The last few years have prompted many people and businesses to rethink how they approach inclusivity and promote equality in the workplace. For those who are fighting systemic injustices such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. at work, allyship has always been an important tool for change and solidarity.
Look back at the most notable strides in workplace inclusivity in recent history, and it is those who stand in solidarity that help enact important change. For example, when SCOTUS ruled to protect the employment rights of LGBTQIA+ people, the responsibility of protecting these rights fell on allies in the workplace – that’s co-workers, employers, friends, and family.
At AllyBot, we understand that addressing privilege and changing the way you work to promote inclusivity can be difficult, and we’re here to help. Our Slack add-on privately lets team members know when their words may exclude people and will politely provide suggestions for promoting inclusive language.
In this article, we’ll give you a complete guide on allyship and discuss what you’ll need to do to become a great ally in the workplace.
What is an Ally?
An ally – in terms of workplace allyship – is a team member that does not belong to a marginalized group but advocates for better inclusion and improved rights for those that belong to the group. Allies celebrate diversity in the workplace and promote gender inclusivity in a way that other co-workers don’t.
The revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 sparked an increased focus on what it means to be an ally. In fact, allyship was chosen as the word of the year in 2021 for this very reason.
George Lakey, author of Training for Change describes allyship as a spectrum. There are two main types of allies:
- A passive ally is someone who sympathizes with the struggle for inclusivity but does nothing to actively make a difference for the marginalized people in their lives
- An active ally uses their place in society (i.e. their privilege) to fight for inclusion and make meaningful changes to how they act to include marginalized co-workers.
How to Be a Better Ally in the Workplace
How can you ensure you’re being an active ally? Here are some best practices for becoming a better ally.
Always Use Inclusive Language
What you say and the way you communicate with colleagues make a big difference to how included and comfortable marginalized folk feel. The main aim of inclusive language is to ensure what you say doesn’t exclude other people.
Here are some basic rules to follow to start you off:
- Instead of saying “guys”, try using a gender-neutral term like “everyone”, “y’all”, or “folks” or find a more specific way of saying it, like: “hey team!”
- Avoid using gender-specific nouns – such as “salesman”, “postman”, “policeman”, “reception girl”, and “poster boy”, etc. Fixing this is easy, just switch out “man” or “woman” for “person”.
- Don’t say “man up”, “toughen up” or use any phrases that promote toxic masculinity. It’s much more appropriate to be supportive and listen to concerns instead.
- Jettison anything related to mental illness out of your vocabulary. Terms like “idiot”, “sanity”, and even “dumb” can be quite exclusionary.
No one’s expecting you to get it right the first time, and it can be difficult to get used to inclusive language. That’s why we’ve developed our Slack tool – AllyBot – to remind you if you ever get it wrong!
Many of us just don’t know enough about the struggles and history of marginalized people to make meaningful changes to the way we act.
An important step is educating yourself about:
- The problems marginalized groups face daily
- The history of the struggle for inclusion
- What causes these problems? What is the effect of exclusion in the workplace?
- What steps have been taken so far (in society and through legislation) – to improve inclusion?
- What is still left to be done?
Remember, don’t put the burden of education on your marginalized colleagues. The expectation to educate others can be physically and emotionally exhausting. There are plenty of resources online to start your education. Googling something takes less than a minute to do.
If you do want to ask your colleagues about their experiences, ask permission first (and of course, respect their decision). Be willing to learn from their response and don’t approach the conversation with skepticism. This will only make your co-workers uncomfortable.
The Creative Equity Toolkit has some great resources on anti-racism. McKinsey explored LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace here. Lastly, the Havard Business Review published a great article on creating a trans-inclusive workplace.
Understand and Address Your Privilege
An important aspect of being an active ally is recognizing and addressing your privilege.
A common misconception is that having privilege is a bad thing or that people should be ashamed of it.
In reality, recognizing your privilege is an important step to understanding the struggles of marginalized groups and adopting the right point of view for eliminating exclusion.
Life at work is inherently harder for some people due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.
Examples of privilege at work include:
- As a white cis-gendered man, chances are you won’t ever have to hide your culture or even avoid starting a family for fear of hurting your career.
- Male employees probably won’t feel uncomfortable being alone with a female colleague or won’t have to worry about walking home in the dark.
- Cisgender people won’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable or being excluded from using facilities meant for their gender.
Privilege refers to the benefits or power that unmarginalized people accrue in society through who they are – being white, a man, or cis. It’s not your fault if you’re privileged, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Recognizing how things may be easier for you when compared to a colleague is an important step in understanding what needs to be done to help them feel included.
Be a Better Ally via Inclusive Language with AllyBot
Being an active ally ensures you’re doing your bit to help your co-workers feel included in your team and enjoy equal opportunities to you. This all starts with a mindset change – and the best way to do that is to encourage the use of inclusive language.
We understand being inclusive is difficult – so that’s why we’ve developed a Slack tool to help you and your team members along on this journey. AllyBot checks your Slack messages for over 400 non-inclusive words and phrases and privately reminds team members when they get it wrong.