Being an Ally in the Workplace

I’ll start with something that host Dr. Andrea Letamendi said on an episode of The Arkham Sessions after the election: “For a lot of us in our lives, we’re experiencing some things operating under a ‘business as usual.’ … It’s important for us to take a moment and not operate under a ‘business as usual’. And the reason for that is, when we experience others act as though things haven't changed, it’s disruptive to us, and it can be, even for some, somewhat disorienting and difficult to get through. So, I don’t want to move forward without acknowledging that things are a little different for us.” (click here for the full speech, beginning around 1:40)

I wanted to write about what it will be like for some of us to try to walk into work on Monday after this weekend, after a long series of days that have felt as awful and draining as this weekend, but I’m struggling. That’s something that I can’t figure out right now, to be honest. So, instead, I will talk about the things that others with more privilege can do in order to be an ally to those who are struggling in the workplace. You may not see results right away but allyship is a process, something that needs continuous and sincere effort. The process might be uncomfortable, awkward, and even require that you sacrifice some of your career security, but nothing will change without effort – and everything might change if you try.

Start with Yourself

Helping others doesn’t require putting yourself down or hurting your own self-interests, but being an effective ally does mean you should be prepared to do some introspection. To put it in simplistic terms, it’s the same sort of thinking behind taking your backpack off the seat to make room on the bus – are there things that you can alter about your behavior to support marginalized people? Take it upon yourself to learn and evolve, using resources like the Safety Pin Box or workshops like the Undoing Racism training from The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

Instead of Feelings, Focus on Safety

Too often, we think that supporting people means tending to their emotional needs and we forget that there can be deeper, more urgent needs, like the need to feel safe and welcome. In fact, limiting the conversation to feelings can increase the burden that marginalized people carry in the workplace: it asks them to perform politeness in a way that can be draining. Instead of asking your coworkers that you suspect will be sad, angry, or scared something like, “How are you doing? Do you need anything?”, push back on anyone who demands too much emotional labor from marginalized people in the workplace. It can be something as small as asking for the host of a meeting to allow for people to opt out of the conversation if they aren’t feeling up to it.

Advocate for Resources

Ask your managers what they are doing to create a safe and welcoming workplace. Ask the leadership of the organization to offer an extra day of PTO for self-care. Ask the building manager to post official signage confirming the organization’s stance on oppressive behaviors (here’s an example from The Impact Hub in Seattle). Ask for your benefits team to provide mental health resources like access to therapy in employer-provided benefit programs. Ask them to hire anti-racist trainers, especially for those in leadership positions, or to invest in equity and inclusion staff positions.

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