It’s essential to recognize that community members who come together to further their economic and social benefits through work have similar interests. These typically include paying for a more comfortable lifestyle, raising a family, and planning for retirement, among others. Despite these inherent common goals, not everyone enjoys the same level of corporate input and respect. When underrepresented team members are not afforded an equitable voice in an organization, it’s crucial that colleagues support them. Perhaps the best way to promote a fair and diverse business environment involves learning how to be an ally in the workplace.
What is an Ally in the Workplace?
When everyday people hear the term “ally,” they typically think about groups that stand together against a common adversary. During World War II, the U.S., Europe, and other nations banded together to repel Nazi Germany’s aggression. Following the successful defeat of the enemy, they create formal alliances such as NATO.
In many ways, these historical events and international partnerships represent a macrocosm of what it means to be an ally. Nations stood together against seemingly more powerful forces to overcome adversity. In corporate and non-profit settings, employees sometimes band together organically. Other times they engage in formal organizing to support each other and enhance their voice.
[Read More: Diversity in the Workplace]
What Does it Mean to be an Ally at Work?
Corporate America today appears to be a place of great change and, to some degree, controversy. The idea of workplace allies tends to focus on the alignment between the majority who held sway over industries for decades and the fair inclusiveness of minorities and women.
The 2019 U.S. Census indicates that the country's racial makeup stands at 60.1 percent White, 18.5 percent Latino, 13.4 percent African-American, and 5.9 percent Asian-American. It’s easy to see how a majority perspective can unknowingly drown out those in a diverse workforce. That’s why being an ally in the current business climate often involves members of the majority making a concerted effort to align themselves with underrepresented colleagues.
Although supporting women and minorities in the workplace seems relatively straightforward in practice, business leadership consultants highlight the fact people from different backgrounds routinely miscommunicate. Leadership and diversity expert Jim Ludema, Ph.D., and human-centered business consultant Amber Johnson, Ph.D., penned a Forbes magazine article dealing with diversity and allyship. In the piece, they point out that sometimes good faith efforts on the part of coworkers miss the mark entirely.
For example, how to be an ally in the workplace does not necessarily mean coming to the table with the assumption someone in an empowered position has the answers. It’s essential for good people who want to support diversity in the workplace to position themselves as an ally in a way that respects, acknowledges, and helps level the playing field in an inclusive fashion.
Ways to be an Ally and Support Diversity in the Workplace
A great deal of conversation regarding inclusion at work and how to be an ally in the workplace revolves around action. Experts and advocates alike have a tendency to lay out strategies, and steps members of management and the rank-and-file can take to overcome unrecognized biases and advance meaningful diversity. But one of the necessary elements that sometimes gets overlooked involves mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis in the workplace can open doors to improved communication. People that incorporate this type of mental training typically gain benefits that include reduced stress and anxiety. But in terms of how to be an ally in the workplace, mindfulness helps staff members remain in the moment and focus on messages in a non-judgmental way.
Positive Psychology discusses using mindfulness in the workplace as a way to create a “present-focused consciousness.” Being present likely increases the chances that colleagues with different backgrounds and points of reference can hear each other in deeper ways. That being said, these are methods co-workers can leverage to be a better ally and support workplace diversity.
- Listen & Reflect: Workplace conversation does not necessarily happen in a vacuum. Co-workers bring their unique life experiences to the dialogue. Too often, people are trying to create a meeting of the minds but are talking past one another. A self-aware ally takes the time to replay conversations in their mind and garners deeper understanding.
- Ensure Inclusiveness: People in the majority and leadership roles sometimes operate under the assumption they possess expert-level knowledge. This idea may lead to demographic majorities drowning out differing opinions and perspectives. A thoughtful ally advocates for all colleagues to enjoy a platform to express their views and brings pertinent ideas to the conversation.
- Agent for Change: People in the majority have an opportunity to change corporate cultures from the inside. Underrepresented colleagues are sometimes perceived as advancing their own interests when pressing forward for an equal voice. Majority insiders typically have open communication with leadership and decision-makers. That powerful position can be leveraged to amplify voices and advance diversity.
Whether business professionals recognize it or not, they are all allies who come together and further economic and personal interests together. The very nature of putting in a workweek involves a joint effort to achieve goals. The question is not whether everyday people are allies. It’s how to be an ally in the workplace that furthers everyone’s interests.
Mindful Leadership: Workplace Allies Employ Meaningful Listening & Right Actions
As people develop professional relationships and friendships, it’s not uncommon to desire equity in the workplace. The sense that you are all in it together becomes very real. Seeing the voices of underrepresented team members go unheard leaves good people feeling uneasy. However, honing your mindfulness skills and acting as an ally from within leads to equitable change.