What is Allyship in the Workplace?

What is Allyship in the Workplace?

Allyship involves taking action to support marginalized groups even if you are not a member of that group yourself. It goes beyond words and requires consistent actions that align with diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Being an effective ally means acknowledging the unique experiences of discrimination and oppression that individuals may face due to their gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability status, and more. It also requires understanding intersectionality — how different aspects of one’s identity can intersect and compound their experiences. Above all, allyship is a complex and necessary process that requires continual learning and growth.

Why is Allyship Important in the Workplace?

Allyship is important in the workplace because it helps fosters an inclusive environment where everyone is able to contribute. Marginalized people often face barriers to their professional growth and success – allyship is about bringing those barriers into the light and proactively combating them.

Allyship as a Diversity and Inclusion Tool in the Workplace

Allies play an important role in promoting diversity and inclusion at work. When individuals actively support and advocate for marginalized groups, it helps address systemic biases and discrimination that may exist.

This leads to a more equitable and inclusive workforce, where individuals from different backgrounds and identities can contribute their unique perspectives and experiences. Inclusive workplaces foster creativity, innovation, and collaboration, increasing productivity and improving decision-making. Additionally, allyship enhances employee engagement and job satisfaction, as individuals feel valued, supported, and included.

Allyship Traits in the Workplace

There are many aspects of allyship in the workplace. If you’re aiming to be a better ally and provide meaningful support, it’s helpful to be aware of the different behaviors of an ally and how they can make a positive impact in your professional environment. It’s important to mention that the list below is by no means exhaustive! The ways that you can show up successfully as an ally are always evolving, and part of allyship is finding new ways to contribute.

Sponsorship & Advocacy

A sponsor is usually a more senior person in an organization who will willingly elevate underrepresented voices on visible platforms, like company-wide events and meetings. They bring up a more junior person’s name when an opportunity they could partake in arises and praise their work when the person is not there. They recognize the importance of creating space for diverse perspectives and experiences, amplifying underrepresented voices, and challenging the status quo. Through their actions, sponsors actively work towards fostering inclusivity and equity in professional settings, ensuring that a wider range of voices are heard and valued.

Advocates similarly promote inclusivity by lifting up the work of their peers. They are mindful of the space that they take up and are able to step back when it is someone else’s time to shine.

Upstanding & Bias Interruption

Bystanders who become upstanders can make a significant impact by actively standing up against discrimination. Being an upstander means challenging harmful behaviors, language, and attitudes that contribute to discrimination. Relatedly, bias-interrupters recognize when someone is making a generalizing statement or attributing negative characteristics to demographic groups and challenges that person. Doing so signals that the bias is exactly that – a bias – rather than a fact. It helps signal that these sorts of comments are unwelcome and inappropriate, which is an important step toward changing the norms around how we discuss people who are different than us.


Being a confidant means creating a safe and welcoming space for those from marginalized groups to express their fears, frustrations, and needs. It involves actively listening to their experiences and being reflective about your own positionality in the conversation, combatting defensiveness and helplessness. By proactively creating the context for a trusting relationship, you help foster a culture of belonging.

When Allyship Goes Wrong: How to Spot the Signs of Performative Allyship

Performative allyship is a harmful practice that prioritizes personal gain over genuine support for underrepresented groups in the workplace.

This type of allyship generally refers to individuals or companies who publicly claim to support marginalized groups but do little or nothing to actually help. Performative allies are often doing so to improve their reputation or gain social capital.

It’s important to keep growing and learning as an ally – there may be times when you get it wrong! That’s normal and to be expected. That means, though, that it’s the ally’s responsibility to take ownership and to reflect on where they may be behaving performatively. Here are some examples of performative allyship in the workplace:

  1. Tokenism: These are instances where allyship seems to be more about showcasing diversity rather than creating meaningful change.
  2. Lack of Accountability: Performative allies often fail to take responsibility for their actions and do not engage in self-reflection or growth.
  3. Inconsistency: Allyship efforts should be consistent over time – not just during high-profile events or when it’s most convenient.
  4. Centering Themselves: Performative allies may focus more on their own actions and experiences rather than uplifting marginalized voices and experiences.
  5. Failure to Listen: Pay attention to whether performative allies truly listen to and validate the experiences and perspectives of underrepresented groups.

Performative allyship can damage workplace culture because it erodes trust. It also perpetuates systemic oppression by reinforcing existing power dynamics and maintaining the status quo. Working towards more meaningful action can be difficult – but it’s also very rewarding.

Three Ways to Be an Effective Ally in the Workplace

To foster an inclusive and supportive environment, here are three actionable steps toward meaningful allyship:

1. Listen

Listening means hearing what they have to say and taking the time to understand their perspective. It is important to resist the urge to speak over them or dismiss their concerns. Instead, gently ask questions and show empathy.

Listening attentively creates a safe space for marginalized groups to express themselves without fear of judgment or retaliation.

2. Learn

Allyship isn’t a one-time action; it’s an ongoing commitment to educating yourself and others about issues affecting marginalized groups in the workplace. Learning about other people’s life experiences can be done in a number of different ways: attending webinars, readings books, subscribing to newsletters, following people who make educational content on social media, and more.

It’s also important to determine what specific actions the community needs from you as an ally. By actively seeking education,, you’ll be better equipped to support colleagues and make positive changes in your workplace culture.

3. Advocate

Actively advocate for the needs and concerns of those who are part of marginalized groups. This means using your privilege and power to amplify their voices and push for organizational change. Listen to their experiences, understand their challenges, and work with them to develop solutions to help them feel included and valued. Use inclusive language when communicating with others about these issues, and don’t be afraid to call out inappropriate behavior or microaggressions when you see them.

Put Allyship in Action — Contact The Norfus Firm Today

Ready to take action and become a better ally? By listening, learning, and advocating for marginalized groups, you can contribute to a more inclusive and supportive environment. Allyship is an ongoing journey – so continue to educate yourself, seek guidance, and challenge biases. Work with the Norfus Firm, your trusted DEI consulting partner, for further support and resources on your allyship journey. Together, let’s create workplaces where everyone feels valued and empowered to thrive.

Contact us today.

Author Bio


Natalie E. Norfus is the Founder and Managing Owner of The Norfus Firm. With nearly 20 years of experience as a labor and employment attorney and HR/DEI practitioner, Natalie is known for her creative problem-solving skills. She specializes in partnering with employers to develop effective DEI and HR strategies, conducting thorough internal investigations, and providing coaching and training to senior leaders and Boards of Directors.

Throughout her career, Natalie has held various significant roles in HR and DEI. She has served as the Chief Diversity Officer for multi-billion-dollar brands, where she was responsible for shaping the vision of each brand’s DEI initiatives. She has also worked as outside counsel in large law firms and in-house before establishing her own firm.

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