous and filled with the same types of people with similar backgrounds. Make sure candidates aren’t being unintentionally—or intentionally—excluded because of factors like their race, faith, or gender identity. Furthermore, don’t automatically discount people with gaps in their resumes.
In some cases, it might be beneficial to adopt a blind resume process where personal details like an applicant’s gender, age, and ethnicity are removed. It’s also important to ensure interview teams are diverse.
Allyship is not something you’re going to get right all of the time. In my last article, I mentioned that companies will never reach 100% success with DEI, and the same can be said about allyship. It’s a continued effort to grow, do better, and do more.
This isn’t where the road ends. The people who needed allies then still need them now—maybe even more so. Put yourself in the shoes of another and seek to understand. By doing so, we become better allies. Just that small step is progress.
“3 Ways To Embrace Allyship In The Workplace” originally appeared on Forbes.com