We would all like to think that we are doing an incredible job standing up against injustice, particularly when it comes to the isms: racism, sexism, ageism, and others forms of discrimination in the workplace. However, if we think we are doing a good job as an ally, the likelihood is that we could do even better. One of our biggest responsibilities in our allyship roles is to continuously strive for self-improvement and growth. To stay stagnant in our learning and development is to be ineffective in dismantling injustice.
Allyship is like a muscle. You must commit to exercising that muscle if you expect to see growth. Here are four ways to grow your ally muscles and commit to doing better as injustice disruptors:
- Expand your knowledge: Diversity language is constantly shifting as are the issues that impact marginalized groups. While you may never firmly understand all the nuances surround an issue, it is important to raise your awareness-level by educating yourself on how a group is experiencing discriminatory practices.
For example, as a racial ally, you may find yourself rooting for the men of color who have joined the leadership team in your organization. However, are you aware that the women of color who may later join that group may still experiencing gender-based discrimination? For women of color, this is called intersectionality. Without understanding intersectionality and how sexism still impacts women of color, it would be quite easy as an ally to miss this issue if your sole focus were simply based on issues of race and racial diversity. So, commit to learning every day.
- Use your voice: If you do not speak up when witnessing a discriminatory act, this is equivalent to committing the act itself. To remain silent is to be complicit. Admittedly, using one’s voice can be intimidating if it is a muscle which has rarely been used. However, your approach does not have to be combative or confrontational. As a matter of fact, you can interrupt an injustice in the workplace by being inquisitive through asking simple questions.
If an older colleague is repeatedly the butt of jokes because of their age, or perhaps this colleagues’ contributions are often ignored, you can help combat this discrimination by intervening with your questions. If you are not the confrontational or direct type, you can ask the bully why they thought the joke was funny, and follow-up by telling them you just did not get the joke. Find time to privately ask the targeted person how they would like you to intervene. Of course, do everything you can to elevate the issue to HR if possible. Understand that allyship does involve putting yourself at the forefront of an issue, so proceed courageously.
- Join forces: Depending on your workplace culture, retaliation can be very real. In these situations, finding like-minded people who are willing to stand with you against injustice is critical. Coalition-building helps take the target off one person, and it diffuses it to the broader group of allies. You do not have to worry about being the lone ranger standing up against an issue. However, when more than one person brings a problem to light, what could have easily been an issue swept under the rug is a lot harder to sweep away because of the strength of the group. This is the reason union protests are powerful, because there is strength in numbers.
- Apologize: We do not know what we do not know, and we are human so we will make mistakes. The sooner you understand and acknowledge this, the easier it will be to apologize when you have said the wrong thing, you have done the wrong thing, or did not intervene as an ally when you should have. There is no need to explain what your intent was if the impact was the opposite of what you intended it to be. Just simply and authentically apologize and learn from your mistake.
The more you work your allyship muscle, the better you will get at using your voice for justice in the workplace. Activate your power to make a difference.
Dr. Rassheedah Watts, The Inclusive Community Architect™ is a speaker, certified diversity trainer, allyship coach and award-winning diversity practitioner committed to elevating human connections and activating people’s inner courage. She specializes in engaging the heart toward action on issues of diversity, inclusion, and leadership. For more information visit www.DrRassheedah.com