In the modern legal workplace, companies are starting to adopt policies of inclusivity and diversity, because they know these qualities will not only benefit their employees, but their business as a whole. Being an “ally” is an important aspect of this push for inclusion. An ally is someone who supports underrepresented and disenfranchised employees such as LGBTQ+ and other minorities.
In this article, we will talk about how to be the best ally in the workplace.
Don’t Make Assumptions
As an ally, it’s important to make sure you do not assume a co-worker’s sexual orientation, gender, mental illness, ethic group, etc. Commenting on these perceived personal traits can feel diminutive to a person, and make them think their identity doesn’t include anything else (like their work ethic, or personality).
It’s important to note that not everyone is comfortable with these traits being a part of their professional life. If you think your relationship with someone is friendly, wait until they approach you about their identity. Because it’s part of who they are, they are entitled to bring it up (or not!) at their discretion.
If they do confide in you, keep the conversation to yourself. Unless they give you explicit permission, just assume they asked for your silence.
What do you say after they’ve confided in you? Just ask how you can help. Offering an open door of support may empower them enough to thrive in their role.
Active Listening to Understand
When someone confides in you about their life, it can be difficult to keep your comments and opinions to yourself. Part of being an ally is understanding the spectrum of perception; how one thing that works for you might not work (or could be impossible) for someone else. If you haven’t experienced what they are going through, the main goal is to be an active listener. To understand them is helping. Here are some traits of an active listener:
- Pay attention: the main part of listening is actually hearing what they have to say.
- Show you are listening: Turn off or turn away from any screens or distractions that keep you from listening. This allows someone to know that you are interested in what they have to say.
- Reflect: Repeat what they said verbatim as part of your questions to help yourself understand their situation.
- Respond Appropriately: The main goal here is to make them feel comfortable and heard, so thank them for being open and honest with you and extend your support.
After you’ve listened to them, it’s important to use this information appropriately. Take some time to create an environment where they feel comfortable and welcome. An example might be to ask their opinion in a meeting when you know they would have a unique perspective.
Bring Your Team Together
Allies have the opportunity to bring people together in the workplace based on the similarities that all of us share. As you become a stronger ally, you’ll start to understand those similarities and be able to help employees who might be feeling isolated or misunderstood to feel comfortable and at ease in social workplace situations. Take some time at the next office function/virtual happy hour to introduce people who might not know they have something in common.
Understand You Won’t Be Perfect
Whether you’re new to being an ally or a seasoned supporter, be honest about the fact that you don’t know how this works, and immediately apologize if you make a mistake. Usually people will understand and appreciate you owning up to anything that comes up, and might even help you to understand the full extent of the misstep. The important takeaway here is that you understand that you will never be done learning.
Ask other allies for help! Create your own support group and always be curious about how to improve. Although you’re not perfect, know that what you do is incredibly meaningful and important to your new friend and the efforts of the company as a whole.