What does it mean to you to be an ally?

To me, being an ally means supporting and advocating for individuals or groups who are not as well represented or have the same opportunities in your workplace. Who that is may depend on your organization.

As a women in finance in the 90’s, that was me. I was often assigned the farthest seat at the table making it hard to chime in and have my voice heard. The only other woman in the room was the secretary and they typically sat me next to her. If that is making you grumble, imagine how I felt when the men in the room came and told me how they wanted their coffee!

I have to share that Zoom is truly helping on this front, at least for women in the workplace. Anecdotal evidence is showing that when meeting in the virtual workspace, women are speaking more, getting credited for their ideas, and being interrupted less. Isn’t that cool!?

When everyone takes up equal space on your screen and good microphones even the volume — we are literally on a more even playing field. But we aren’t always in that format so we need people in the room to stand up and speak up. Watch a short video here.

I still remember hearing about an incident in an executive meeting where a woman’s idea was dismissed and she was spoken to inappropriately in front of her peers. As they walked out of the meeting, her male coworker turned to her and said, “ I can’t believe you didn’t say anything.” She calmly looked him in the eye and responded, “I can’t believe you didn’t.”

Had he, that would have been an example of allyship. If you want to be an ally, speak up when it doesn’t impact you. Here are some tips for becoming an effective ally in the workplace:

  1. Listen and Learn: The first step to becoming an ally is to listen and learn. Take the time to understand the experiences and perspectives of others in your workplace. Attend diversity and inclusion training sessions, read books and articles on the topic, and have open and honest conversations with colleagues.
  2. Speak Up: When you witness undesirable behavior or language, speak up. Seek to do it in a way that doesn’t attack the offender. If you help them save face, they will be more open to learning and changing rather than feeling the need to defend themselves.
  3. Amplify Marginalized Voices: Use your platform to amplify the voices by actively seeking out and sharing their ideas, perspectives, and contributions. Recommend them for job openings, invite them to participate in projects, and advocate for their advancement.
  4. Challenge Your Own Biases: We all have biases, whether we realize it or not. Take the time to reflect on your own biases and challenge them. This can include examining your assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes towards different groups of people. Try Kristen Pressner’s technique “Flip It To Test It” (Chapter 12 of The Connector’s Advantage).
  5. Use Inclusive Language: Be mindful of the language you use when communicating with colleagues. This is one I have been practicing — and it does take conscious effort. Showing effort and intent goes a long way.

At the end of the day, it feels good in all directions when we think and act like an ally to those around us. There are great benefits to the organization when employees feel supported and valued; including increased productivity, engagement and retention. But my favorite benefit is simply creating stronger relationships with those around you.

What do you do to be an ally? I am still learning.