“Be an ally.”
It’s probably something you’ve heard a lot in the last few years as organizational leaders rallied employees to be advocates for social justice in the wake of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements. Employees and management were called to educate themselves about privilege and the history of marginalizing systems, and to support colleagues who belong to marginalized groups. The underlying message was one of urgency and action: we are in harrowing times, and people need to step up.
However, engaging in allyship sustainably requires more than simply becoming an ally: it requires an ongoing commitment to being aware of issues affecting marginalized groups, building meaningful relationships with marginalized coworkers, and advocating for better policies and practices in your organization. I suggest three ways you can do this.
1. Mix Up Your Allyship
You have an expansive toolkit of allyship behaviors at your disposal. Some are small and simple, like identifying yourself as an ally on social media, posting an ally sticker on your office door, or checking on a friend after a mega-threat. Other allyship behaviors are more radical, like advocating for a policy change in your organization or confronting discriminatory remarks As you consider your approach to allyship, be aware that different coworkers may desire different types of allyship—don’t be afraid to ask them about it.
The small and simple forms of allyship are important but engaging in allyship sustainably involves engaging in allyship behaviors that lie a bit beyond your comfort zone. Just as an athlete should train more than one muscle group, allies looking to grow should engage in more than one type of allyship.
2. Evaluate Your Allyship
Growing as an ally involves more than engaging in different types of allyship: it’s also about thoughtfully and intentionally evaluating each allyship interaction between you and a marginalized group member.
First, listen to—and believe—marginalized people when they provide feedback about your allyship. If the person you’re trying to support tells you that your allyship didn’t quite land, try to understand why so that you can do better next time.
In some cases, you may not receive explicit feedback from another person. In these instances, honestly ask yourself questions about your allyship. Why did you act? Why did you engage in that particular behavior? What were the outcomes? If they were positive, why? If they were negative, why?
Self-evaluation can be time-consuming, emotional, and even uncomfortable, especially when it doesn’t go as planned. But if you want to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace, self-evaluation will help you better understand how to become a more reliable ally for marginalized people.
3. Refine Your Allyship
Finally, remember that you’ll almost certainly experience failures in your pursuit of allyship.. Being a good ally doesn’t mean getting it right every single time; it means leveraging mistakes as learning opportunities and using lessons from those mistakes to refine your allyship and your relationships with marginalized colleagues moving forward.
By transforming imperfections into growth, you can fight discrimination more effectively and sustainably, becoming a better ally in a movement to achieve social justice.