Allies in the workplace are colleagues who actively support marginalised groups by using their position of privilege and power. In this article, we explain what makes a good ally and how you can improve allyship within your workplace.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advocate at 50inTech
We hear all this talk about being an “ally” but the reality is that most people don't actually know what allyship is. Allyship is often conflated with kindness, acceptance and passiveness - sitting in the comfort and safety of being a silent supporter. While kindness and acceptance for being yourself is the bare minimum every human deserves, allyship takes it a few notches up and speaks to co-creating and collaborating with marginalised groups towards impactful shared outcomes.
Allies actively and consistently support and advocate for marginalised groups by using their position of privilege and power. Most people feel uncomfortable accepting the idea that they are privileged, and often confuse this with the idea that they haven’t faced challenges or experienced their own type of bias or oppression. This is not what we mean by privilege, we actually mean recognizing that there are aspects of ourselves that put us at an advantage to other people e.g. being able-bodied or neurotypical, having an advantageous educational background, fitting in socially accepted groups etc. Everyone has the potential to experience some sense of privilege, the point is using these characteristics that give us the upper hand to help give other people a boost.
With more than a third of women planning to leave tech in the next 2 years, citing gender discrimination, sexual harassment, the gender pay gap and some of the reasons, men have an important role to play.
The actions of men allies have a major impact. Here's what some men in our 50inTech community had to share in their diversity story interviews:
We want to look further into the future and onto the next generation of women in tech. I myself have two daughters, and I see every day how they are being pushed away from technical professions like engineering, often unconsciously. I’m actively trying to fight that.
- Michael Hollauf is co-founder and CEO, Meister
Men play a hugely important role in creating a more inclusive tech industry. We can all be better allies to women in tech. It starts with basic things, like not interrupting women in meetings or using inclusive language in job postings and in daily communication. Spreading awareness about microaggressions in the workplace and the harm they can do is also important.
- Dany Badr is a Full Stack Software Engineer, Upflow
We’ve struggled to hire women in tech roles, … when it comes to hiring, if we have to choose between a man and a woman with very comparable skill levels and job fit, we will prioritize the female candidate. We’re confident that all these small acts, combined, will lead to real change.
- Dayvid Kayal is Chief Technology Officer, Taster
Allyship focuses on the concrete steps that can be taken to level the playing field, and in order for this to happen, action is key. Allies cannot be bystanders. While it may be a somewhat scary step to take, it is essential that they act for change because inaction is harmful. It’s not about taking the perfect action, but rather taking the most responsible and long-term actions to support the marginalised group.
The people who are part of the group
These are people within the affected community in the workspace who want to contribute towards diversity and inclusion transformation within the workspace. They share their real experiences, challenges and needs. They should be given an opportunity to be visible and identify themselves or discreetly participate via anonymous contributions e.g. questionnaires, surveys etc.
Champions for DEI
These allies can be individuals or diverse groups e.g. a committee/club, who are in support of the marginalised group and want to “initiate the process” of intervention. They are well-versed in the topic at hand, are willing to reflect on their own biases, learn, teach others, and help transform the workplace. These individuals are able to provide allyship and support to the marginalised group by using their position of privilege to amplify the voices of the minority and influence other employees to get involved and be more inclusive in their behaviour. They can also be people from other minority groups who can add intersectionality and nuance to the conversation of people’s experiences.
Leadership and Senior Management
Participation at leadership level is integral for overall transformation strategy. These are people well-versed on the company's policy in order for them to be able to update and amend work policies, implement structural changes and address employment equity from an organisational level e.g. HR, People & Culture officer, C-Suite members. They are identified as the major decision makers in the company who have a direct influence on the organisational environment, and ensure that it is aligned or in support of the inclusion intervention plan. They can leverage their position of power to instigate diversity, inclusion and transformation in the organisation.
Co-creating an inclusive workplace culture
This can look like speaking up and having hard conversations with your colleagues. As an ally you influence other employees to get involved and engage in inclusive behaviour by pointing out behaviours that are not inclusive, and using your privilege to correct your colleagues.
Share resources and best practices to facilitate learning.
This one is major! Allies need to understand inequalities between different groups, be proactive in learning and take action. You need to do the work i.e. doing the research, reading books and educating yourself and those around you instead of only relying on the person you’re supporting to teach you.
Supporting organisational transformation
Ensuring that the people at the top are involved by advocating for minorities. One great way to do this is by getting higher management involved in the sponsorship of employee resource groups
Listening and understanding to the needs of others
Listening is an underrated skill that builds empathy and leads to real solutions. Asking people what they need. Ask multiple people because they all have multifaceted experiences. This will help them feel seen and help you create solutions that are effective and make sense to them.
Don’t get caught in the trap of savourism and performative allyship, if you do either of these, your allyship efforts will fail.
What is performative allyship?
Performative allyship involves caring about how showing “allyship” makes you look and feel, instead of focusing on the impact you have on the people you are supporting. In a company that can result in small business gains because people perceive you as inclusive, but for the most part, it results in the failure to actually implement impactful actions. Examples of performative allyship include:
What is saviourism in allyship?
Saviourism looks like putting your personal opinion and perception of what is needed before what the marginalised group actually says. You create solutions that feel right to you, without considering the opinions of those you are supporting. One of the key points to being an ally is understanding and listening to the needs of those who you support, and giving them space to guide your actions - without putting the full responsibility on them.
So the next time the conversation on allyship comes up, think about how you can co-create and work with a marginalised group in your workplace to effect a positive transformation in your workplace culture, and improve their workplace experience.
The partnership between 50inTech and Figures - the salary benchmark startup - reveals the real gender pay gap data in Europe. The topic of gender equality, though not unique to start-ups, is becoming increasingly important, particularly in reference to pay. And women are raising their standards and becoming empowered to negotiate and earn their worth… as they should.
Did you know that 15/40 of the Next 40/120 French Tech companies are dedicated to being inclusive to #womenintech? Partnering with us at 50inTech means that these 15 companies have strong commitments to the following: equal pay, fair career path, flexible working and anti-discrimination policies.