More and more companies are focusing on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, but there’s still a long way to go before we truly reach a place of acceptance and embracement. In order to create a true culture of value, everyone must embrace DEI—not just those at the top. However, it can be challenging to be a true ally if one doesn’t know where to start.
CNBC Make It’s Ashton Jackson recently interviewed Megan Hogan, chief diversity officer at Goldman Sachs, about how to become a true ally to your peers. Hogan defined allyship as “making sure people feel seen, heard and valued at their organizations. And quite candidly, not just in times of crisis.”
We’ll examine Hogan’s three best practices for becoming a better ally in the workplace, along with additional advice from various other experts.
Hogan states that true allyship starts with awareness and knowledge. Knowing the perspectives and experiences of diverse groups is crucial in becoming an ally. This means educating yourself on various issues and becoming aware of your own privilege.
Harvard Business Review’s Tsedale M. Melaku, Angie Beeman, David G. Smith, and W. Brad Johnson state that while it may seem easy to ask members of different diverse groups about their experiences, this can create an unfair burden of labor on your coworker. Do your best to do your own independent research beforehand, and always ask for permission before discussing these topics with others. Recall that not everyone from these communities will have the same experiences and that each person is a unique individual.
The Post’s Grace Koennecke stresses the importance of continuing to learn even if you make mistakes along the way. New terms and concepts will continue to emerge, and it’s normal to make a mistake. Take responsibility, apologize, and strive to do better next time.
With the power of knowledge at your side, you can now take active steps to be a better ally. Understanding the struggles faced by different groups allows you to actively help relieve their burdens.
“For example, if you’re a professional hosting events, are you aware that during certain key religious holidays people have to fast? Are you thinking about time zone differences for different colleagues? Are you thinking about when you put on multi-day events, that there’s nursing rooms for mothers? These are everyday acts of allyship that are quite practical and make sure that people feel included.” -Megan Hogan
However, during this stage, you must be careful to not make assumptions. You may be more informed from your education, and it’s nice to do your best to help your colleagues, but different people have different viewpoints and different needs. Forbes’ Holly Corbett cited Rachel Thomas, co-founder & CEO of LeanIn.Org and OptionB.Org, who mentioned a non-binary colleague who was misgendered. Rather than correct the offending party, Thomas instead asked the colleague how they would prefer the situation be handled. Ultimately, the colleague preferred that Thomas do nothing.
Awareness is great, but don’t assume it gives you all of the answers. And while this section is devoted to action, remember that listening and learning are still actions!
The final step in Hogan’s method involves recognizing your own discomfort and being an ally anyway. By acknowledging your mistakes and dedicating yourself to change, you can empower your colleagues and help create an inclusive workplace. Even if all you can do is publically admit a mistake and express a desire to do better, you’re still highlighting the importance of the issue.
Gannett Fleming’s Masai Lawson writes on the importance of being a supportive ally rather than a performative one. Make sure to truly uplift those in diverse groups and work with them to achieve progress. Being an ally is about support, which means never speaking over others or taking the glory for yourself.
“Performative allyship occurs when those with privilege publicly support DEI&B topics or marginalized groups to distance themselves from scrutiny, but they do not take concrete actions to effect change or shift the benefits of their privilege to marginalized groups.” –Masai Lawson
There’s a long way to go before we reach a true culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we learn new ways to be better every day. While it’s good to see companies more frequently embracing DEI initiatives, we can all do our part to create a more inclusive workplace. By following Hogan’s methodology of engaging, acting, and empowering, we can become allies that lift our coworkers up and create a better environment for them.