4 Ways to Become a Better Ally in the Workplace
What Is An Ally In The Workplace?
During LGBTQ+ Pride Month in the U.S. and Pride Season in Canada, you’ll often hear the term “ally” used to describe individuals who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community but play an important role in supporting and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. But how does this translate to the workplace, and does allyship exist for marginalized people not in the LGBTQ+ community?
Allies at work actively support and advocate publicly for individuals from underrepresented groups, such as women and people of color. While allyship and mentorship can focus on helping others progress in their careers, effective allyship at work is about conscious participation to help break down systemic constructs that create inequity.
“In today’s workforce, no leader can truly perform their role without becoming an ally. It is part of our inherent responsibility as leaders to create a work environment that provides opportunities for all and use our own social, personal, and business capital to bring others into existing power and privilege structures,” said Luis Casado, Water Business Line Director and inaugural leader of Connected Allies of Gannett Fleming.
Read on to explore four ways to become a better ally at work.
1. Understand Privilege and Power To Be Part of The Solution
The word “privilege” can have negative connotations. Still, it’s important to understand that recognizing privilege is not about suggesting that people who experience privilege haven’t struggled or worked hard. The truth is that everyone experiences privilege within specific contexts. Acknowledging the privilege and power you and others possess can be impactful in challenging norms and creating a more inclusive workplace. We need everyone to be part of the solution, and that’s where being a strong ally comes into play.
For example, suppose you are a person without physical disabilities. How you move around and use your company’s office or wear company-branded apparel may not be something you think about too much because you have the privilege of being in the majority group. However, if you hire a new employee who uses a wheelchair, for example, this person may experience inequity if:
- Doorways, entrances, and bathroom stalls aren’t wide enough to fit their wheelchair.
- Ramps or elevators are inaccessible or inoperable.
- Their workspace is too small, preventing them from moving around their work area or switching to using an office chair while working.
- Your apparel or uniform provider doesn’t provide tailoring or adaptive clothing options specifically designed for wheelchair users, who often experience uncomfortable bunching or gaping that can also get in the way of wheelchair operation.
If you made changes to fix the issues addressed above to accommodate your new employee, it wouldn’t take anything away from the majority group. Being an ally means considering the needs and perspectives of marginalized groups to ensure they have fair and equal access to opportunities and taking action when you encounter situations where team members are excluded or face restrictions to participate or engage fully.
2. If You See Something, Say Something
One of the more challenging aspects of being an effective ally is being vocal in uncomfortable situations. If you see or hear something harassing, offensive, or discriminatory, it’s crucial to intervene when it happens, whether anyone from the targeted group is present or not. It’s not enough to stay silent and offer sympathies or apologies to victims later; showing your support in the moment helps shut down excuses or gaslighting that can occur when a victim reacts negatively or tries to defend themselves.
An approach you can take is to explain that the comment or action was offensive to you, then frame it as a learning opportunity. For example, we have a firm commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) at Gannett Fleming, including a comprehensive non-discrimination policy. Sometimes, simply reminding team members of your company’s non-discrimination policy or DEI&B commitment can be enough to shut down the situation. However, if you feel that the problem is getting out of hand or that it would be unsafe for you to intervene, you should always immediately report these incidents to your manager and human resources department so that they can take prompt action.
3. Don’t Be A Performative Ally
As DEI&B initiatives have become more common in workplaces around the globe, we have also seen a rise in performative allyship. Performative allyship occurs when those with privilege publicly support DEI&B topics or marginalized groups to distance themselves from scrutiny, but they do not take concrete actions to effect change or shift the benefits of their privilege to marginalized groups.
To ensure that you’re not a performative ally in the workplace, engage in deliberate, authentic behavior to:
- Uplift those in underrepresented groups.
- Support and work alongside them to achieve progress.
You can do this by encouraging team members to share their concerns openly and helping find ways to address them.
Gannett Fleming is proud to sponsor several employee resource groups (ERGs) to ensure traditionally underrepresented groups have a voice and connection to the larger organization. These currently include:
- Connected Women at Gannett Fleming™.
- Future Generations of Gannett Fleming.
- LGBTQ+ of Gannett Fleming.
- Military Veterans at Gannett Fleming.
These groups are open to allies, and allies are encouraged to attend meetings and events and provide support and assistance with recommending and implementing change. Our ERGs and their ally members have been instrumental in advancing the firm’s DEI initiatives, from enacting a paid parental leave policy to working on a solution to display employees’ preferred names across our internal and external systems.
4. Implement Diverse Hiring Practices and Develop your Existing Diverse Talent
Although research shows that women earn the majority of all undergraduate and advanced degrees, they are still significantly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. In fields like engineering and computer science, women accounted for just 14% and 26% of the workforce in 2021, respectively, and Black women only held approximately 2% of STEM jobs in the U.S. in 2019. Additionally, Hispanic and Latino scientists and engineers made up fewer than 8% of the science and engineering workforce in 2019. Incorporating best practices in the talent management lifecycle to include diverse candidate slates, insisting upon inclusion in the selection process, and developing employees from underrepresented groups are areas where white employees, particularly white men, can step up as allies to help marginalized groups in the workplace thrive.
To attract a more diverse talent pool, adjust the language in your job descriptions to remove bias. Phrases and words that signal bias, such as “energetic,” “aggressive,” and gendered pronouns, can deter candidates from underrepresented groups from even applying. You can be more inclusive during the selection process by:
- Including women and people of color on your interview teams.
- Requesting blind resumes.
- Implementing intentional and targeted recruiting of individuals from underrepresented groups.
It’s equally as important to make investments in and develop the diverse talent you already have. You can do this through:
- Assigning stretch projects that provide visibility and responsibility.
- Highlighting the employee’s strengths and achievements.
- Mentoring, encouraging, and supporting the employee.
- Introducing the employee to leaders, decision-makers, and other power players in your company and industry.
- Bringing the employee to industry and networking events.