Do you know how to be a better ally at work? Workplace allies are employees using their privilege to support their coworkers who belong to underrepresented groups. So, their privilege comes from their gender (male), race/color (white), or rank in the office (senior level or management). 

Allies support their LGBT colleagues, women of color, or other marginalized members. 

Additionally, allies use their influence to give voice to these underrepresented people, build partnerships with them to raise awareness, provide support, and advocate on their behalf so they feel heard and valued.

Research shows:

  • Employees in organizations with a culture of allyship report feeling greater happiness and are more likely to go above and beyond for their employers. So, they are 50 % less likely to leave, 56 % more likely to work to improve their performance, 75 % less likely to take a sick day, and up to 167 % more likely to recommend their organizations as great places to work.
  • Women of color who make it to the top cite the importance of supportive allies.
  • For those with disabilities, workplace allies play a powerful role in creating an inclusive climate, helping to break down stigmas attached to disability and encouraging those with disabilities to talk about them.
Black man and disabled Caucasian woman in wheelchair working together (Allyship in the workplace)

Genuine allyship in the workplace vs performative allyship 

Just like tokenism, you also have performative allyship. Though both genuine and performative allyship support marginalized groups, they have different motivations, actions, and impact: 

  • Real allyship means genuinely believing there is equality and justice. Therefore, genuine allies empathize and understand the experience of marginalized people. So, performative allyship is often motivated by social approval and self-promotion. They feel obligated without true understanding or commitment to diversity. 
  • Genuine allyship actively works to break down barriers through constant effort, self-education, and taking steps to promote and empower marginalized employees. On the other hand, performative allyship is limited to superficial gestures like sharing social media posts or attending rallies without engaging in actual actions. 
  • Genuine allyship creates long-lasting positive changes by addressing the root causes of injustice to create a more equitable work environment. Meanwhile, performative allyship can be counterproductive because it gives an appearance of progress without addressing systemic issues. It may tokenize the allies’ experience over the needs of the underprivileged. 

According to Catalyst, this is how performative allyship looks: 

  • Posting racial justice on social media pieces without commitment to change 
  • Celebrating Equal Pay Day but not conducting pay audits by race or gender to evaluate and correct salary gaps 
  • Showing support for Pride Day but continuing to work with vendors and suppliers that marginalize LGBT employees 

Genuine allyship is a long-term commitment that requires continuous growth and learning. So, performative allyship is often temporary and fades away without sustained effort. 

How to Be a Good Ally at Work (as an employee) 

1. Reflect on your privilege. 

It’s important to become self-aware that you are privileged (race, gender, social, economic status). Understand that you don’t have to feel guilty about it, but acknowledge the benefits you may have in society to the factors you were born with. 

So, review your own life experiences and consider how your privilege has influenced them. Think of the moments when your privilege has given you an opportunity or protected you from certain disadvantages that people from marginalized groups have suffered from. 

2. Examine your biases 

By recognizing your biases, you become aware of your conscious and unconscious prejudices and how they impact your interactions and decisions when dealing with people from underrepresented groups.  So, awareness can help us manage our actions and be more considerate of others. 

You may attend unconscious biases training or take the Implicit Association Test (IAT)  to discover your biases.

3. Be an active listener

When you listen to the thoughts and stories of people from less privileged groups, you learn more about their problems and what life is like for them. This is really important for being a true ally. Listening carefully also shows that you care, respect, and want to learn from them. It helps you notice and question any unfair ideas you might have, which can stop you from accidentally hurting others.

When you listen, focus on the speaker. So, be present in the conversation. Ask questions to clarify. Acknowledge their feelings. Show compassion. Avoid offering unsolicited advice. Also, thank them for opening up to you and expressing your commitment to support. 

4. Educate and research 

Learn about privilege, systemic oppression, and social justice issues. So, read books and articles and watch documentaries that explore these topics from diverse perspectives. Attend DEI training. It will give you insights into how privilege operates in society.

Also, join workshops promoting cultural competency and unconscious bias awareness.

5. Speak up 

Challenge biased behaviors, microinsults, microinvalidations, microaggressions, and discriminatory practices when you see them. Do so respectfully and constructively.

So, if someone is being targeted, offer support and discreetly intervene if possible. Also, report serious incidents to your manager, HR, or appropriate authorities.

6. Build relationships 

Get to know colleagues from different backgrounds and cultures. Attend cultural events and celebrations to understand them better. So, look for opportunities to connect outside work-related tasks like participating in employee resource groups, social events, or casual conversations. 

Building relationships takes time and effort. Recognize that you may not fully understand the experiences of marginalized groups, so don’t make assumptions. Also, ask respectful questions and respect their boundaries and rights to privacy. 

How to be a Better Ally in the Workplace (as a Manager) 

Manger addressing team

1. Lead by example 

Show that you’re inclusive by how you act and talk with your team. Use words that include everyone and don’t assume things about who they are or what they’ve been through. Instead of saying words that suggest a certain gender, use words that fit everyone. Don’t use stereotypes, and be nice to people from all different backgrounds. Treat everyone with kindness and understand that everyone is different.

Regularly ask for feedback about your leadership style from team members. Get their suggestions and how you can improve as an ally. Be open to constructive criticism and use it to grow.

2. Create a safe and supportive work environment

In her book How to Be an Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace, author Melinda Briana Epler, managers should allow members to express and be themselves to foster equality in the team. Consider introducing shared values to broaden the group’s feeling of belonging together. 

Leaders and colleagues must be open to new ideas, provide thoughtful feedback, and be available to support and collaborate with each other.  As the manager, take responsibility for team risk and share credit for team successes. 

Become the kind of leader where people around you are confident about speaking up, even if it causes discomfort or disagreement. So, ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to speak in your meetings, where each idea is heard and respected. 

As a manager, trust and empower your team members to make decisions. Help them understand how their work relates to the team’s larger goal. Always recognize members for their accomplishments. 

Create opportunities for team members to get to know each other, build empathy for one another, and develop a collective intelligence together. Hold team lunches or afternoon meet and greets, offsites, volunteer outings, or other activities that build informal connections. 

Ensure tools, resources, and communication channels are accessible to everyone. Provide necessary accommodations based on individual needs. 

3. Develop inclusive leadership skills

According to Epler, TED Speaker and Empovia founder (formerly Change Catalyst), Deloitte’s six signature traits of an inclusive leader have gained the most traction with several of her clients:

  1. Commitment – developing personal values that include DEI: fairness, respect, kindness, justice, and a belief in the value of diversity
  2. Courage – acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, admitting mistakes, holding yourself and others accountable
  3. Cognizance – becoming self-aware of personal biases and self-regulating to ensure biases don’t influence decisions and processes
  4. Curiosity – being open to different perspectives and tolerating ambiguity. Accepting uncertainties is inevitable in the search for personal growth
  5. Cultural intelligence – empathizing and learning from people with identities and cultures different from your own, embracing unique working styles without judgment, and adapting behaviors to work well across cultures
  6. Collaboration – giving people autonomy, trusting them, and empowering them to contribute fully

Putting this into the context of leaders, Deloitte says inclusive leadership is about:

  • Treating people and groups fairly based on their unique characteristics 
  • Personalizing individuals, understanding and valuing the uniqueness of diverse others while also accepting them as members of the group
  • Leveraging the thinking of diverse groups for smarter ideation and decision-making 

4. Sponsor or be a mentor

Use your professional network and experience to sponsor or mentor coworkers from marginalized groups. So, help them navigate career challenges, connect them with opportunities, and advocate for their advancement.

You develop your communication, leadership, and coaching skills by giving guidance and support. This personal growth translates into being a more effective ally in the organization. 

5. Be an advocate for change 

Take advantage of your position or the opportunity to promote diversity in your workplace. 

As a manager, look at how things work in your workplace to see if they accidentally treat some groups unfairly. For instance, if you see that a man you supervise earns more money than a woman doing the same job, you can ask the HR team to check if the pay is fair for everyone. You could also suggest to HR that they make it easier for employees with disabilities to work by offering flexible schedules.

Why I wrote this:

Ongig supports diversity, equity, and inclusion, fostering allyship in the workplace. It’s really important to notice and fix these biases to make sure everyone has a fair chance at work. You can use tools like Ongig’s Text Analyzer to help make sure your job ads are fair and don’t show any unfair preferences. Text Analyzer can help you write job ads that welcome all kinds of people by suggesting inclusive words and pointing out any biased ones. If you want to see how it works and how it can help you find the right people for the job, request a demo today.


  1. Elevating Allyship in the Workplace – Bentley University
  2. How to Be an Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace – Melinda Briana Epler
  3. The six signature traits of inclusive leadership – Deloitte 

by in Diversity and Inclusion