Allyship in the Workplace: What It Looks Like and Why It's Essential

allyship in the workplace

By now, especially if you are a mom who works outside of the home, you’re probably well aware of the pay gap between men and women. This information is widely known in the open, and still, the gap only incrementally closes every year. It’s incredibly frustrating, but it’s only the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to equity in the workplace. 

There are many pieces involved in creating equity in the workplace. For example, let’s look specifically at pay and growth opportunities. Pay Scale’s 2021 report breaks down earnings and opportunity/career progression based on gender and race (as well as the two combined). Unfortunately, the report doesn’t include data on other marginalized groups, like LGBTQ+ or disabled employees, but even without those distinctions, there are apparent gaps between genders, races, and even age. At best, the results are disappointing (in honesty, though, they’re downright infuriating), and the numbers make it clear that the playing field is anything but level.

And the only way things will change is through Allyship in the workplace. 

Employees have to come together and support each other. We need to back each other up, speak up when we know something is incorrect, and advocate for diversity. If we don’t, inequity will continue in the workplace because it’s always easier to stick with the status quo than create new habits and practices. 

What is Allyship?

In an article by Anna Corbitt, she defined Allyship as “someone who supports the cause of a marginalized group — women, people of color, people with disabilities, people in the LGBTQ[+] community, people with low income, etc. — and uses their privilege to learn from that group and amplify their cause.” 

Sometimes, people say ‘doing ally work’ or ‘acting in solidarity with’ to indicate that ‘ally’ is not an identity. Another great explanation of Allyship comes from the organization Dismantle Collective, which says, “Allyship involves much listening. It is an ongoing and lifelong process that involves much work.”

When you put these two ideas together, they say, Allyship is supporting a marginalized group through equal parts of listening, learning, and advocating. 

To be an ally to a marginalized group, you’ll take the time to listen to individuals when they share their experiences. You’ll speak up (but not speak for) them when you can, and you’ll use your position of privilege to help groups get closer to the future they’re working towards. You’ll put in the work to continuously learn about the group’s history, where things are now, and their mission for the future. 

What Does Allyship Look Like in the Workplace?

Allyship is important in every area of life, including in the workplace. Ensuring equal pay, career growth, accessibility, representation, and even safety for everyone at work means being an ally to marginalized groups. Of course, it doesn’t mean going to work and acting like a super-ally (you don’t want to be a savior). Instead, you should be observant, intentional, and an advocate. Here’s what this may look like in the workplace:

  • Developing authentic relationships with coworkers of diverse representation
  • Speaking up against stereotypes and microaggressive behaviors 
  • Joining in or starting an employee resource group (ERG) that include executive sponsorship to ensure accountability and to implement changes that provide equitable recruitment, hiring, and professional development opportunities
  • Declining to speak “for” an underrepresented group in meetings (especially decision-making situations); instead, suggesting to bring in someone from the group who can speak to their experience/needs/etc. 
  • Give credit where it’s due, especially when an idea comes from a reserved person in a marginalized group
  • If you’re part of a committee that lacks diversity, speak up and suggest adding more members for better representation
  • Create an inclusive environment where people feel welcome and safe

Being a good ally at work is essential to ensuring equity, but be prepared to misstep along the way. The chances are high that, at some point, despite your good intentions, you’ll say or do the wrong thing. That’s okay. Just take a step back, apologize, and learn from the experience. People make mistakes all of the time, in all areas of life, but as long as you own up to it and promise to do better moving forward, then you’re still doing the right thing (and growing as an ally in the process). 

Where to Learn More About Allyship

It’s important to understand that becoming an ally won’t happen overnight. Part of being a good ally is knowing that you will have to commit to continuous learning and that you’ll never be “perfect” at Allyship. There’s much information, including books, blogs/vlogs, podcasts, and social media accounts, that you can follow for regular updates and guidance. If you don’t know where to start, that’s okay. Just the fact that you want to learn is a step in the right direction. To help kick off your research, here are some great articles about what Allyship looks like in general, to some specific groups, and in certain situations (like work):

Put It Into Practice

Even with this brief overview of Allyship in the workplace, you can start putting it into practice. Take your first steps by going out of your way to creating meaningful relationships with coworkers in marginalized groups, advocating for more diversity within committees or in decision-making meetings, and joining or starting an ERG to contribute to the missions of marginalized groups. Remember, you don’t need to announce your new pursuit boldly. Simply being intentional and committing to listening, learning, and advocating is what will make the most impact.

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