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Equality

Active Allyship: Be an Advocate, Reflect, and Drive Change

Allyship is not about reaching a finish line or winning a medal, it’s an ongoing journey.

A group of four colleagues looking in the same direction active allyship
A group shot of employees viewing work on a screen. [Adobe Stock]

A 2020 study found 80% of white employees consider themselves allies to people of color in the workplace. However, only 55% of Latinas and 45% of Black women say they have strong allies at work. And, fewer than 40% of white employees say they have ever spoken out against bias or racism at work.

We need active allies who are prepared to take consistent and meaningful action to ensure their organizations are safe and inclusive for all — regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

According to a new study, 5.6% of American adults identify as LGBTQ+, which is more than ever before. But anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is at an all-time high this year. Additionally, in a study conducted by Accenture, 67% of business executives said they believe their companies support employees with disabilities, but only 20% of employees with a disability agreed that their workplace culture is fully committed to helping them thrive and succeed. And 76% of employees with disabilities in the survey reported not fully disclosing their disabilities at work. To that end, we need active allies who are prepared to take consistent and meaningful action to ensure their organizations are safe and inclusive for all — regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

In a previous post, we explored how many are on an allyship journey that ranges from curious to courageous. Some may be early on and are curious — they want to learn more about how to become a better ally, but may not know which questions to ask. Others are more courageous and ready to speak up and use their platform to drive change.

Active allyship in the workplace

A foundational element throughout this journey is active allyship. Not being a performative ally — only appearing to speak out against various injustices without putting action behind those words, by changing behavior, or actively advocating against unjust structures. An active ally is someone who may not be a member of a community but supports them and takes action on an ongoing basis. It is not a “one-and-done” activity, but being an ally is a verb. You don’t need to identify entirely with a community or share the same interests or background. It also doesn’t mean that you need to agree on every single issue. But it does mean you lead with empathy and seek to understand others. You lean into courageous conversations and get comfortable with not always understanding everything, being okay with getting things wrong but learning and evolving as you go.

Here at Salesforce, we recognize that we still have work to do when it comes to active allyship, but we’re committed to learning and growing. In doing so, we continue to hold space for conversations with employees of all identities and champion the voices of the employees leading and participating in our Equality Resource Groups. That’s the thing about active allyship — there’s no final destination. It’s a continuous journey that requires continuous effort.

Here are 5 ways you can practice active allyship in the workplace:

1. Taking responsibility for your own behavior

As we learn about new communities and seek to better understand each other — we may say or do the wrong thing. If and when we get called out on these mistakes, we may get defensive and say “Oh, I didn’t mean it that way” or see it as a personal jab on our character and respond by saying, “I’m definitely not (racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, etc).” This is why understanding intent versus impact is so important.

If what you said harmed another person — acknowledge the impact, take accountability, and most importantly, commit to changing behavior in the future.

Alexandra Legend Siegel, senior director of Equality Content and Enablement

“Oftentimes, many of us have positive intent when we say something, but it’s the impact of our words that truly matters. If what you said harmed another person — acknowledge the impact, take accountability, and most importantly, commit to changing behavior in the future,” shares Alexandra Legend Siegel, senior director of Equality Content and Enablement.

2. Interrupt microaggressions with micro-interventions

As an active ally, if you see a microaggression in action against a colleague, intervene and speak up. Microaggressions are everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that negatively impact or target a person, particularly from a marginalized community. Understand that these “everyday slights” have consequences on a person’s mental and physical health that cannot be overlooked. 

Active allyship means you won’t stand by passively but, will — instead — disarm the microaggression with a micro-intervention.

So, if you hear someone say to a woman, “I didn’t realize you’d be so well-spoken in front of that customer” or “Who would have guessed you’d be so skilled at code reviews” or “You were lucky to close that sale,” —  speak up. Challenge them with a simple “Why do you say that?” You’ll get them to confront their bias while you show some support for your colleague who was on the receiving end.

Active allyship means you won’t stand by passively but, will — instead — disarm the microaggression with a micro-intervention. Speak up for others if you witness this. Here are some examples of what you can say:

  • Ask for more clarification: “Could you say more about what you mean by that?”
  • Separate intent from impact: you could say: “I know you probably didn’t mean this, but when you __________ (comment/behavior), it was hurtful/offensive because___________. Instead you could___________ (different language or behavior.)”
  • Provide facts and suggest behavior change: “I noticed that you ___________ (comment/behavior). I used to do/say that too, but then I learned____________.”

Other examples of microaggressions include calling a woman “crazy, emotional, or bossy” whereas, for a man, the words “passionate, courageous, or a great leader” are used instead.

In the clip below from Trailblazing Women Summit, Minda Harts, author of The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table, talks about her personal experience with microaggressions:

Alexandra Siegel and Mindy Harts onstage at the Trailblazing Women Summit in 2019

As a company, review your employee survey results or feedback from employees to better understand how employees are experiencing the workplace. We’ve been on our journey at Salesforce and are rolling out our company-wide training on the essentials required to have courageous conversations around microaggressions and beyond.

3. Make space, don’t take space

The next time you are in a meeting, look around the room or look to see who’s filling the video boxes on your screen. Does everyone look the same? Are the same people always speaking or leading the discussion? Question why. How can you bring in more diverse and authentic voices to the room where key decisions are being made? Think of how you can pass the mic and make space for others.

4. Use your platform

Building on the point shared above, a critical step to active allyship is to sponsor and advocate for underrepresented groups in your workplace. A mentor can be from any industry, but a sponsor needs to be in your organization, said Carla Harris, vice chairman and managing director at Morgan Stanley, at our annual racial equality summit, Representation Matters.

As you move forward in your career, don’t forget to look around you and see how you might bring others “up” alongside.

“First, they need to have some visibility into your work because they have to have credibility behind closed doors when they speak on your behalf. Second, they need to have a seat at the decision-making table, and third, they need to have the power to get — whatever it is — done.”

Consider whom you can sponsor and help create access and advance their career. As you move forward in your career, don’t forget to look around you and see how you might bring others “up” alongside.

5. Active allyship is an ongoing journey

Allyship is not about reaching a finish line or winning a medal, it’s an ongoing journey. Commit to educating yourself along the way. Systemic inequities are woven into the fabric of society and unraveling it will take commitment over a long time. Stay dedicated, and if you misstep, take accountability, give yourself some grace, learn and keep going.

There is still work to be done on this path toward equality for all. At Salesforce, we are committed to this journey through our various programs, our Employee Resource Groups, and by practicing allyship.

Learn more at Salesforce.com/Equality.

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