How to Feel More Confident as an Ally at Work and Beyond
Unsure how to be an ally at work for your LGBTQ+ colleageus? Read this article from Eboné Bell—the founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and a speaker on entrepreneurship, LGBTQ issues and activism.
Reading Time 5 mins
Happy Pride Month! We’re celebrating at Flatiron School by learning to be better allies for our LGBTQ+ colleagues, students and loved ones—and for people in other marginalized communities, too.
Flatiron School invited Eboné Bell—the founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and a speaker on entrepreneurship, LGBTQ issues and activism—to lead a discussion with our employees about how to be a good ally.
Bell acknowledged that it’s easy to hesitate because we’re not sure what to do, and she asked us to imagine what we’d do if we suddenly discovered we had a superpower. “If you could teleport, you’d do it right away, right?” Allyship, she told us, is “a power you don’t even realize you have.” Here’s how to start using it.
Show up and be visible.
It’s human nature to listen to people who are similar to us. When you show up to listen and learn—in meetings, at events and in everyday conversations about the concerns of people from the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized communities—your example can encourage others like you to show up and learn, too.
Give credit where it’s due.
A lot of us have been in that awkward meeting: A colleague keeps tossing out good ideas only to have them ignored, and then a few minutes later a colleague who’s not in a marginalized group repeats one of those ideas and gets praised for it.
You can be an ally by making sure that first colleague gets credit, by chiming in with something like “I think Suzanne was right when she suggested…”
Bell noted that this doesn’t mean you’re coming in as a savior for your co-worker. Instead, you’re acting as a partner, so they get credit and visibility for their ideas and work.
Help others see the issue.
Attitudes and behaviors can change when people can see the problem. For example, Bell said, civil rights leaders in the Jim Crow South invited the media to see how they were treated when they tried to ride a bus or eat in a diner. The resulting news coverage drove support for change.
At work, you can share information about issues that may affect your colleagues, vendors or customers. For example, has there been anti-trans violence in your city? Talk about it.
Learn what needs to be done.
In the above example, you can ask trans colleagues what they need. You can also see what your company is doing to work on the issues. Bell called this the micro/macro approach: Find out what needs to be done in your circle and also in your wider community.
Each marginalized group has its own history of barriers they’ve overcome and its own challenges now. Find out what they are by visiting websites, watching documentaries and following the news. Try to learn how many people in your workplace are affected by these challenges, and what groups are committed to making change.
Give time and money.
Donating and volunteering as an ally both make a difference. As you and your co-workers study more about what’s needed in your company and in your community, you can figure out how to best use your resources to help.
This can be good for the people you’re helping and for you, Bell said. When you ally closely with someone through volunteering, it expands your perspective.
Practice empathetic listening.
Too often, Bell said, we listen so we can reply, not so we can understand. The solution is practice. Listen without judgment to try to understand the speaker’s perspective and their emotions. Then, let the other person know you heard what they said.
Bell shared this classic video from researcher Brené Brown on empathy:
This kind of empathetic listening helps you connect with the people you want to show up for.
This part of allyship makes many of us nervous, because we’re afraid of making things awkward or saying the wrong thing. We need to do it anyway. “We don’t have time for silent allies,” Bell said. “The majority of the time it’s better for you to say something and mess it up than to say nothing at all.”
Speak up within your circle, when a friend or loved one says something that’s derogatory or stereotyped. All it takes, Bell said, is a simple, “That’s not cool. Why would you say that?” It can be scary, but not calling out these kinds of statements allows them to continue.
Speak up at work and at school. Elevating the ideas of co-workers who get ignored in meetings is a great way to speak up, because it helps to change the work culture, and it gives the people you’re speaking up for more confidence to keep sharing their contributions.
Speak up even when there’s not a problem to react to. Simply letting friends and co-workers know that you’re available to listen without judgment if they need to talk can make a difference for people who are dealing with the stress of being marginalized.
Learn to manage tough conversations. Bell recommended a three-step approach when you talk with someone about a sensitive subject.
- First, welcome the other person into the conversation. “Can we talk about this subject? I have some ideas and I’d like to hear yours, too.”
- Listen to the other person with awareness and share examples with your thoughts.
- Thank the other person for having the conversation, even if you didn’t agree on everything. That leaves the door open for more talks later.
Not every conversation will go perfectly, and that’s OK. Being present, not perfect, is the key, during Pride Month and year-round. Bell says it’s better to get started than to wait for the ideal time.
“Activate your power of allyship, because people need you now.”
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