According to Great Place to Work, allyship in the workplace means using your personal privilege to support colleagues from historically marginalized communities. Allies wield their influence to amplify the voices and elevate the employee experience of their underrepresented coworkers. While anyone can be an ally, they’re typically colleagues whose privilege comes from their sex (male), skin color (white), and/or position (seniority or high job ranking). Allies support employees who don’t have the same advantages. They could be women of color, LGBTQ+, or members of another minority group.
But what does allyship look like? What shape does it take, and how can people participate? These MarketSource allies share wisdom and practices that tip the scales toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Curtis Beckett: Be attentive to non-verbal cues (including body language, facial expressions, and even silence). Actively solicit others’ opinions. Interrogate your own biases (everybody has them). [Also] understand that the societal pressures placed upon men and women are different. For example, after one of my female employees had her first child, she began to apologize profusely for being less available early in the morning or late at night to answer e-mails or complete other tasks. I had to reassure her multiple times that it was okay, that those things had never been important to me. This episode turned out to be a wonderful lesson in verbalizing and aligning our expectations (of each other and ourselves.) [If you witness inappropriate behavior], you should respond in the moment, right when it happens. Remember: When confronted with bad behavior, silence is consent. You can say something like, “Well that’s just a stereotype, and we need to avoid those.” Or “That’s not an appropriate topic for this meeting.” Your response to inappropriate behavior will be watched carefully—by both the men and the women around you.
Greg Gwaltney: Be conscious, alert, and open-minded about the unique roadblocks women can face. Always carry yourself with an open-armed, non-threatening, helpful attitude, and build relationships on honesty and truth. Being exposed to different beliefs and perspectives opens us up to new experiences and lessons, and ultimately enables personal growth that spreads throughout the organization.
Ryan Palmore: Being an ally means you care about making your workplace inclusive. You listen, learn, and use your credibility to influence change and be part of the solution. It’s impossible to think I can fully understand anyone else’s journey and truly know what it is like to be in their shoes; however, I can seek to learn by asking questions and being supportive as we work to influence change. Some of the ways I try to be an ally are:
- Participating in groups that bring recognition to the issue
- Calling out others’ accomplishments and expertise when applicable
- Doing my best to elevate deserving colleagues
Eric Parham: Treat every team member equally and with respect. If you’re in a leadership position, talk to the women on your team about their aspirations, strengths, and concerns. Help them set some goals and create a career roadmap. Try to put women (and all employees) into roles that leverage their strengths and positions them to win and exceed expectations. Don’t be afraid to bypass industry norms. For instance, two of my programs have been for clients in male-dominated industries (auto paint/body shops and building and construction/lumber yards). Our clients’ teams were 99% male, [and the] customers we called on were 99% male. One of those clients initially was resistant to putting women in customer-facing roles, but we earned their trust, and eventually, they bought into our commitment to building diverse teams. They even hired a couple of our female team members to work for them!
Peter Maxwell: I am fortunate. I grew up in a household with strong women. My mother was a Navy wife, which meant that for months at a time, she was both mother and father to us. She made financial decisions in an era when that was rare. She was a leader, both in the hospital where she worked and in her community. Her mother was a suffragette. She worked and marched for voting rights and other basic rights for women. While I was coached by women in my early life, it wasn’t until I came to MarketSource 11 years ago that I experienced working for a woman. I was incredibly lucky to have had Lisa Walsh as my first boss here. I still consider her a mentor and a coach. Men often think it is a sign of weakness to receive feedback and coaching, which is a missed opportunity because it can be an important path to learning and improvement. We must seek first and listen to understand and ask better, clarifying questions in a caring and respectful manner. It is very difficult to bring a problem to a leader, especially if you’ve felt marginalized in the past. We must reciprocate the respect someone shows us when they bring an issue to us by listening to understand.
Gary Short: It means being supportive, listening, and making sure their voices are heard. We are fortunate at MarketSource that we have many strong women in the workplace willing to make their voices heard. We should watch for the ones that have something to say but may not be as outgoing or afraid to speak up. Become an advocate. How? Sponsor and mentor women. Support their ideas and carry them forward. Be open to learning from them, and value their contributions. When you find yourself in disagreement, make sure your conversation is respectful.
Ben Simms: Creating space and real pathways for women to grow and contribute to our success is not just a fad or a box to check. It’s an ongoing, permanent part of our culture. Like with all inequalities, we have made some progress in leveling the playing field for and elevating women, but we have more work to do. We can’t do that work in a vacuum. Progress is only possible through alliances with change agents like #GirlsClub. I’ve been shaped by our collaboration, and I’m excited to see what the future of sales leadership looks like with more women participating in and driving it.
Aaron Williams: To me, being an ally means treating women just like you treat their male counterparts and advocating for them when you observe they aren’t being treated with equity. Women often have unique perspectives—not just a different way of looking at things, but a better way of assessing and approaching things. I have always and will continue to learn from the women I work and associate with. I want women to know that there is no reason they cannot excel at everything we do and be assured that everyone within our leadership ranks feels the same.
If you’re ready to begin your own ally journey, here are some helpful resources:
Workplace Allies (tools)
Be A Better Ally (Harvard Business Review article)
Good Guys: The Power of Male Allyship (podcast)
How to Be an Ally in the Workplace: 13 Ways to Do It (TED.com article)
Ready to talk?
If you want to work with a partner who leads inclusively year-round, let’s talk.