“Ally” can be a noun or a verb, and thus has several meanings, including in a DE&I context. When I need a definition, my first step is to check Merriam-Webster, which did not disappoint in this case. Their definition of the word as it pertains to DE&I is one of the more elegant I have read, capturing the nuances brilliantly in clear, concise language:
- one that is associated with another as a helper;
- a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle, often now used specifically of a person who is not a member of a marginalized or mistreated group but who expresses or gives support to that group
I love the word “helper” in the first definition. It implies helpful action, which is always needed when there is a struggle to be tackled. I also love the second definition that defines “ally” within the diversity space, simply and eloquently.
Our lived experiences are unique and varied but likely include being a member of many groups—some in the minority, others in the majority. If you think about it, that means the opportunity to be an ally—and to welcome other allies into our own lives—happens every day. My goal is to see those opportunities and act on them, offering help and support where I am able. I’ve been fortunate that this is a direct part of my job. Working for a company that literally creates a space and position that encompasses allyship is important to me. I imagine many of my DE&I colleagues feel the same way.
We could all use a refresher on how to become better advocates for others, so here are 5 ways to be an ally at work and beyond.
Understanding the roots of inequality and the histories of various minority groups is a good way to begin being a strong ally. Read their stories, study their culture and history, learn more about the unique struggles and roadblocks they have faced. Educate yourself about terminology, both preferred and taboo. This helps us recognize institutional inequality and the effects that this marginalization has on people, particularly in their careers.
Recognize your privilege and think about how you can use it to help those without the same. Privilege is not just an issue of race or gender. For example, you might be an immigrant who now enjoys the privileges of citizenship, who can now help those fighting for reform and similar opportunities. If you are in a managerial or leadership position, are college educated, or economically well-off, you have privilege that others who share your race or gender may not have. How can you use your privilege to help?
Listen to what someone is really saying. Validate their feelings and concerns. Don’t assume you know their problems or what help they need—let them tell you. Sometimes being a sounding board is the best way to be an ally; other times, someone may want more direct action or support.
Amplify Other Voices
Amplify the concerns and issues that others face, particularly by supporting their own efforts. Don’t speak for them. Just help them be heard. For example, letting your company know that pay equity is an important issue to you in a survey is good, but supporting your colleagues’ efforts to create a diverse, representative salary review committee might be more helpful. Be careful not to co-opt or monopolize their message or efforts—support people in the way they ask to be supported.
Recommend people for important, high-visibility internal projects as well as external opportunities like speaking engagements. Credential them at work by championing their talent and accomplishments to others. Give everyone a chance to write, give presentations, and speak at or lead meetings. Providing opportunity is a great way to be an ally.
Everyone has their own journey to advocacy and allyship. I work to provide a constant safe space for my allies, and I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, but the work to secure equal representation is ongoing. The journey to full inclusion and achieving collective success is everyone’s responsibility, and that takes year-round action, not just when Black History Month, Pride, or International Women’s Day rolls around. We can all learn how to become better advocates for our allies by getting involved. Sharing someone’s experience leads to greater understanding, empathy, and true allyship.
At ATR, our mission is to make the world a better place, one job at a time. Let’s work toward a more inclusive workplace together.
Meet Angelique Alvarez, Head of Supplier Diversity and Inclusion
As a subject matter expert on the topic and host of Latina Leading Diversity podcast, Angelique regularly speaks at events and works with businesses to help them meet their diverse spend requirements. In fact, her leadership landed her on SIA’s 2021 DE&I Influencers List and earned ATR the 2017 NMSDC’s National Supplier of the Year Award. Sign up for Angelique’s monthly newsletter to receive interesting articles, thought leadership, and ways to engage with the diverse supplier community.