6th Jul 2020
3 Min Read

How to be an ally. Simple steps that make a big change

Russell Norton
Russell Norton
People & Change

Being an ally is about recognising your privilege, and using it to raise up the voices of marginalised and minority communities.

Recent events around the globe only serve to highlight just how vital it is for us stand together to stamp out racism and discrimination. Here are our thoughts on how to be an ally.

Ask questions

How did that make you feel? What are your preferred pronouns? Are you really ok?

Asking questions is how we learn and grow and considering the feelings and wishes of others is an important step in being an ally. By asking these questions we can come to understand how our actions impact on others and how we can do, and say, things better.

For further reading, Stonewall has an excellent glossary of LGBT+ terminology.

Diversify what you consume

How diverse are the books you read, the podcasts you listen to and the shows you watch?

Broadening what we consume enriches our experience of the world around us and gives us greater appreciation for the wealth of diverse talent we may have missed.

Share the mic

Are you giving opportunities for everyone to be heard? If you‘re in a position to be able to speak, share that platform with others and see how this helps diversify the conversations in your organisation.

  • Make sure everyone at the meeting has had the chance to contribute​
  • Share your platform with someone from an under-represented group​
  • Hand over the mic to a minority voice
  • Find alternative ways for people to participate

Read more guidance about inclusive meetings.

Report discrimination when you see or hear it

Speaking up can be scary, but it‘s very important. There are laws in place that protect people against discrimination due to their minority characteristics - described as ‘protected‘ and many workplaces also seek to protect others, even if they aren‘t protected by law.

You can find more information about workplace discrimination from Citizens Advice and the Government

Educate others about the impact of microaggressions

Eye-rolls, sighs, not inviting people to meetings, making assumptions. Microaggressions towards people happen all around us, all the time.

You may not be aware of them. So, take some time to understand what they are and why they are so hurtful and harmful.

Read more about microagressions in the workplace.

Challenge people on negative behaviours, even if they‘re more senior than you

Standing up against discrimination is never going to be comfortable. But it‘s important. These are behaviours which should be challenged.

The more we do, the more we grow. Being an ally means calling out these negative behaviours when you see them and working to foster a culture where they won‘t be tolerated.

Read more about speaking up against bias at work

Be curious, courageous and open to feedback

Vulnerability takes courage. To be an ally requires admitting that you don‘t know everything about the experience of others, and being brave enough to ask questions and listen to the responses without prejudice.

Celebrate difference, understand privilage and dismantle barriers

What can you do to kick the door wide open for inclusion? It can start with small steps such as including your pronouns (she/her, he/him) on your profiles or celebrating events such as Pride and Black History Month.

Read more about establishing an inclusive culture.

See through visible characteristics

Some diverse characteristics are clearly visible, others aren‘t. Things like mental health, faith, hearing loss, sexual orientation aren‘t immediately obvious. It‘s for this reason it‘s particularly important to be mindful of the language you use and the topics you bring up.

By the same token, people are more than what you can see of them. Making judgements based on what you can see - e.g. age, skin colour, appearance - is a quick way to make people feel awkward and excluded.

See the importance of intersectionality

Discrimination doesn‘t always apply to one characteristic. We have many layers, on which we are judged in society and each carries a different weight of bias.

Don‘t just think about race. Consider gender, sexuality and disibility and you begin to see how much more marginalised a person can become because of how these characteristics are viewed, alone and together. It‘s important to understand the many layers of injustice people are fighting against and work to dismantle the barriers.

Read more about intersectionality and how to tell the whole story.

See the burden when someone can‘t be their true self

For too long, minority communities have had to cloak aspects of themselves to fit into society‘s norms. Imagine hiding whole aspects of yourself in order to fit in and feel safe.

That burden can be increased by seemingly innocent things, like dress-down Fridays. Read this experience of a Black professional in the US to find out why.

Speak up, but don‘t speak over minority voices

Being an ally will be uncomfortable at times and you won‘t always get it right. That‘s ok, don‘t be discouraged. Keep listening, talking and learning. Understand that this is a long journey and there is a lot to learn along the way.

Declare yourself anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist and anti-discrimination

It‘s not always enough to assume that other people know your stance on discrimination. For us to help make a change, we need to be vocal and use our platforms at work, at home and in our communities.

All the tips on a page

Want a one-page reminder of all the ways you can be an ally? Download our free printable.

Want to continue the conversation?

Watch our Q&A webinar where Russ Norton, Elle Bradley-Cox and guest panellists talk about communicating diversity and inclusion authentically

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