Selena Jodha
August 31, 2021

9 ways company leaders can be better allies to underrepresented employees

When you create a workplace that gives employees a sense of belonging, you’ll see performance, productivity, and profits increase – and you do it by being an ally and prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of every team member. Allyship requires intentional effort, self-education, self-awareness, action, and results. Allies understand and recognize privilege, and in some cases, will share that privilege with others. 

Over the last year, women, LGBTQ+ employees, and people of color have had the hardest time balancing their professional and personal lives. So how can company leaders make historically marginalized groups feel more valued and supported?

If you want to create psychological safety in the workplace, we’ve listed 9 ways you can be a better ally to underrepresented employees. 

Find comfort in discomfort. 

Leaders must avoid defending, denying, and deflecting, by speaking to employees about their perspectives and lived experiences. If you can accept feedback, take responsibility for your actions, and actively practice how to recognize your own privilege, you have the power to make employees feel seen and heard. This means when an employee confides in you about a person or situation that made them feel uncomfortable, take time to listen and be empathetic. 

Educate yourself. 

People outside of your community have lived experiences you may not understand. To be an ally and practice empathy, you’ll need to educate yourself on the challenges and prejudices that colleagues from marginalized groups face. This can be done by listening and learning from people’s experiences and taking the time to read, listen, and watch content created by and for members of underrepresented groups. 

Keep in mind that while it can be tempting to simply ask people to share their experiences around inequality and injustice for your own knowledge, you can actually be burdening them with emotional labor

Get to know your employees’ career goals.

As a leader, you should take the first steps to welcome new employees into the office and make them feel comfortable. Recognize that they may feel intimidated in a new setting, especially if the workplace is not diverse. Include them in meetings, team outings, and encourage them to share their ideas whenever possible. Ask questions about their career goals and how you will work with them to invest in their learning and development.

Be mindful of visual and verbal language.

Visual and verbal language is key to creating an inclusive environment. Certain phrases and words can turn people away from your workplace. Avoid using someone’s disability, race, ethnicity, and/or religion as a way to identify them. And move away from non-gender-inclusive language and terms of endearment in the workplace. For example, when greeting others, use terms like friends, folks, everyone, or all, rather than assuming their gender. If you catch yourself making mistakes, which happens, correct yourself and start again. 

Watch your non-verbal behaviors. 

In addition to visual and verbal language, you might overlook non-verbal cues that make people uncomfortable. It’s important to keep your body language clear and set an example for a positive work environment. For example, if someone is in a wheelchair, do not hunch over them but position yourself to their eye level in a positive way. If someone is using a service animal, be respectful of their boundaries.

Generate positive actions and habits. 

Leaders amplify underrepresented colleagues and ensure all voices are heard to encourage a positive work environment. Be observant and make note of any instances where underrepresented employees fade into the background, or where more privileged colleagues speak over them. Step in when you notice interruptions, misdirected questions, and always acknowledge the person whose original idea is being shared.

Expand your network.

If your professional network is lacking diversity, spend time with colleagues of underrepresented groups in your industry. Follow diverse voices on social media, set up lunches, or attend conferences and meetings led by other communities. Make it a priority to learn from the people around you who are also experts in your field.

Say no to microaggressions.

Microaggressions are negative or derogatory verbal, behavioral, and environmental insults to a specific group. Privileged groups may not recognize microaggressions because they do not appear aggressive or inappropriate. Your role as an ally requires you to educate yourself on what common microaggressions look and sound like, while clearly and decisively shutting down negative language and practices around you without waiting for marginalized people to react first.

Call in, not out. 

The calling in method positively reinforces better behavior and practices in the workplace by encouraging people to learn. Instead of publicly calling out someone for making a hurtful or offensive comment, correct their actions and explain why it’s hurtful. This can be done in private, in a meeting, or in an email. You wouldn’t want to embarrass the person on the receiving end of the offensive comment, so make it a learning experience.

Becoming an ally cannot happen passively or through a single act. While every person can work toward creating a welcoming environment, members of privileged backgrounds must become better allies to create a safe and inclusive community that gives underrepresented employees a sense of belonging. 

Want to formally train your company leaders on being better allies?

Perfeqta can conduct an allyship training with your team where we outline immediate action steps you can take to become an effective leader. Reach out to our team to get started on your training. 

Selena Jodha (she/her) is a Literatures of Modernity M.A candidate at Ryerson University and graduate from the BA English program at Ryerson University. Selena’s work and volunteer opportunities focus on academic counseling, publishing, and tutoring and education.

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