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allyship in the workplace

How To Step Up Allyship At Your Organization

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May 29 2019, Published 8:03 a.m. ET

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Organizations must strive to maintain an active, engaged workforce. A great way to ensure a team is staying engaged and supporting one another is through allyship. Allyship can be defined as “the lifelong process in which people with privilege and power work to develop empathy towards another marginalized group’s challenges or issues.” Allyship is one of the key factors in ensuring a diverse team at your organization. Fostering an environment where colleagues look out for one another in their careers benefits the entire workplace. 

In my career, allyship has been a skill I have made an effort to improve. Allyship is not just a checkbox, it is resource you need to actively care about and maintain. The steps below are some that I have recently taken to ensure allies feel supported.

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Ask Allies How You Can Help

One of the most important factors in helping to support those around you is to understand how you can best support them. Make it a point to ask about their career goals, in that way, you know which opportunities or individuals to connect them with. Personally, I start by having coffee and an informal career conversation. During these chats, I talk about high level goals and how they are currently working to obtain them, to see how I can support best. These conversations help to build rapport with my colleagues. Casual conversations can help you figure out what opportunities make the most sense for allies, and how you can look out for them in the future.

As an ally, you need to be aware of any advantages you may have in the workplace, and take action when you see others you are supporting being treated unfairly. “Those with privilege can be better allies by acknowledging their advantages and helping those they work with who may not have had similar advantages. When you observe unequal treatment of people in your workplace, you can speak up, even though it probably feels very uncomfortable,” states Brooke Hunter, founder of Ethical Leadership Services. She adds, “People from underrepresented groups carry an additional burden of having to educate those around them about things like unconscious bias and how iniquity can become baked into business structure. If you observe this and can internally advocate for better policies and treatment, you can help ease some of that burden.”

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Besides you personally helping, open up your network to allies. Consider who you know and how they can open up doors that can lead to bigger opportunities. As an initial point to networking, assist your ally by helping them look into their own network to see if any connections can help them achieve their goals.

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Remind Your Allies To Keep Note Of Their Accomplishments

In addition to calling out impactful work for others, encourage allies to document their accomplishments on their own. The career website Top Resume recommends making note of any time you have delivered results that led to successes for your organization. Successes come in many shapes and sizes: financial successes, project successes, and so on. These types of wins help to showcase how the work you are doing is having an impact on all aspects of an organization.

Alongside those big wins, keep note of the small wins along the way. The little moments where you help someone else in their day-to-day, help to improve a process or make a small shift add up over time.

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As A Manager, Evenly Distribute Opportunities & Recognize Hard Work

Being an ally as a peer is great. Being an ally as a manager or leader is critical. Leadership has the ability to ensure that work is being evenly distributed and that your team has equal opportunities to progress. Often, managers might not realize they are giving the new and interesting projects to the same person. To get started, take note of who is doing what and keep the playing field equal. Communicate often that you want your team to hold you and each other accountable. After all, being an ally is the responsibility of the whole team and should not fall exclusively on the leader’s shoulders.

Call out accomplishments in ways that make sense at your organization. Giving verbal or written acknowledgements to the person is a great first step. For instance, my organization uses Slack to recognize important contributions at the beginning of every week.

From there, document any recognition in a performance management tool so that at review time, these accomplishments are well documented. Going the extra mile to ensure allies get appropriate credit is essential to them continuing to advance their career.

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Being Allies For Other Allies

It is essential to help elevate others into positions to become allies. You’re not a one person army who is going to be an ally for everyone. Instead, you should try to help other people identify their opportunities to become better allies. Sharing success stories of those who have been an ally helps to ensure others see the value.

At my organization, we recently rolled out quarterly “Allyship in Action” nominations, where the team was encouraged to recognize those who have had an impact for them in the workplace. These anecdotes helped others see that allyship can be as easy as making small impacts in their day to help another person get ahead. It also provided them a starting point with where to begin to think about allyship. Lean In recommends getting groups of women together in the workplace to celebrate their wins and provide a safe space for them to support one another. 

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Remember It Won’t Happen Overnight

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, remember that allyship is a lifelong process. There are no shortcuts nor secrets to being an ally to someone. Continuously improving, day by day, will  making it a habit. At the end of each week, I reflect back on how I helped at least three of my allies in their careers. This small effort has helped me to keep allyship top of mind over time. The more we can step up our efforts, the more allyship can become a natural part of the workforce.

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kimberly blight
By: Kim Blight

Kimberly Blight is a writer based in Chicago. A mother of one, she is on a mission to improve the re-onboarding experience for parents when they return to work from leave. She currently works as a Program Manager at Sprout Social and also helps to lead their New Parent Program and Women's group.

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