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How to Be an Ally

Feb 17, 2023


Imagine the following scenario:

You are having lunch at work with a few co-workers. One of them is your good friend “John” whom you’ve known for many years. You know John is gay, but he hasn’t come out at work yet. In the midst of the conversation, one of your co-workers makes an off-the-cuff derogatory comment about same-sex marriages. What do you do?

Unfortunately, situations like this one are not uncommon. While we have made progress toward creating more diverse workplaces, there is still much to be done to eliminate prejudice and bias.

As organizations become more diverse, there can be discomfort in working across differences. This discomfort can stem from a lack of understanding of different cultures, identities, or perspectives.

It is important for workplaces to recognize and address this discomfort, and create an environment where employees feel empowered to react in a way that is productive.

Finding the Best Way to React

In situations like the one described above, individuals are often faced with two choices: to be a bystander or to be an ally. 

A bystander is a person who witnesses harm or inappropriate behavior occurring but takes no action to minimize, reduce, or stop it. 

Unfortunately, either because of a lack of skills on how to intervene, fear of repercussions, or a belief that the comment was not meant to harm anyone, many individuals choose to be a bystander. They remain silent, which only allows inappropriate behaviors to go unchallenged. 

This is problematic because silence can be seen as acceptance or agreement with inappropriate behavior. It can also make the person affected feel isolated and unsupported. 

This inaction can also be a consequence of the bystander effect. That is when the presence of others discourages any one individual from intervening when witnessing a microaggression. That is because the person hopes someone else will step in and do something about it. Unfortunately, research shows that the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one individual to step in and provide help.

Training opportunities focusing on educating individuals on the impact of their actions and inactions and helping them develop the skills to intervene effectively are essential in today’s increasingly diverse organizations. 

Choosing to Be an Ally

When you witness harm being done, whether intentionally or unintentionally, you should feel compelled to intervene in support of those being victimized. In other words, you need to step in as an ally. Unlike a bystander, an ally is willing to take specific actions to minimize or stop harm from occurring. 

Allies actively work to support and defend those who are impacted by negative comments. They do so by speaking up when inappropriate behavior occurs, demonstrating empathy and support toward the person affected, and actively working toward creating a more inclusive, less biased workplace culture. 

An ally calls out racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other form of discrimination when they see it. They also actively work to dismantle inequitable practices both inside and outside the organization. 

Allies react even when it is difficult. They do it by pulling people aside, helping them see the negative impact of their words or behavior as well as their unintended consequences, and by showing them there is a better way. 

Standing up for inclusion takes courage and a willingness to engage in uncomfortable conversations.

By speaking up and advocating for respect and inclusivity, we can work toward creating a workplace where everyone feels valued and respected for who they are. This requires a willingness to listen, learn, and engage in conversations, and to be open to feedback and growth. 

CLICK HERE for a FREE checklist with 8 strategies that will help you step in as an ally




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