Allyship: The Next Level In Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Allyship In The Workplace

By now, we all understand that supporting diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also essential for business success. With all this understood, how can we take support to the next level? Today we are joined by Melinda Epler, Melinda is the Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst, host of the Leading with Empathy & Allyship podcast, and author of How to Be an Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace. Here, she explains:

  • Importance of prioritizing diversity, equity, & inclusion;
  • The difference between DEI support & allyship;
  • The power of microinterventions and microaffirmations; and
  • The seven steps to take action to be an ally!

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Importance Of Prioritizing Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

  • There are numerous downsides of not prioritizing diversity, equity, & inclusion, including high rates of turnover, a lack of innovation, and a missing sense of trust and respect in the workplace.
  • A recent McKinsey study provides fantastic insight into the effect a strong D&I culture can have on a business.
  • Organizations with greater diversity within their leadership teams typically see higher levels of productivity and bring in greater revenue.
  • It is also important that anyone who works within an organization can envision themselves in leadership and seeing diverse leadership plays a key role in those aspirations.


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  • Allyship at its core is using your power to take action in solidarity with someone or a group of people with a marginalized identity.
    • Listening, showing empathy, and taking action are all vital competencies when it comes to allyship in the workplace.
    • Learning is also an essential aspect of allyship, whether that means stepping up, stepping in, or even simply stepping back to fully understand the situation and providing support accordingly.
  • When it comes to creating meaningful DEI efforts and real changes within a workplace, it takes more than just the efforts of diversity equity, inclusion practitioners and HR Professionals. Allyship as a concept and especially allyship in the workplace is about involving everyone in an effort to create a more diverse and inclusive environment.
  • Allyship is a rapidly growing concept, even landing as’s 2021 “Word of The Year.”
  • Ms. Epler even recently gave a TED Talk on Allyship in the workplace titled 3 Ways to Be a Better Ally in the Workplace.
    • Her talk on the topic reached an astounding 1 million views in just it’s first 24 days of release and is now up to over 2.5 million. 

The Difference Between DEI Support & Allyship

  • The biggest difference between being a DEI supporter and being an ally is in the nature of the support shown.
    • Do you simply state you support DEI efforts, or are you taking action to support those efforts?
    • This action applies both internally (limiting microaggressions, changing our own words and actions) and systemically (taking action to correct the centuries of exclusion and inequality.)
  • Allyship can be viewed as “empathy in action.”

Assessing The State Of Our Workplace

  • Assessing diversity within an organization can be as simple as analyzing representation. 
    • Is the level of representation within the organization equal to that of the population? 
    • Is the organization representative of your customers?
  • Assessing the current state of equity is understanding that representation is not enough, and measuring the state of things like compensation, promotion, and opportunities.
    • Historically, women and people with underrepresented identities are underpaid, underpromoted, and can lack opportunities given.
    • Organizations need to ensure that these practices are not occurring and that everyone is given equal and fair pay and opportunities.
  • Finally, assessing inclusion can be done via surveys and engagement measures to understand how people feel about their inclusion in various areas of the workplace setting.
  • A finished assessment of DEI should provide a “cross-section” of identity within an organization and can decipher the areas in which improvement and allyship is needed to make meaningful change for the better.

Typical Entry Points & Understanding The Depth Of Allyship In The Workplace

  • It is not uncommon for allyship to arise directed at one particular group or area (gender, race, ethnicity).
  • While these are often the most common areas for allyship to be focused, there are other groups who could benefit just the same.
    • Examples are: People with disabilities, indigenous people, and LGBTQIA+ communities, veterans, people with incarceration records, etc.
  • Intersectionality is an important concept when becoming an ally for others.
    • Typically, the more intersections a person has in their identity, the more likely they are to be marginalized at a higher rate.
    • Understanding that there are many people who fall into multiple different areas of underrepresentation can show how important allyship can be and how standard DEI efforts can sometimes not be enough to assist these people.

Who Can Be An Ally?

  • Simply put, anyone and everyone can and should be an ally.
  • More often than not, everyone has at least some privilege over another person, and in that case, there is always someone who could use your allyship.

The 7 Steps To Take Action To Be An Ally

  • Step 1: Unlearn & Relearn
    • Often history books and sources like Wikipedia are written from one point of view, which creates gaps in our understanding early on in life.
    • It is important to unlearn that information and relearn it from diverse perspectives. 
    • Growing your network is another way to discover new perspectives and relearn. 
      • Most people are friends with other people who are similar to them in looks, ideologies, opinions, and upbringing.
      • Expanding your network can be as simple as following diverse voices and perspectives on social media or elsewhere.
  • Step 2: Understand & Correct Biases
    • We all have biases and oftentimes they stem from our families, media, educators, etc.
    • In order to be an ally, we have to understand those biases and ensure that they do not come out in a harmful way to others.
  • Step 3: Recognize & Overcome Microaggressions
    • Microaggressions are often based on biases, so this step stems directly from step 2.
    • Microaggressions are small actions and words that can be harmful and belittling to people, and can eventually wear them down over time.
      • Research shows that there are both short and long-term negative effects of microaggressions. 
    • Understanding what your microaggressions (often common words or phrases that we have in our vocabulary that just need to be eliminated and/or reframed) are and learning how to reprogram yourself is essential.
      • These microaggressions should then be observed when they occur to know when they typically come out so that they can be pinpointed and changed. 
  • Step 4: Become An Advocate
    • An advocate is someone who amplifies other people’s voices and concerns, who supports and mentors people to help them develop their skills, and who sponsors people to help open up networks and opportunities.
    • Volunteerism is a great way to be an advocate for others and to showcase allyship to others outside of your immediate sphere.
  • Step 5: Stand Up For What’s Right
    • This step basically encompasses taking action when you see a bias or microaggression occur.
    • This step does take a certain level of awareness, but as you have gone through steps 1-4, that awareness will have been developed to where these situations can be recognized easily.
    • While microaggressions exist, so do microinterventions and microaffirmations.
      • Microinterventions are when you look to intervene when you see a microaggression happening.
        • These can also be instances in which you can explain why a certain microaggression witnessed was harmful or insensitive to that person and when you help to educate others on what the alternatives are.
      • Microaffirmations are small ways that we can positively affirm someone’s experience, recognize their expertise, and show that their views and ideas are valued. 
  • Step 6: Lead The Change
    • This step applies to everyone, not just leaders. 
      • Anyone can lead the change, but leaders MUST lead the change for allyship in the workplace to take hold.
    • Leading the change means stepping up and creating change across teams, across the organization, and looking for opportunities where you might change systems and processes to become more inclusive.
  • Step 7: Transform Your Organization, Industry, And Society
    • Step 7 takes a more macro approach to allyship.
    • While allyship in the workplace is extremely important, it has universal applications inside and outside of the workplace.
    • For example, when you're making purchases at a store or online:
      • Are you doing that as an ally? 
      • Who are you putting your money toward? 
      • Who are you purchasing from? 
      • What are the ways that we can transform industries beyond our workplaces?

Resources To Allyship

Melinda Epler Background


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