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  1. Blog
  2. Partners in Diversity

7 Powerful Lessons Learned About Allyship in the Workplace

How seven people break the bias

Male ally talking to his team
Photo courtesy of fauxels

This article is part of InHerSight's Partners in Diversity series. Discover companies partnering with InHerSight to better support women in the workplace.

What better way is there to restore your faith in humanity than by remembering there are allies among us? The global theme of International Women's Day 2022 is “Break the Bias,” imagining a gender equal world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, where our differences are valued and respected.  

As part of InHerSight's coverage, we asked allies to tell us the most valuable lessons they’ve learned about allyship in the workplace. These responses—one longer story of being a top-tier manager from a woman and six insights from male allies—stood out for their acknowledgement of diverse ways bias rears its ugly head in the workplace and how allies can actively dismantle barriers to advancement. 

7 powerful lessons learned about allyship in the workplace

Lesson #1: Make the effort. 

“While working as a manager at a previous employer there was an individual who was passed to me after having two other managers. There were no performance issues or personality conflicts. They were employed with this company for several years without any incidents. What was communicated to me was that this individual wanted to do more but did not show any initiative and that they did not ‘dress’ for the job they want and would not be able to grow professionally. 

‘Dressing for the job you want’ is a phrase I have heard many times during my career. That was never something I believed in. You cannot simply become a doctor or lawyer by dressing in a lab coat or wearing a suit and tie. The old adage ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ is something everyone should embrace. Someone's appearance is never a barometer for how successful they could or would be. 

This individual likely did not need a new manager as much as they needed an ally. After a few one-on-one meetings where we discussed the present and the future, it was easy to see the path this person wanted to take and how to help them get there.  

This individual was creative and intelligent and had so much to offer. I was confident that they would exceed their own expectations. Their role was fairly mundane and frankly wasted some amazing talents. I was able to expand their scope to incorporate these skills and satisfy that need to break up the day and use some creative energy.  

This person dreamed of working in digital marketing, and though I would have loved to keep them on my team forever, I wanted them to achieve their dreams more. 

I began to reach out to my contacts in marketing to see if they had any projects they could share with this employee to allow them to gain some experience to transfer into marketing or get a marketing role at another organization. Slowly, and while keeping up with their own workload, projects began to come to them as the marketing department had some attrition and they needed help.  

This experience was so valuable and really made a difference in this employee's career path.  They soon went to work in digital marketing and have since moved on to manage a marketing department of their own. I am lucky enough to still maintain contact with this former employee, who has been successful and fulfilled their dreams even not dressing as others may perceive a digital marketer would dress.  

The biggest lesson I learned about being an ally in the workplace is that a small effort on your part can make a big difference in the professional life of someone else. We all need to be given a chance. I was happy to not only support this person but to celebrate their success, all without having a makeover.” —Maria Vierbickas, Channel Operations Manager, Markforged

Lesson #2: Don’t assume.

“It's easy to assume you understand what your colleagues are going through from a personal and professional level but that is usually not true. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from being in diverse workplaces is to constantly ask myself if I am being quick to jump to conclusions or judge a situation unfairly. Everyone every single day is a victim of unconscious bias, but if you are aware of a potential bias in your thought process, you have a better chance of overcoming it. This makes you a better colleague and helps build a better working environment.” —Nick Mitri, Technical Program Manager, Markforged

Lesson #3: Recognize the longevity and weight of oppression.

“The most valuable lesson I have learned being an ally in the workplace is how important it is to recognize the severity of the systemic problems that exist for women. Historically, the workplace was created and shaped around the needs of male workers. Over time, as more women entered the workforce, this has improved, but there are still major issues regarding equal pay, maternity benefits, and office accommodations that women still are forced to struggle with. Over the years I have learned that pushing for progressive change by empowering women and providing them with a platform and voice ends up being beneficial for everyone.” —Corey Chapman, Analytics Engineer, InfoTrust

Lesson #4: Make allyship part of your management philosophy.

“Making sure in my role as a manager, to include everyone, and to encourage those who seem reluctant or hesitant to assert themselves to feel confident they can do that with everyone's support regardless of who they are, where they're from or how they identify themselves.” —​​Jeff Dworkin, Engineering Manager, INSHUR 

Lesson #5: Listen to experiences different from your own.

“The most valuable lesson that I've learned about being an ally in the workplace is that there are two different workplaces. There is the one that I work in and experience, and the one that the women that I work with work in and experience. I will never know what that experience is like. For that reason, I learned a long time ago to listen when those women on my team mention their experiences. It's only when I listen that I'm able to get a glimpse into their world. Beyond that, I've grown a ‘believe first’ mentality, because even though I didn't see it, doesn't mean it didn't happen.” —Travis Weston, Senior Software Developer, Alley

Lesson #6: Hold space in order to take action.

“The most valuable lesson I've learned about being an ally is that while listening is critical to support, if it's the only tool used, it can be too inactive to make any lasting difference. Making and holding space is a necessary precursor for real, lasting support to take place.” —Jake Foster, Director of Engineering Development, Alley

Lesson #7: Recognize your privilege. 

“I've learned that being a workplace ally means that I recognize my voice is often heard over the voices of marginalized people. While I’m happy to use that privilege for advocacy, I also know that that voice should never be louder than those for whom I advocate. To understand that allyship is never about me, but instead the people who might require me as an ally.” —John Dykes, Sr Tech PM, Penn Interactive Ventures

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