A workplace ally—someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group but advocates for those who are—can help change the cultural fabric of an organization and drive progress in society.
Supporting underrepresented colleagues encourages everyone to be their true, uninhibited selves—critical for any company that relies on the creativity and innovation of a diverse workforce to reach its objectives.
That’s why, at PMI, building a culture of togetherness is so crucial to our ambition of a smoke-free future. Only an environment where employees can contribute their best and support each other will drive the output and consumer-centricity required to fulfil our vision of a world without cigarettes.
Our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) play a key role in achieving this, providing platforms for people to discuss issues and concerns in a supportive space.
Here are seven ways allies can support and empower employees:
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1. Inform yourself
Dig deep into the many resources available to broaden your understanding of the obstacles, biases and other challenges faced by members of underrepresented groups. ERGs and other Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) events are a good starting point, providing opportunities to learn, network and ask questions.
Before overcoming your unconscious biases, you’ve first got to identify them. There are some effective online tests designed by academics that enable you to do this, as well as internal training tools in many organizations to help you learn about—and challenge—your own biases in the workplace. For example, if a woman is described as “bossy”, ask yourself if you’d apply the same description to a man exhibiting similar behavior.
3. Spread the word and advocate
Don’t be a silent bystander; become a vocal supporter. Share events within your networks, advocate for diversity, actively participate in I&D conversations, and inform colleagues about the valuable role allies play in driving progress.
4. Amplify the voice of underrepresented colleagues
When a colleague from an underrepresented group proposes a good idea that isn’t widely heard in a meeting, repeat it and give them the credit they deserve. Invite these colleagues to speak at employee meetings, contribute to internal communications, and take on other visible roles.
5. Listen to feedback and learn from mistakes
We are all human and we all make mistakes. Sometimes, our words or behaviors—however well-intentioned—can be perceived as offensive or hurtful by the people we are trying to support. To become a better ally in future, it’s important to acknowledge these lapses in judgement, continuously learn, and ask for feedback.
6. Be consistent with your support
Don’t be a performative ally, be a consistently active and authentic one—driven by the greater good rather than your own reputation. So, be discerning in what you say and promote. Ask yourself: am I supporting this with the intention of being a true ally, or because it will make me look good? It’s vital that allies are authentic in their support of others, not seeking visibility and self-promotion that may foster distrust among those they are supposed to be backing.
7. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
To make a positive, long-lasting impact as an ally, you should commit to the cause and brace yourself for some uncomfortable situations. Influencing cultural change in an organization isn’t a plain-sailing proposition. But by stepping outside your comfort zone and challenging detrimental behaviors, you can make change happen. In other words—be the change to drive change.
Many scholars on the subject of I&D will attest to the power of allyship in unlocking the strength of diversity.
There’s still a long road ahead, but one thing’s for certain—the greater the number of allies, the faster we’ll get there.