How to Be an Ally in the Workplace

by Alton Zenon
May 22, 2020

Get comfortable with silence. 

San Francisco tech professionals cite this as rule No.1 in becoming an ally in the workplace. Giving others the opportunity to be heard — whether they’re opening up about an experience as a member of a marginalized group or highlighting an idea in a team scrum — empowers individuals and shows the listener cares. Allies shouldn’t fill silent moments with chatter for the sake of their own comfort because it can close the door on an introvert’s perceived opportunity to speak up. 

Being an active listener shows empathy and helps an ally better understand the concerns of people with different backgrounds. When it is time to speak, an ally should acknowledge any ignorance they might have surrounding the experiences of those they hope to align with, and display a willingness to learn more. However, that education should be self-taught, rather than relying on a member of their group to do it for them. 

Diversity in the workplace encompasses more than sex and race; individuals with disabilities, different ideologies and gender identities are often overlooked groups that could benefit from allyship. A thoughtful ally does what they can to make members of these groups feel comfortable, without turning them into a spectacle and doing more harm than good. 


Doximity team
Anna Sheets
Senior Data Analytics Manager

Most impactful realization on allyship at Doximity: I entered my career holding the principle, “Treat others how you want to be treated,” as the ultimate guideline for my actions. However, when this rule is applied in a work environment, it only focuses on the way we perceive actions that affect ourselves. What if the way that I want to be treated has a different impact on others?

In one example, I was scheduling a follow-up meeting with my team in which I said their attendance was optional. If it were me, I would have appreciated the time back in my day. But one individual got upset and told me they felt as if I didn’t value everyone’s opinions, theirs included. I was shocked. I thought my intentions were good and I wondered how something like that could backfire. 

I quickly learned that it’s not about the intention of my actions, it’s about their impact. After this experience, I began evaluating how my actions could actually be working against my desired results. I spent more time with my team members, creating a safe environment so that I could learn how to be an ally to each of them specifically. I ditched the notion that there are universally good actions and placed more attention on the respective needs of each individual.

I had to learn to get comfortable with silence.”


How to be a better office ally: Recognition, or the lack of it, can have a tremendous impact. I will never forget being in a meeting and witnessing a colleague represent a collaborative idea as their own. As one of a handful of women in a men-dominant team, I could not help but feel marginalized. Momentarily defeated, that experience inspired me to use recognition as a tool to be a better ally.

Fast forward several years, and now I’ve learned that recognition doesn’t just mean acknowledging someone by name when sharing their idea. While that is recognition, the idea goes far beyond that. Recognition can be as simple as the gestures and tone used when reacting to someone’s idea. It can be proactively looking for opportunities to delegate leadership tasks to individuals that don’t otherwise have an opportunity to speak up or lead in highly visible channels.


How to do more good than harm: When I started managing, I felt an immense pressure to always have something prepared to talk about. If there was a pause in the conversation, I feared folks would think less of me or my abilities. However, by always seeking to provide some kind of color around everything my team members had to say, I was inadvertently taking away from their experiences. Sometimes individuals just wanted to be seen and heard, and that is okay. 

To make space for my team members, I had to learn to get comfortable with silence. Although I learned this idea in one-on-ones, the concept extends to all group meetings. Some individuals have a tendency to remain quiet and others to speak up. As an ally, the next time you’re leading a meeting, try inserting moments of pause when seeking information from attendees. Not everyone will speak up immediately but given some additional time, there may be some participants that finally feel they have the space to share.


Chime team in group photo
Syeda Lee
Senior Fraud Ops Specialist

Most impactful realization on allyship at Chime: Understanding how to effectively speak up for myself and others when I encounter situations of potential implicit biases against my or other cultural identities. Addressing implicit bias has become even more important since I witnessed prejudices against people who were not in the room to defend themselves. Those events changed my approach to allyship in the workplace because I don’t believe that someone can advocate for others effectively without understanding how to advocate for themselves.

I have worked hard to try to model the type of allyship that I would like to experience.”


How to be a better office ally: Show up, educate yourself and be open-minded. I have worked hard to try to model the type of allyship that I would like to experience by engaging with Chime resource groups that are not necessarily a part of my cultural identity. By showing up to the events of other Chime resource groups, I hope that my co-workers feel like I see them, support them as individuals and celebrate them, as well as the communities they identify with. 

Another essential part of being an ally at work is taking time to get educated about the people that a person wants to be an ally to, rather than relying on a member of that group to educate them. Self-education will help enhance a person’s life experience by allowing them see a different perspective. It will create more empathy and cultural awareness about people who are different from them.


How to do more good than harm: Actively listen and offer help verbally so people know they are seen, heard and that there is help and support. For me, allyship is about action. People should actively listen in a conversation and internalize the things they’ve learned to better enrich their own cultural understanding. Then, they should share the important things they’ve learned with other current and future allies to expand their understanding and awareness as well. 


harness team at pride event
Heidi Newiger
Employee Experience Manager

Most impactful realization on allyship at Harness: It sounds so obvious, but one of the most powerful and tough realizations I have had while doing this type of work has been grasping the extent of my privilege. Recognizing and understanding privilege is not easy or comfortable work, but it really opens a person’s eyes to the societal and systematic oppression that our world was built on. 

Once I started understanding my privilege, I had to use my voice to amplify underrepresented groups around me. For example, introverts and extroverts communicate and share information differently, but either group could have the best idea. By sharing agendas ahead of meetings and including discussion points and questions for the group, we can ensure that all people have time to prepare for meetings the way that is best for them. This practice helps to make sure everyone’s voices are equally heard and respected.

Recognize that it may be hard for some people to share their unique perspective.”


How to be a better office ally: Practice empathy. Empathy allows someone to step into the shoes of others and understand their feelings and perspectives. When people are empathetic, it helps drive connection and a sense of togetherness. Some easy ways to practice empathy are by asking genuine questions about people, listening actively and with an open mind, and of course, being vulnerable and opening up. 


How to do more good than harm: Become more self-aware. Recognize that it may be hard for some people to share their unique perspective or experience, and start by simply listening to them. Focus on providing a safe and judgement-free zone for them to speak their truth. Refrain from interrupting or sharing one’s own experiences and instead seek to understand how that person feels and why they feel that way. It’s OK not to have solutions or answers for them; simply thank them for sharing. If there is the feeling that they do want assistance and it’s unclear what they want, ask that person directly and have an honest conversation about it. 


HomeLight team at outdoor event
Casey Hohman
Senior Manager of Training

Most impactful realization on allyship at HomeLight: We all make assumptions and have implicit biases based on what we think we know about something unfamiliar. What’s been powerful for allies at HomeLight is showing up with the mindset of, “Help me understand.” When we launched “HomeLight Pride,” our ERG for LGBTQIA+ employees and allies, one of the top requests from our allies was to be educated. They wanted to know, “What does it mean to be gender fluid? Should I call them your boyfriend or partner?” If an ally doesn’t have someone in their life who’s gay, trans or non-binary, it’s ok to admit that and commit to learning.

Our Gender Equality in Motion ERG challenges our allies to take a critical look at our hiring and interviewing process. We look at whether our interview panels are diverse, if we are actively seeking a diverse pool of candidates and whether our job descriptions are free of any potential gender bias.

Being an ally also means being critical of one’s own work and looking at it through multiple lenses. We want to create a space for our team members to be able to ask these types of questions so we can all learn and get to know our co-workers on a deeper level.

Being an effective ally is a lot like being a supportive family member.”


How to be a better office ally: I think being an effective ally is a lot like being a supportive family member. If a person takes the time to listen, practice empathy, celebrate, support and defend their coworkers as they would their family members, it creates a culture where people care deeply about each other. That level of personal concern spills over into everything a person does at work, including making them a better teammate and giving them a higher purpose.

One of my co-workers came out as non-binary, and at first, I wasn’t sure of the appropriate way to respond. But the more I thought about them as a person, the more I realized this was something they likely wanted to reveal for a while. So I made it a point to congratulate them and celebrate because I know that I would do the same for someone in my family.


How to do more good than harm: Diversity is about bringing different points of view together so we can consider new perspectives and learn from each other. Allies should start conversations by listening and asking questions, then offering their own points of view. It’s OK to disclose a level of knowledge or comfort on a topic.

Afterward, allies should ask for feedback to see if there’s anything they could have done better. Don’t always walk on eggshells. If a person holds themselves back from sharing their perspective, they are missing an opportunity for someone else to hear a diverse viewpoint, which others in the organization may also have.


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