Allyship at Work
2nd August 2023
Allyship at work has to be positioned strategically, and embedded in your values, to truly make a difference to your D&I goals – and your overall performance
Article by Ann Allcock, Head of Diversity at Marshall E-Learning.
Allyship at work is truly in the diversity and inclusion spotlight these days. To give it a definition, we can say that it’s about taking action to ensure that people with traditionally marginalised identities are included, valued, and feel as though they belong. But, while many people think of themselves as workplace allies, research shows that, on gender allyship at least, there is a mismatch in perception of the rate of progress on allyship, with those who are intended to benefit still not feeling that they are getting the allyship that they need. And that means that businesses are not getting the maximum benefits, either.
We tend to think about allyship from the perspective of daily interactions between staff, and around how colleague responses can support and empower individual employees in-the-moment – perhaps through bystander intervention when inappropriate behaviour is witnessed.
But how can organisations get to grips with allyship at work so that it is positioned strategically, and to deliver the biggest impact possible for business outcomes? Here are three suggestions that will support your approach.
Three steps to a more strategic approach to allyship at work:
- Embed allyship in organisational values
Allyship at work contributes to inclusion, which in turn delivers business benefits. Inclusion improves employee engagement and their sense of belong, which in turn can reduce staff turnover – especially among those who may opt to leave because they feel unwelcome, uncomfortable, under-valued or unsupported. This then leads to greater innovation, productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction.
Organisations should avoid seeing allyship as a badge of honour, and be wary of limiting advocating for those with marginalised identities to times when a particular inequity is front-page news. Allyship at work should be encouraged as active behaviour for which everyone is responsible, all the time, and be positioned as the expected cultural norm, to amplify the ripple effect of inclusion.
- Take a corporate lead and position allyship as something that the organisation is fully signed up to, rather than something that individual employees do
- Examine how allyship aligns with your organisational values and describe how it fits with your associated behaviour framework
- Signal that allyship is part of the expected workplace culture, and spell out that allyship action will not attract criticism or negative repercussions
- Recognise that allyship at work can show up in many different ways
There are many meaningful manifestations of allyship, from educating ourselves and challenging our biased mindsets, to pushing for change through daily interactions with others, and using positional power to achieve fairer or more inclusive norms, policies, or systems. This means that no employee is left out of the opportunity to participate in an organisation’s allyship effort.
Someone who has read up on an issue to understand inequities, allowing them to confidently bring this knowledge and awareness into a conversation or decision-making process (for example, when discussing hiring practices) is as important as someone calling out microaggressions or other unacceptable behaviour, or someone acting as a mentor or sponsor to a colleague with a marginalised identity. There is no hierarchy of ‘appropriate’ or ‘favoured’ allyship actions – all are helpful, and all add up over time.
- Make allyship accessible to all employees by acknowledging and valuing the different ways in which they can demonstrate their commitment and put this into practice for the benefit of the whole workforce.
- Support employees at all levels around allyship
Allyship at work isn’t simple, as the topics of privilege and marginalisation are complex, sensitive, and potentially triggering. There are many do’s and don’ts, and, in order to get it right, employees need education and support. Most people want to do the right thing, but often don’t know how to approach allyship, and the consequent inaction sends a powerful and destructive message in itself – that disrespectful behaviour is not noticed, or is ok; that people agree with unfair ways of working; or that they just don’t care. Leaders, in particular, can feel the anxiety of the spotlight to role model allyship behaviour.
- Provide training for employees on allyship and its importance, to deliver a better understanding of the challenges faced by marginalised groups, and how to appropriately advocate for or support them
- Create a ‘community of allies’ where employees can learn and share their experiences with others, to support one another
- Offer support and education for leaders to build confidence and competence, and then hold them accountable for promoting allyship at work
Go further with diversity and inclusion with Marshalls
Want to learn or do more about allyship at work? Our new allyship elearning training course is here to help. Alternatively, we can support your organisation’s diversity and inclusion goals with bespoke in-person training or consultancy; get in touch to discuss your needs and find out how we can help.
Or, if you want to read more in our ongoing series about guidance and practical actions to help organisations make progress on diversity and inclusion, read this next: Diversity, equity and inclusion – what does progress look like?