Welcome to lesson 3 of How to Build Racial Inclusivity in Your Workplace. In this lesson, we'll explore the role of allies in the workplace.
An ally – in the context of racial inclusivity – is someone who provides active and practical support to those from different ethnic groups. Note the word "active" in this definition. Given everything we learned in lesson two about unconscious bias and structural racism, allies need to make a conscious and proactive effort to support ethnic minority co-workers. Simply not being racist or not making inappropriate comments isn't quite enough. A good ally is continually thinking of practical ways they can help the ethnic minority people in their life. In this lesson, we'll explore some practical things we can do to be an effective ally.
The first thing an ally can do is to be aware of unconscious bias and structural racism. By completing lesson two, you've already begun doing that, so congratulations! This is really important – taking ownership of our own biases and recognising the biases of wider society lends credibility to everything we do as an ally.
The second thing an ally can do is to educate themselves on the issues facing ethnic minorities. Reading relevant articles, magazines, and books is a great starting point. This allows us to engage with ethnic minority co-workers with a basis of empathy and understanding of their lived experience while also taking the pressure off them to provide that education. This saves them the need to provide additional emotional labour.
Thirdly an ally can identify natural opportunities to diversify their professional network over the long term. It's crucial to do this in a natural and long-term way, rather than a tokenistic and short-term way. Let's face it – no-one wants to interact with someone who's trying to fill a diversity quota in their professional network! For example, if you feel closest to your white co-workers, and don't feel so close to your black co-workers, then you could get to know one of your black co-workers better. How long have they been at the company? Do they have interests outside of work? What career path have they followed? Just like any other relationship, take the time to build familiarity and trust – this allows you both to gain more from the relationship over time.
An ally can make sure their ethnic minority co-workers have engaged appropriately in the workplace. Making sure they're invited to relevant meetings and work events. Making sure their views are solicited and engaged with respectfully and whole-heartedly. Making sure that their cultural needs are reasonably accommodated, such as dietary requirements or observing religious customs. These are just some of the many ways an ally can ensure good engagement with ethnic minority co-workers.
An ally can use their platform and resources to support ethnic minority co-workers. For example, if you have a following on internal social media channels, then you can share articles and stories that support ethnic minorities. If you know that an ethnic minority co-worker has done a great job on a task or project, then you can make sure to praise their work in a relevant meeting. An ally can create space like, for example, giving minority co-workers time and space to speak in meetings, and making sure that minorities are not spoken over or interrupted. If you have seniority in your organisation then there's, even more you can do, which we'll explore in more detail in lesson 6. Allies have resources – including social influence – that can be more difficult to access for many ethnic minority workers. Anything allies can do to use those resources in a supportive way is invaluable.
Allies can challenge behaviours that are exclusive of ethnic minority co-workers. This can range from a co-worker making jokes about foreign accents to full-on racist bullying. Challenging such behaviours can take many forms. It can be an "on the spot" challenge – where we instantly express our discomfort, and move the conversation in a more constructive direction. It can be speaking privately with the individual after the incident about our discomfort with their behaviour, and agreeing more appropriate behaviours. In more serious instances, it can be raising our concerns with management or HR.
How we challenge inappropriate behaviours will depend on the situation, the severity, and our own communication styles. For those who are naturally expressive, the "on the spot" challenge may feel most natural. For those who are warier of conflict, private conversations may feel more comfortable. Remember – we're challenging the behaviour, not the individual. If you have concerns about challenging behaviours, then speak to your manager, HR, trade union, or local citizens advice group.
There'll be times when allies get things wrong – perhaps unintentionally. It's a natural part of the learning process. The important thing is to take responsibility for the outcome of our actions – even if they're well-intentioned – apologise and seek to understand how we can have a more positive impact in the future. Intent versus impact is a common stumbling block for people. The intent behind our actions doesn't quite absolve us of responsibility for the impact of those actions. As an example, an ally may ask an Indian co-worker lots of questions about Indian culture – wanting to increase their own understanding and be more supportive of Indian people. However, the co-worker may feel uncomfortable about being asked those questions. The ally could give a defensive response and appeal to their own good intentions, which would likely create animosity. Or the ally could acknowledge the impact of their actions, apologise for that impact and ask if there's a more respectful way for them to, in this example, learn about Indian culture. This is more likely to maintain a good relationship between the two workers. Humility is key to allyship – genuine mistakes, with genuine apologies, are always forgivable.
To recap – an ally someone who provides active and practical support to those from different ethnic groups. They have various tools at their disposal – including being aware of unconscious bias and structural racism, educating themselves on ethnic minority issues, diversifying their professional network, engaging ethnic minority co-workers appropriately, using their platform to amplify ethnic minority voice, challenging inappropriate behaviours, and taking responsibility for their own behaviours. Clearly, the role of allies is crucial in creating racial inclusivity in the workplace.
In the next lesson, we will explore the role of affinity groups in creating racial inclusivity. Thank you for listening, and I'll speak to you again in lesson 4.