Understanding Allyship and How To Do It Better
Understanding what allyship is and isn't, and four ways you can do it better.
What is allyship?
There are so many definitions of what allyship is, especially in the workplace, that it can be overwhelming, so we decided to start at the beginning with a dictionary. The Cambridge Dictionary defines allyship as “the quality or practice of helping or supporting other people who are part of a group that is treated badly or unfairly, although you are not yourself a member of this group”.
Simply, allyship centres around taking an active approach to learning, supporting, and advocating for others, especially those who do not belong to the same social identities as themselves. It is essential to recognise that when we are talking about allyship, we’re using it as a verb, not a noun, as this is not a passive label used for credibility but instead an active process of doing and being.
What allyship isn’t?
While it is important to understand what allyship is, it is equally important to point out what allyship isn’t as well.
Allyship isn’t performative – It is essential to understand that allyship is not just a checklist or about ticking boxes. Equally important, allyship should not be driven by a desire for accolades or personal recognition. There must be a genuine passion for doing the right thing for the right reasons.
Allyship isn’t transactional - Allyship goes beyond the occasional gesture or public statement. It's an ongoing commitment to learning, growing, and advocating for inclusivity.
Allyship isn’t just for leadership – While having a position of leadership in a company can make being an ally easier or have different (note we didn’t say more) impact, it is important to understand that no matter where a person sits on an organisational chart, they can make an impact as an ally.
Allyship isn’t just for men - Women need to be allies, not just for each other but for other marginalised and underrepresented groups.
The path to being a genuine ally is a continuous journey of growth and understanding. We should strive for allyship that's active, inclusive, and authentic!
Why is allyship so important?
Allyship is essential to creating an inclusive and equitable workplace. According to a report by techUK in 2021, less than a tenth (8.5%) of senior leaders in UK tech are from ethnic minority groups, a sixth (16%) of IT professionals are female, and a tenth (9%) of all IT specialists have a disability. This means without allyship, attitudes and cultures are unlikely to change.
4 Ways You Can Be a Better Ally in the Workplace
Start by learning: The first step to being a better ally is learning. You don’t know what you don’t know, and this is particularly true regarding how individuals' backgrounds can shape their journey in the workplace. Learning can take many forms (reading this article is a great start), and one of the most important ways to learn about allyship is to listen to other people’s stories.
Challenge your own biases and motivations: It is important to understand why you want to be an ally. Understanding the why behind being an ally allows you to ensure that you are doing it for the right motivations (driving lasting change, helping others, supporting equity in the workplace) rather than for performative reasons. You will also need to cast out assumptions, and one of the first ways to do that is to understand your underlying biases.
Be human first: Lead with empathy, and don’t fear doing it wrong. It is essential to understand that humans make mistakes, and likely, there will be mistakes made (intentionally or unintentionally) on the path to becoming an ally. If you approach each interaction with empathy and treat these mistakes as learning opportunities, these mistakes can help you grow as an ally.
Take Action: While this is the most crucial step to being an effective advocate, you must have a strong foundation of understanding to be a good ally. This is where you move beyond awareness into acting. From amplifying others’ voices to being a mentor, there are so many ways that you can start to advocate for others in the workplace. Some of these can be as easy as calling out bad behaviours (see something, say something), or you can help work with upper management to make more inclusive policies. You can advocate and create a more equitable workplace and culture in many ways.
Resources for further learning:
Good Guys by David G Smith and W Brad Johnson – A great, easy-to-read book from a man's perspective on how men can be better allies for women in the workplace.
The Wall Street Journal article from Deloitte about The Art of Allyship in Technology specifically talks about how to be a male ally in cyber security and technology with great examples of allyship in action and how impactful it can be.
Melinda Epler’s Ted Talk – In this talk, she gives a personal voice to why allyship is so important to women and how it is up to us to advocate for those facing discrimination.
LinkedIn Learning has a free online course discusses allyship and uses The Empathy Triangle. This is a great place to start.