Bullies, bystanders and allies are all present in today’s work environment. Bullies engage in aggressive criticism that seeks to intimidate those who oppose their views, perspectives or decisions. They often act from their own bias or privilege with little regard for the others’ rights and lived experiences. Bystanders observe bullying or discriminatory behaviors and do nothing about it. Allies, however, leverage their voice to uphold a respectful, engaging work environment for all.

Allyship requires intentionality — a deliberate and purposeful action to acknowledge injustice toward any group in which one is not a member. Being an ally is not limited to the work environment, but it is certainly a good place to start advocating for equality and fairness.

Let’s explore four ways people can become allies in the workplace and champion diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI):

  1. Awareness

Increased awareness is the first step toward behavior change, and with allyship that is especially true. Before you can help amplify the voice of others, or get them a seat at the table, it’s important to become aware of any hidden biases you bring to the equation. Only then can you challenge the biases and ensure they no longer cause you to make assumptions and generalizations about others. You’ll also need to acknowledge and accept the privilege that exists within your life. Privilege is unearned power. Any place where you have power that others don’t provides you with an opportunity to be an ally.

Action Step: Before training others on unconscious bias, sign up for an unconscious bias training session yourself to challenge any implicit biases you might have. Learn more about privilege and consider the part it has played in your life.

2. Listening

Effective allyship is fueled by a desire to deeply understand those you seek to support, and that requires active listening. To actively listen, you must set your full attention on the other party when they speak, making an intentional decision to not only hear what they say but to ask questions and seek clarity. It may also mean restating what you heard without the use of your cultural filters. Active listening is a skill that takes time to develop but improves with practice.

Action Step: Practice active listening techniques and begin to use them in your day-to-day conversations at work.

3. Learning

Learning is always a choice. With allyship, learning requires a commitment to gain experience, knowledge or skills about injustice. This might mean immersing yourself in a cultural environment different from your own, reading books that challenge your perceived sense of “right,” or studying the history of race, gender, immigration, religion, etc.  If you’re reading this article, you are already demonstrating a willingness to open your mind in these areas.

Action Step: Read books or take courses on different aspects of race, gender, immigration and other DEI topics, especially those that challenge long-held perceptions you’ve had in these areas.

4. Yield

Allyship requires that you resist the urge to stick with what is comfortable, accepted by your friends and family or even considered “normal”. It involves yielding to those whose lived experiences are different from your own. This can be hard and may leave you feeling isolated at times. Be sure to monitor your psychological safety and reach out to others for assistance when needed.

Choosing to be an ally, and standing up for the rights of others, has historically been proven to produce benefits for all. The key is to remain active and consistent in the allyship journey.

Action Step: Use critical thinking activities to hone your ability to objectively analyze and evaluate an issue in order to form a judgment. Developing empathy will help you build compassion for others, which can help you yield to the lived experiences you will likely hear from others at work.

As social and racial justice movements persist, there will continue to be increased exposure to the lived experiences of people from marginalized groups. With this exposure comes increased opportunity for conversations, education and allyship. If you opt to be an ally and decide to leverage your power to enhance the work environment for all, consider the four ways referenced in this article and be sure to share these tips with others.

Some will listen to those lived experiences and do everything they can to undermine or criticize those experiences. Others will observe the lack of equity and inclusion and choose to stand by and do nothing. What will you choose?