What your allies don’t know: Enhancing understanding and support for diversity in the workplace

Diversity and Inclusion
Anna Frazzetto

By Anna Frazzetto
January 9, 2024

June 3, 2024

0 min read

Creating a truly inclusive workplace requires more than just the presence of diverse individuals. It demands a deeper understanding and active support from allies. Allies play a crucial role in recognising and addressing the nuanced challenges that their colleagues face. Let’s illuminate these challenges and provide actionable ways for allies to make a meaningful difference.

Invisible barriers

One of the most significant challenges in the workplace for diverse employees is the presence of invisible barriers. These barriers often manifest as microaggressions, unconscious biases or systemic hurdles that unfairly hinder career progression. According to a recent report by McKinsey & Company, there is a noticeable underrepresentation of women and people of colour in leadership positions, highlighting systemic barriers in career advancement opportunities.

Cultural misunderstandings

Cultural misunderstandings in the workplace can lead to feelings of alienation and discomfort among diverse employees. These misunderstandings often stem from a lack of awareness about different cultural norms or religious practices. The Harvard Business Review emphasises the importance of cultural intelligence in recognising and respecting these differences.

Business people different cultures and races talking

Balancing identity and professionalism

For many in the workforce, there is an ongoing struggle to balance cultural identity with professional expectations. This balancing act can be a source of significant stress and contribute to a sense of not fully belonging. A report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) demonstrates how individuals from diverse backgrounds often feel compelled to downplay their cultural or personal identities to assimilate into the predominant workplace culture.

So, how exactly can allies help their diverse colleagues?

Educate themselves

 Allies must begin with self-education to understand the different perspectives and experiences of their colleagues. Engaging with informative literature like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo or So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo can offer invaluable insights into racial dynamics that play out in the workplace.

Attractive young woman working on a desktop computer smiling as she leans forwards reading text on the screen, view over the monitor

Listen and validate experiences

Active listening to the experiences of diverse colleagues is crucial. Allies need to provide a safe space where their colleagues feel heard, and their experiences are validated. An article by Rcademy stresses the importance of this kind of listening in creating inclusive workplace environments, suggesting internal communication channels like newsletters and townhalls.

Advocate and speak up

Allies have a responsibility to use their positions to advocate for their colleagues. This could mean intervening in situations involving microaggressions, recommending diverse colleagues for opportunities or supporting initiatives aimed at enhancing diversity and inclusion. Research by Catalyst indicates that allyship can have a significant positive impact on workplace inclusivity.

Women embracing in rehab group at therapy session

Encourage diverse leadership

Promoting and supporting diversity in leadership roles is another crucial way allies can help. Diverse leadership ensures a variety of perspectives in decision-making and serves as a powerful role model for others. Forbes discusses how diversity in leadership fosters better problem-solving and innovation. Allies should be willing to challenge the status quo in their organisations. This might involve questioning long-standing practices or policies that inadvertently disadvantage certain groups.

Foster a culture of inclusion

Allies should not only advocate for but also actively support inclusive policies and practices. This involves contributing to diversity training programs, ensuring fair hiring practices or advocating for flexible working arrangements that cater to various needs. But creating an inclusive culture doesn’t stop at policies; it’s about everyday interactions. Allies can contribute by encouraging inclusiveness in meetings, social events and team collaborations. Equity in opportunity is key to a diverse workplace. Allies can help by ensuring that everyone has access to the same opportunities for growth, development and recognition.

teams call 2

The importance of allies in the workplace

Allyship in the workplace is about active engagement and continuous learning. By understanding the unique challenges faced by diverse colleagues and taking concrete steps to support them, allies can play a pivotal role in fostering an inclusive and fair work environment. The journey towards a truly diverse workplace is ongoing, requiring the concerted efforts of everyone involved, but there are a multitude of great places to start.

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