How to Be a True Ally in a Professional Setting
Social unrest, discrimination, and systemic racism are not new notions; these concepts have continued to be a major concern for minorities. The development of technology and social media has been a significant tool in pushing these issues to the forefront of the country’s consciousness. It is not as easy to deny the rampant mistreatment that certain members of society face daily. As the outcry against injustice has grown, so has the demand for concrete change. We have seen the efforts of some companies through the issuance of statements and pledges to develop and implement proper diversity and inclusion programs.
While there is a progress in having companies acknowledge these struggles, any efforts on a large scale can only be accomplished through the combined efforts on an individual basis. Change is not the responsibility of some, but the duty of all. Allyship has become a more prevalent component of the conversations on fighting injustice. However, following the historical social unrest of 2020 allyship became more of a performative tag rather than the conscious undertaking it truly is. Merriam-Webster defines allyship as “supportive association with another person or group.”
The reality of the matter is that the individuals facing discrimination are not asking others to become superheroes and save them from the circumstances they face. What is being asked for is that everyone take an active participation in dismantling the discriminatory circumstances. Protesting, signing petitions, donating, and engaging in social media are broad gestures that do not directly address the core concerns of the injustices that are occurring. A decision can be made to push beyond the surface level engagement and truly connect with the heart of allyship.
How can anyone be an ally in a professional setting? The first step is to understand what you are doing and why. Conducting further research into the concept of allyship and educating oneself on the reality of discrimination, injustice, and the systemic issues will be a valuable foundation to putting action behind allyship. It is important to remember that the purpose is not to speak for others and take the focus away from them, but rather to provide compassion and support in challenging oppressive circumstances they are facing.
Allyship actions in the workplace or in school can include vocally supporting underrepresented groups in all settings, and particularly when their own voices are being stifled or ignored. If you notice a peer from a marginalized group may be the only one in a meeting whose ideas are not being heard out, you could speak up and express interest in hearing what they have to say; you could also respectfully address someone if they were interrupting or speaking over your other classmates. You can also be an ally by advocating for others in rooms they might not have access to. If you are in a position of leadership at your firm and notice that minority associates are not being offered the same opportunity of assignments as their non-minority peers, you could advocate for the assignments to be more evenly distributed.
There are many subtle ways to use one’s privilege and influence to stand by members of underrepresented groups in one’s own environment. For true, lasting change to occur the mental and emotional cannot rest solely on the disenfranchised. Collective action must be taken, and the responsibility must be shared with every member of society. Fortunately, we live in a time where there has never been more information available to us. There are plenty of articles, videos, and literature on the topics of systemic racism, workplace discrimination, and allyship. Every person can play a role in the push for change.
Additional articles to gain understanding of allyship in the workplace include:
Be a Better Ally, Harvard Business Review