While not new, allyship is a concept that’s new to many people. When it comes to the word “ally,” it's helpful to see it as a verb, not a noun. It’s something you do over and over again — not something you are, one and done. Being an ally isn’t about you, it’s about the community you support. It means listening, educating yourself, and, when needed, lending your voice to those who don’t have one.
Many people are doing their individual parts to address bias and exclusion. Many others are part of the marginalized groups who are still subject to that bias and exclusion. Regardless of which group your employees fall into, they all deserve a safe, supportive environment to operate in.
By taking some of the following suggested actions, you can help create this safe and suportive environment for your team while also setting a great example for others to follow as they work to become stronger allies.
The Field Guide to Allyship in the Workplace
Are you and your team ready to become stronger allies?
Communicate Openly and Directly
It’s important that you acknowledge the existence of bias, exclusion, and tribalism in the workplace, and communicate to your team about where you stand. In order for employees to feel supported, especially during difficult times, they need to hear it from you directly. And hearing you talk openly about such difficult topics may make it easier for them to start talking about it with each other, which is a big part of allyship.
Speak for Yourself
Do your best to avoid speaking for anyone, and graciously accept others’ attempts to correct you when you misstep. You’ll again set a great example for your team on how to welcome feedback that can lead to growth and change.
While it’s important to talk about privilege, bias, and exclusion openly, it’s even more important for managers to avoid speaking on behalf of any marginalized group or people within those groups.
Be careful not to discount anyone’s individual experience — even the most well-intentioned person can make this mistake. Implicit bias is in our nature. You may instinctively compare yourself to an employee or colleague, or make assumptions about their experience, but what matters is how you course-correct. Do your best to avoid speaking for anyone, and graciously accept others’ attempts to correct you when you misstep. You’ll again set a great example for your team on how to welcome feedback that can lead to growth and change.
Ensure Employees Know They Are Supported
For many people, the workplace offers a community that they don’t have elsewhere. When times get tough, it’s important for your employees to know they can rely on support from you when they need it.
In addition to verbalizing your support, there are ways you can show your support through action:
- Ask about your employee’s wellbeing and encourage self-care practices
- Share resources for wellness like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
- Offer time off, flexible working hours, or remote work options if possible
- Confirm and provide any mental health and/or wellness stipends if available
- Make yourself available to talk outside of scheduled one-on-one check-ins
Maintain — and Tailor — Regular Check-ins
Part of supporting your team includes checking in with them regularly. While check-ins with your employees are typically focused on role- and performance-related topics (and they still can be), you should consider adjusting the focus to meet your team’s immediate needs.
As members of your team begin the important work of educating themselves, some may need more, or different, support than others. Some may have questions about how to behave in certain scenarios, or might be struggling to understand some of their learnings. The employees who are part of under-represented groups may want some distance to process, or might need a place to vent safely. You should make an effort to understand what each employee needs and how they’ll feel best supported by you.
Create Safe Spaces for Discussion
Encourage participation by setting an open, nonjudgmental tone — if those involved can practice active listening, and avoid getting defensive or guilt-tripping others, more people may feel comfortable enough to join in.
One of the simplest actions you can take in allyship can also be the hardest. Many of us have begun to have difficult discussions with friends, family, and colleagues around privilege, bias, and exclusion. In order to minimize feelings of defeat and maximize the effectiveness of these discussions in the workplace, safe spaces are necessary.
When creating these safe spaces, make sure all employees know they are welcome. Encourage participation by setting an open, nonjudgmental tone — if those involved can practice active listening, and avoid getting defensive or guilt-tripping others, more people may feel comfortable enough to join in. To support productive discussion, here’s a few more helpful practices you and your team can try:
- Assume good intent - Assuming good intent in others, especially those outside of our immediate circle, is one of the more challenging steps of allyship. To do this, you and your employees need to be aware of your own biases — whether they’re conscious or unconscious — and understand them, so that, over time, they exert less influence over your thinking and behavior. With practice, we can override our biases, and learn how to widen the circle of empathy in our workplaces and our communities.
- Meet people where they are - This simply means doing everything in your power to understand someone else’s story, their unique challenges, and their unique qualities. It means applying the skills of active listening and overcoming your own ingrained biases in the effort of getting to know someone personally. If done properly, meeting someone where they are will put you in a position where you’ll know how you might be able to use your privilege and influence to help someone overcome an obstacle.
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable - Allyship means venturing outside of your comfort zones, be it a certain social group or filter bubble, and trying to absorb a variety of opinions from people whose backgrounds are different from your own. You can disagree with arguments or ideas, but the goal is to listen and try to understand where others are coming from.
- Learn to accept non-closure - Despite yours and others’ efforts to understand where others are coming from, there could be some resistance as everyone finds their footing. People who are part of under-represented groups are dealing with a long history of bias and exclusion that has gone unchallenged for a long time. Now, as we all start doing our part to address this history, we must learn to be okay when our efforts don’t magically change things overnight and things aren’t okay (yet). Much of the work we need to do is personal and internal. If we’re able to take control of our own learning and growth, and focus on challenging ourselves to do better, then we’re on the right track.
How Justworks Can Help
If you’re eager to dedicate more time to creating stronger allyship at your workplace, Justworks can help. Our all-in-one platform streamlines payroll, benefits and HR admin, and other backend functions, freeing up more time for you to spend on your team. And taking that time to help build a safe, supportive workplace for your employees — that’s a step toward true allyship.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.