Last week, we discussed actions that may look like allyship on the surface, but are more performative than substantive. Your marginalized employees deserve more than a performance—more than empty promises and surface-level actions. To help make a more inclusive and equitable workplace, it is crucial for leaders to turn their promises of support into action.
Here are a few key steps to get started…
1. Think Big Picture
Promoting small, one-time actions (a single workshop, an afternoon of “diversity training) can be a good start, but these gestures are ultimately not enough. To truly be an ally and advocate for your underrepresented people, you’ll need to make DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) part of your brand and, ultimately, part of your company’s brand. This means thinking big-picture and looking for ways to enact systemic change. It also means involving the company’s leadership and calling on people of various backgrounds and perspectives to contribute to the decision-making (perhaps through special committees or task forces).
2. Listen Authentically
True allyship requires deep listening. Make sure to provide a safe space for your employees to share their stories and provide emotional support when needed. Take this opportunity to not only understand the situation, but to also validate it. Let your employees know that you are here to listen and support them.
3. Step Back
Part of true allyship involves recognizing that you don’t have all the answers. You may want to foster a better work environment for your marginalized employees…but you probably don’t know what, exactly, that looks like. When it comes to enacting DEI-centered changes, it’s wise to step back and let your diverse employees take the lead. Invite as many perspectives and backgrounds to the table as possible, and offer them support and resources to help bring their ideas to fruition.
Remember: It’s not enough to just talk the talk; it’s equally important to walk the walk. Once DEI-driven goals are established, it’s necessary to come up with ways to measure your progress. Hold regular check-ins to ensure the goals are being met and that your allies are following through with their promises.
4. Invest in DEI Initiatives
As I’ve discussed in past blog posts, diverse teams are often more adept problem-solvers, more creative/innovative, and produce better results and profitability. However, your company may have to invest in DEI initiatives to recruit, include, and nurture diverse talent.
This might mean overhauling your recruitment and hiring program, creating a company-wide DEI action plan, and/or budgeting for program funding. For many companies, hiring a qualified DEI consultant is a great first step for establishing a roadmap of potential actions. All of these efforts can be costly, but they’re essential to creating an equitable and inclusive environment (and enabling future successes!).
5. Offer Meaningful Support
A true ally uses their privilege to offer meaningful support to underrepresented workers. This might mean mentoring or sponsoring someone—not only providing guidance, but also bringing them to meetings, advocating for them, and involving them in conversations and decision-making. Your support should be active, visible, and ongoing.
Meaningful support may also involve speaking up to defend employees who are victims of gaslighting, microaggressions, or discriminatory language. Send the message to your team that these behaviors are not acceptable.
True allyship isn’t something you can achieve overnight. It’s an ongoing commitment to creating an equitable and inclusive environment for your underrepresented employees. If you use these steps as a starting point, you can make sure that your promises of support are followed up with concrete, meaningful action.