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Allyship: A quick guide to building a diverse and inclusive workplace

Allyship: A quick guide to building a diverse and inclusive workplace

Haelee Reis
Haelee Reis
Head of Marketing and Program
Haelee Reis
May 11, 2023

Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is nothing new. HR departments and organizational leaders have devoted a lot of time and money to programs aimed at increasing representation, leveling the playing field, and enforcing gender pay parity for several years now. And what’s the result? In truth, it’s a mixed bag and very much depends on each company. 

In this article we’ll cover: 

  • What DEI in the workplace mean
  • Why is DEI important in the workplace
  • What the benefits of diversity and inclusion are
  • How becoming an Ally can help your business
  • Strategies to foster a culture of Allyship in the workplace

What does DEI in the workplace mean? 

Diversity and Inclusions in the workplace is to build a culture that respects and celebrates people with various values, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. It means creating a culture where everyone feels welcome, supported, and empowered to contribute their unique traits, skills, and talents to achieve common goals.

Why is DEI important in the workplace?

Overall, the picture is rather depressing. Despite all the attention and investment in DEI, many employees continue to feel overlooked. In one report, 22% of employees said they have felt excluded from promotional opportunities, and 17% witnessed instances of both blatant and unintentional discrimination. 

Another study showed that employees who self-identify as ethnic/racial, religious, or LGBTQI+ minorities are much more likely to feel excluded at work than the total population.

Source: Globescan 

A 2020 McKinsey report illustrates that while overall, employees were feeling optimistic about diversity when it comes to inclusion, it is overwhelmingly a negative experience.

Source McKinsey

And if you needed further proof, a Deloitte report shows that 93% of women believe their employer will not take action if they report non-inclusive behaviors, while the same number believe that reporting such behavior will negatively impact their careers.  

In other words, while many organizations have “officially” embraced diversity, it is only a tacit acceptance. Certain discriminatory behaviors continue to exist and flourish, preventing some people from moving forward in their careers.

What are the benefits of diversity and inclusion? 

Apart from the fundamental human rights aspect, there is the business aspect. 

According to a report by McKinsey, organizations significantly benefit when they commit to inclusion and diversity.

The key benefits of diversity and inclusion for organizations:

  1. Win the war for talent
  2. Improve the quality of decision-making
  3. Better customer insight and innovation
  4. Increased employee motivation and satisfaction
  5. Build the company’s global image and license to operate

1. Win the war for talent

Organizations can ensure that they hold onto their top talent and attract new talent when they monitor the demographic profile of their changing workforce and maintain a diverse workforce. 

2. Improve the quality of decision-making

McKinsey’s research demonstrates that organizations that invest in diversity and inclusion are better placed to make quality decisions. The reason is that having multiple perspectives boosts the odds of more creative solutions. Diverse companies are also more likely to have employees who feel they can be themselves at work and are empowered to participate and contribute.

3. Better Customer insight and innovation 

Again, McKinsey’s research illustrates that diverse teams are more innovative. This puts them in a better position to anticipate evolving consumer needs and consumption patterns, which feeds into product management, potentially generating a competitive edge.

4. Increased employee motivation and satisfaction

McKinsey research on Latin America shows that companies perceived as committed to diversity are about 75% more likely to report a pro-teamwork leadership culture.

5. Build the company’s global image and license to operate 

Companies that maintain, or even increase, their focus on I&D during the downturn are likely to avoid the risk of being penalized in its aftermath—for example, by losing customers, struggling to attract talent, and losing government support and partnerships.

And most critical of all, it impacts the bottom line. 

McKinsey's analysis found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. While those companies demonstrated greater ethnic and cultural diversity, those at the top outperformed those at the bottom by 36% in profitability. 

How becoming an Ally can help your business 

Armed with the knowledge that having greater diversity and a more inclusive workplace is good for business, yet knowing that so far, large swathes of industries have failed to rise to the challenge, is it time to rethink how we can support DEI initiatives?

Amélie Lamont thinks so. A leading proponent of educating communities about how to interact with one another, one day she found herself on the receiving end of racist abuse. Although the abuse was upsetting, what was more disturbing to her was that someone she thought an ally had stood by and done nothing, even though they had talked about the power of allies when facing discrimination earlier that day. 

Her response was to create a Guide to Allyship because it was apparent that while it is easy to say you are an ally, taking steps and being one is an entirely different matter. 

What is an Ally?

According to Lamont, an ally “advocates for members of social groups outside their own, specifically those that face discrimination daily.” Allies typically belong to a more widely represented group but work to help others facing different challenges to succeed in various ways. 

However, importantly, it’s about more than just showing sympathy towards discriminated individuals. Allies facilitate positive change, such as helping to create more employment opportunities for underprivileged people. 

It’s about using common sense to determine how to participate in social justice. Typically allies have more privilege to be powerful voices alongside oppressed ones.

What does it mean to be an ally? 

To be an ally, it means:

  • You take on the struggle as your own
  • You stand up even when you feel scared
  • You own your mistakes and de-center yourself
  • You amplify the voices of the oppressed before your own
  • You transfer the benefits of your privilege to those without it
  • You understand that your education is you to you and no one else 
  • Acknowledge that although you feel the pain, the conversation is not about you

Lamont does an excellent job illustrating how this works with her example of stepping on someone's toes - and how we react:

  1. Start by asking, “Are you okay?”
  2. Then listen to the response and learn
  3. Apologize for the impact, even though it was unintentional 
  4. Move your foot
  5. Be careful not to step on their foot again.

Reading Lamont’s guide, it is evident that the apology is a central part of the process. It’s about knowing when to apologize, delivering it at the right time and place, and respecting the person receiving it. We must understand that simply proffering an apology may not redress all the issues.

3 stages to building a more inclusive environment 

Now that you understand what it means to be an ally, the next step is putting the theory into practice. 

Regardless of your role within the organization, lead by example, and explore these 3 stages in depth to become a better ally and build an inclusive culture:

  • Stage 1: Build awareness 
  • Stage 2: Change behavior 
  • Stage 3: Champion change 

Stage 1: Build awareness

Allyship begins when you are aware of and appreciate the issues and experiences of others. This stage is reflective of an individual’s growth in awareness. It may involve an initial step of accepting that equity in society is worth striving for and that your active support and action can help address the issue. It could also involve you proactively learning about different perspectives and the nature of unconscious and conscious bias. This part it’s about identifying the challenges of creating an inclusive environment and becoming open to learning about what you need to do to act.

Step 2: Change behavior

This second stage moves from gaining awareness and becoming open to addressing the challenges of inclusivity to directly building an inclusive environment. You are helping build an inclusive, fair, and equitable climate through your actions. You might be proactively building relationships with others, gathering diverse perspectives, empathizing, actively listening, and communicating transparently. When modeled by anyone, these behaviors create an environment of trust and psychological safety.

Stage 3: Champion change 

The last phase of allyship is one of advocacy. Now you are taking your commitment to another level.  You may look for opportunities to affect change, both formally and informally. To succeed at this stage, you must be courageous, action-oriented, composed, and willing to commit. Organizational change does not happen quickly or easily, but it won’t happen if people take personal ownership. Ideally, the entire organization is full of supporters and allies working together because they believe in fairness. By championing, you drive the issue beyond your behavior, creating a climate supporting inclusion.

How to foster a culture of Allyship in the workplace

Regardless of whether you are all sharing an office or working from home(WFH), here are some recommendations for fostering allyship at your workplace:

  • Improve communication to create more understanding
  • Become an advocate for others who may be missing out on decisions
  • Recognize that creating positive change can be challenging at first
  • Be willing to admit when you make mistakes
  • Take action on employee feedback

Improve communication to create more understanding

Listen. Before you say anything, take the time to listen to what your colleagues are saying. And then respond. Leverage any channels you have- Slack, Teams, or in-person- and take the time to ensure that what you are saying is appropriate and will be understood as intended. 

Become an advocate for others who may be missing out on decisions

While having a diverse workforce is now quite common, that mix often becomes less in management and senior leadership. Therefore, the voices and experiences of different people and cultures must still be represented at every level. For example, if you are considering a change to health insurance or pension, take the time to consider how that may impact everyone, especially the people outside of the boardroom.   

Ideally, work to have this diversity represented at every management level across the entire organization. 

Recognize that creating positive change can be challenging at first

Stepping up can be challenging. There will be some challenges, resistance, and perhaps even uncomfortable conversations. You may even find that your ideas or relationships are more complex than you initially thought. 

However, that’s part of the reward. It is also part of why you must establish a safe space where no one feels fearful or afraid of doing the wrong thing. Take the time to develop the rationale behind the spade space and how everyone wins by understanding each other better.

Be willing to admit when you make mistakes 

Be the first to acknowledge when you make a mistake. Understanding all the nuances of cultural, gender, and religious differences will take some time, and there are bound to be misunderstandings along the way. 

The key to improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace is to acknowledge mistakes, apologize, learn from them, and move on together as a team. 

Take action on employee feedback 

Start with your colleagues. Conduct a survey and get a sense of what they are actually feeling and what are their main issues and concerns. 

Once you have their input, be sure to take action where possible and begin implementing measures that see concerns addressed. 

Diversity and inclusion benefits everyone in the workplace 

We all benefit when everyone feels included and gets the opportunity to contribute. However, for true inclusion and diversity to happen, companies must take a systemic approach. 

Promoting on social media on specific dates throughout the year is not sufficient. DEI is not a social media stunt. It is consistently an ally, someone always looking out for others and ready to speak up and right any wrongs when they see them occur.

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