5 Pillars of Allyship in the Workplace, As Told by a DE&I Advisor

A group of diverse employees sit across a table smiling to something off camera.

This article was written by Sophie Keahon, a professional recruiter and DE&I advisor based in Phoenix.

Allyship is defined by The Anti-Oppression Network as “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluation, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group.” Allyship is not something that can be turned on and off in the workplace or at home, but rather it is a continuous investment of our time and energy in supporting others, educating ourselves, applying our newfound knowledge, and taking responsibility for our own words and actions.

The concept of allyship has expanded over decades, and it will continue to do so as our society learns and grows together. Anyone can be an ally, and there are a number of ways in which you can be one.

To break it down, here are five of the major components of allyship in the workplace and beyond. We follow that with morsels of advice from diverse Insight Global employees.

Acknowledgement

The first step towards genuine allyship in the workplace is acknowledging one’s own place in the world. How we grow up, where we are raised, what we have access to, the color of our skin, the language we speak, and our gender (among other factors) impact the way we move through life and perceive the world around us—either consciously or subconsciously.

When you believe we are all given the same opportunities in life, or you are “color blind” to others around you, you fail to recognize each individual’s unique life experience. Everyone has bias. It is ingrained in us, and is often involuntary, but with time and effort we can learn to identify and alter our individual biases. By knowing where we stand in society, we can put our place and privilege into perspective and lift those who may not have the same life experience as us.

“Everyone comes from a different background and different life experience, and it’s important to realize that when your background and experience comes at a privilege compared to others, you can be the voice for those who do not have the same privilege. This helps shed light on experiences and ignite (as well as continue) conversations that need to be had.”

— Andrea Rodriguez, Professional Recruiter and DE&I Advisor, Insight Global

Language

We regularly update the language of our phones, computers, and other technology, so why shouldn’t we update our language?

One of the many ways biases can manifest is in our language, often through the use of microaggressions or words rooted in racism and harmful stereotypes. Many of these expressions are so entrenched in our lexicon that we don’t think twice before using them casually. Words that have been historically used to describe a person by their outwardly appearance or abilities can be extremely hurtful and demeaning to people and the way they chose to identify and wish to be identified as.

Asking someone where they are born or where they are from insinuates the country you live in. Using the phrase “you guys” when addressing a group can unintentionally misgender individuals in the group that might identify otherwise. Saying, “You don’t look (insert ethnicity),” or, “You don’t sound gay,” invalidates identity and what it means to belong to that group. These are just a few examples of statements that could be curious or innocent but manifest as microaggressions.

Even with the best of intentions, using words or phrases to categorize or define an individual or marginalized group places them into a box that they had no say in. The language we use matters. Therefore, it’s critical we take ownership of the words we use and recognize the impact they have on others.

“A great way to show up as a supportive ally is to normalize giving your pronouns and not assume the pronouns of others! It can be as easy as, “Hi, I’m John, I use he/him pronouns,” or adding them to your email signature. This simple practice can foster a space for your trans/non-binary/GNC (gender non-conforming) colleagues to feel safe showing up authentically.”

—Paige Mattox, Portfolio Coordinator, Evergreen

Listening

Listen up! Make room at the table! Keeping an open mind and heart allows others to share the ideas and stories that are unique to them and helps us expand our scope of the world.

Gaps exist where diversity doesn’t. This is true in any friend group, workplace, school, and religion. Innovation stems from diversity, and without it, we wouldn’t have collaboration, progression, and unity. Listening as an ally may include receiving feedback or having to hear the hard truth about the ties you are bound to by your own identity. Regardless of how we identify, it is important to lift as we climb and give those who have been disproportionately marginalized the space and voice to speak.

Part of that includes keeping generational trauma in mind, especially for groups that have been oppressed in society due to the way they look or identify.

For queer-identifying people in the workplace, hiding their identity and reserving their true selves for the sake of safety and self-protection stems from decades of discrimination and the way queer representation has put them into one archetype. The treatment (and lack of awareness and medical support) of the LQGBT+ community in the ’80s during the HIV-AIDS epidemic was fueled by discrimination that we still in 2022 with the way people have judged and dismissed the serious nature of the monkeypox outbreak.

Listen to these groups when they tell you how they’re feeling. The performative “woke” person takes up a lot of space. The ally makes space.

“Allyship in the workplace means giving a voice to other perspectives and making sure your peers feel comfortable in bringing their full selves to work. This involves doing your due diligence to create a safe space for self-expression. This can be accomplished by educating yourself on the culture and backgrounds of your peers and offering support when the community of your peers requires it.”

— Tyler Horne, DE&I Recruiting Strategist, Insight Global

Research

No one is born with all the answers. The benefit of living in the 21st century is having a breadth of information right at our fingertips. There are innumerable resources to aid us in our journey to becoming a better ally to the point where it can sometimes be overwhelming.

While it may be tempting, we cannot expect to be educated by others, placing undue burden on marginalized groups. We must continuously do our own research on the experiences of others and challenge our own discomfort.

For audio learners, a great place to start is podcasts. Shows like Code Switch, Yo, Is This Racist and LGBTQ&A give insight into different topics impacting the community and perspectives from people in those groups. If statistics stick best with you, the Pew Research Center has subsections dedicated to race & ethnicity and another for gender & LGBTQ+. Both are updated weekly with new information and data that brings further insight to the struggles the queer community and POC face disproportionately. For visual learners, books like Subtle Acts of Exclusion and We Can Do Better Than This teach the why behind these systemic issues and how to put what is learned into action.

By equipping ourselves with knowledge about structural racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and injustice, we can better comprehend the impact our actions have on others.

“Continue to educate yourself. Engage in conversations that push your perspective, and intentionally practice what you learn. Be open and welcoming to all and, put simply: be kind.”

— Ella Pe, Account Manager and Pride ENRG President, Insight Global

Advocacy

Intentional, proactive action is the mark of an ally. This should not be confused with performative allyship. Knowledge is power, and with that power, there is responsibility to continue the conversation and engage, even when it is uncomfortable.

To be an advocate isn’t singular; it’s not just going to protests or posting on social media, but rather continuously striving for lasting change. Advocacy requires practice and, like allyship, requires action. This doesn’t mean representing or speaking on behalf of marginalized groups; however, we can serve as accomplices in fighting for their privilege and solidarity. We should encourage others to use their privilege to do the same.

Aligning oneself with a non-profit that promotes inclusivity and making time to volunteer is a great place to start, for example. Practicing advocacy in the workplace does not need to be through presentations or lectures. Extending the invitation to join in your efforts on the volunteer front, or even stopping microaggressions dead in their tracks, can help move thinking forward.

“Allyship in the workplace doesn’t have to be complex. It starts with listening, educating yourself, and then developing habits of inclusion in our daily lives. When we do this, we impact our spheres of influence and spark conversation that would not have taken place before. Holding ourselves and others accountable to speaking up–even when it’s uncomfortable–is a step we all can take to becoming an effective ally.”

— Jo King, DE&I Analyst, Insight Global


There is no one way learn allyship in the workplace, but by translating these ideas and practices into action, we can bring systematic change in the workplace and beyond.

With an inquisitive mindset and a personal desire to grow, anyone can be an ally. I hope these points have inspired the ally in you both in and outside of the workplace.

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