While they may seem like terms meant for a protest and other forms of activism, allyship and solidarity have a place in the workplace. The reality is that the workplace is no different from the places we might find activism happening; while the workplace has its own protocol and culture, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and many of the disenfranchising dynamics that occur outside the workplace also occur within it. By engaging in allyship and showing solidarity in the workplace towards those who need it, we take steps forward towards making a more equitable workplace and even a more equitable world.
Being a person from an underrepresented group in the workplace can feel uncomfortable, to say the least. It’s difficult to get your voice heard when it’s the only voice stemming from your position. It can feel like your needs and place in the workplace often gets steamrolled by the majority. Not only is this detrimental to the workplace itself in the way it ends up discounting valuable perspectives and feedback, but it’s always an uncomfortable position to place others in and can result in an unnecessarily negative experience for them.
Situations like these are where the concept of solidarity and allyship take center stage. While they may seem like terms meant for a protest and other forms of activism, allyship and solidarity have a vital role right at home in the workplace. The reality is that the workplace is no different from the places we might find activism happening; while the workplace has its own protocol and culture, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and many of the disenfranchising dynamics that occur outside the workplace also occur within it. By engaging in allyship and showing solidarity in the workplace towards those who need it, we take steps forward towards making a more equitable workplace and even a more equitable world.
What is allyship and solidarity?
Yet, how exactly do you express that allyship and solidarity? First thing’s first, let’s define these concepts. Being an ally is more than just agreeing that other people should be treated with respect and there should be equity. Allyship is all about action; an ally is someone who uses their power, wherever that power may come from, to make space or highlight the needs of those who lack that same power themselves. Solidarity can be thought of as showing support in a conscious and active way, that means taking action when necessary to support the needs of those who might not be able to meet those needs on their own. Solidarity is a way to divert some of your own personal power to another who lacks that power.
Now with the understanding of what solidarity and allyship are, how can you go about making the real and tangible moves to live as an ally and show workplace solidarity to those in need? Let’s start with the biggest step of all that encompasses both the foundation of allyship and solidarity—active support.
What most notably sets an ally apart from those who simply offer lip service is action. Both allyship and solidarity are about externalizing one’s values of progressivism and quality by making sure to speak up when we see that those values are being transgressed and by working actively to teach ourselves to think beyond our own biases. These are just two of the important actions that allyship and solidarity require to exist. To become a better ally, train yourself to look for actionable things that can be done in your workplace or areas where solidarity with those marginalized in your workplace is lacking. There is always some improvement to be made to show more solidarity in the workplace and seeking out ways to be proactive in this regard are ultimately what sets someone apart from a passive role into the active role of an ally.
Confronting one's biases
In considering allyship, another effort that is required to make one a true ally is the confrontation of one’s biases. This is no easy feat, as our biases are often a blind spot, hence their status as biases. However, biases can be identified and a counterbalance can be set up to keep them in check. Examining our biases can be as simple as expanding our knowledge of different cultures through study and conscious observation. Our own culture is often what creates our biases, as we take it for granted as “the way things are” instead of merely being one out of an immense number of different cultural values that are equally valid. This is where observation is key; by observing your own reactions to things you feel should be obvious or are offensive or confusing, you gain a chance to uncover a possible bias. Identifying your own biases is a great way to be a better ally and show workplace solidarity, as it means you will become more open to the viewpoints of others and thus more likely to hear them out as opposed to becoming defensive.
Accept having made mistakes
One of the most important requirements for providing allyship and solidarity in the workplace is a willingness to accept when you’ve made a mistake. While it may seem obvious, being an ally doesn’t mean you won’t still get it wrong sometimes. When the inevitable happens and you overstep a boundary or participate, even if accidentally, in the marginalization of someone within the workplace, you’ll be presented with one of the most important aspects of showing solidarity and providing allyship—owning your mistakes. Being willing to accept when you’ve transgressed is the foundation from which true allyship and solidarity spring. Without a willingness to know that despite your best intentions you can still perpetuate harmful dynamics in the workplace, you’ll be unable to tackle any of the more serious issues, as you’ll be unable to see entrenched inequity and if it incriminates you. That self-protection is inherently at odds with what allyship and solidarity truly require.
A workplace that wants to grow and see each and every member thriving is a workplace that needs to be sure that it provides equity for its employees. A workplace leader can be a facilitator for creating a more equitable workplace by working to achieve the requirements for being in solidarity with others and by prioritizing their allyship. At Thriven Partners we believe every member of the workplace can be a valuable asset—by helping you on your journey towards becoming a workplace leader that exhibits allyship and solidarity, we seek to uplift and supercharge your workforce as a whole.
Melissa Álvarez Mangual, Ed.D
Dr. Álvarez Mangual is the founder and executive coach of Thriven Partners, LLC. She has over 20 years of workforce and talent development experience that has intentionally centered inclusion, equity, and justice.