When we look to build diverse and inclusive workplaces, we sometimes forget to harness one of the biggest forces of change and inclusion: allyships. Let’s start with a definition. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines allyship as “supportive association with another person or group … specifically: such association with the members of a marginalized or mistreated group to which one does not belong.”
As a SHRM HR Knowledge Advisor, I am often asked questions related to building inclusive workplaces and implementing initiatives to increase diversity. Sure, goals and well-worded statements are great, but real inclusive workplaces start with employees and leadership being allies in the workplace to underrepresented groups.
True allyship grows in a culture of trust and accountability. Leadership should make a point to support and add visibility to underrepresented groups by ensuring all employees feel they have a chance to take part in meetings and be heard. How often have we been in meetings in which some team members are interrupted, or their comments aren’t acknowledged? These instances provide an opportunity for allies to stand up, correct the behavior by calling it out, and empower their fellow team members to bring forth ideas and innovation for the company.
In my own career, I have been the beneficiary of such acts of allyship. I remember often being included in a leadership meeting for an employer, but rarely being allowed to speak or share ideas. A co-worker noticed and took time at the next meeting to hold the team members accountable by bringing this to the group’s attention, ensuring that I was provided with the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas at the start of the meeting. After this, I noticed other leaders making a more conscious effort to include team members from a variety of backgrounds in the planning and strategic meetings and ensure they had opportunities to contribute.
Allies should feel supported and be aware that these actions can be simple but meaningful gestures. Not all allyship occurs in public settings. It may take place in one-on-one conversations or through mentoring employees from underrepresented groups and recommending these employees for highly visible projects or initiatives. As leaders and HR professionals, it is important for us to model this behavior and encourage it when we see it to build inclusive workplace cultures.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that allyship is not just about speaking out. Take the time to educate yourself about some of the challenges that marginalized individuals face and recognize some of your own biases or privileges. Make sure to also be open and listen as an ally to groups or individuals. As Sonia Aranza, CEO and principal consultant of Aranza Communications, stated in a recent SHRM article, “Allyship is courageous action.” Educating yourself on challenges and taking time to reflect on situations in which you may have made missteps or acted on preconceived notions will assist in becoming an ally. Aranza also offers a few tips on the dos and don’ts of authentic allyship as well as ways to seek opportunities to act going forward. Allyship is an important piece of inclusive workplaces, and, when used effectively, it can be a force for change throughout your organization.
If you want to know more about allyship and inclusive workplaces or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!
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