By Bryan Barnes & Felicity Doddato
The term ally is getting a lot of attention these days, especially in the world of tech. But what do we mean when we say “ally”? An ally is someone who supports people who are marginalized by society and/or are in underrepresented groups at work because of belonging to one or more historically oppressed groups. Allies may take this position because of their personal identity or experience with a underrepresented group, their relationship with another person in the workplace (i.e., a co-worker or friend). Inclusion provides everyone with an equal opportunity to participate and contribute while also feeling valued. By tapping into the talents of all employees, organizations can increase their innovation potential and overall performance.
What makes someone an ally?
Allies come from all sorts of different backgrounds—you don’t need to be directly affected by something in order to advocate for change! A bystander is someone who knows about someone else’s struggle but doesn’t intervene on their behalf because they’re afraid, indifferent, or feel it is not their responsibility. The difference between being an ally and a bystander comes down to intention: while both types of people know what’s going on around them through their own observations or experiences with discrimination/harassment/bullying at work…the ally takes action and the bystander does not.
Allies can play a key role in building and sustaining a diversity and inclusion strategy at work.
As an ally, you can help create a safe space within your workplace for others to share their experiences. If a co-worker is being harassed or experiencing discrimination, you can listen, give them support, and provide resources if a report is warranted. Allies are essential for creating a safe environment in which marginalized groups feel comfortable sharing sensitive information about themselves or their fears around diversity and inclusion issues within their work environment. It is your responsibility as an ally to listen, support, and advocate.
Inclusion must become part of the way we do business.
Inclusion isn’t something we should work towards anymore—it’s now a priority that needs to be met in order for organizations to succeed in their mission statements and goals. This can be done through developing inclusion training programs for all employees (including managers and executives) and even providing mentorship opportunities for employees who want them, but don’t necessarily have access. It is also important to make sure that your company itself is diverse and inclusive—having a variety of different individuals represented at meetings can help create a more inclusive environment for everyone involved.
Leaders must have an unwavering commitment to inclusion.
Leaders are responsible for setting and maintaining the culture of an organization and modeling the behavior expected of all employees. This is why it’s so important for leaders to be visible and vocal about their commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity. They must lead by example by seeking out opportunities for growth within themselves, their teams, and their organizations. Leaders must also be willing to learn from others who have different experiences—by reaching out to others with unique differences, and listening closely, even when those voices say something that makes you uncomfortable. You can’t build a diverse team unless everyone shares ownership in creating it together—including those at the top of the ladder.
So how do you create an inclusive workplace?
Creating an inclusive workplace is all about creating safe spaces to talk about diversity and inclusion. One way you can do this is by providing resources for employees to learn more about diversity and inclusion. Allyship programs allow individuals to understand the experiences of those around them and become aware of the current issues affecting underrepresented or marginalized groups, and the actions they can take to identify unconscious bias in the workplace and help their organizations address it head-on.
How can technology support the diversity and inclusion process?
Technology can help bridge the gap between allyship programs and the workplace by providing unique opportunities for teams to connect in unique and abstract environments. Technology can enhance allyship programs by providing additional resources that aren’t always readily available. By implementing programs that use Virtual Reality (VR), for example, individuals are able to work together in an immersive team-building experience reaching beyond the normal limits of their workplace.
VR provides employees with access to unique information, communication channels, and learning opportunities by using abstract tasks, creating new problem-solving and team-building opportunities. It allows organizations to foster new dialogue around diversity and inclusion issues and increase their innovation potential in a psychologically safe, novel environment. The use of VR can promote open discussions surrounding these topics, so that everyone feels comfortable enough to share their thoughts, ideas and suggestions with one another.
Technology is more than just a tool for delivering diversity programs; it’s an opportunity for companies to embrace allyship as part of their day-to-day operations. By using VR experiences, for example, you can engage your employees while they’re onsite or working remotely—and even reach out to those who would otherwise be unable to participate in face-to-face discussions around inclusion because they work in remote locations or have disabilities that make travel difficult or impossible.
Technology is playing an increasingly more prominent role in the workforce, and it’s important that we implement it in ways that support diversity and inclusion. When used correctly, technology can help organizations become more educated and aware of the problems underrepresented groups face today, while facilitating the creation of additional resources and opportunities for those who need it most.