5 Minute Read

Becoming an Ally: Five Ideas for Upping Your Game

By Elisa van Dam
September 22, 2021
Woman Receiving Praise at Work


Acting as an ally is one of the most important things you can do as a leader to create an inclusive environment where you and your colleagues can thrive. If you are interested in allyship but aren’t sure how to get started, here are my top 5 suggestions:

Do your homework

In our model of the Work of the Inclusive Leader, the first actions are becoming aware of your own bias and the systems of advantage/disadvantage that surround us all. If you act without understanding the needs and desires of the person you want to support, and the systems that make allyship so important, you run the risk of doing more harm than good.

Be an amplifier, not a rescuer

Being an ally means creating space for someone else and amplifying their voice, not trying to “rescue” them. Don’t speak for the person you want to support – give them the floor, direct a question to them, or ask them to repeat an important point that was ignored by others in the room.

Seize the moment

Opportunities to be an ally are all around you – you just have to be alert. Challenge yourself to find an opportunity to be an ally every day. Once you start to look for the people who aren’t at the table, or whose voices are silenced, or for the microaggressions that are still all too common, you will notice them all around you.

Remember: It’s (almost) never too late

If you don’t have the presence of mind to act in the moment, or you decide it would be counterproductive to intervene at that time, you can still act as an ally after the fact. That could look like talking with the person who was ignored or undermined and creating a strategy for the next time. Or you could educate the person who had a negative impact and help them to do better in the future.

Practice, practice, practice

Assess your impact, course correct if needed, repeat. The key to allyship, like learning any new behavior, is a mindful practice. The most important thing is to set aside your fear of making mistakes—you will, we all do, and it’s OK — so just get rolling.


Need a Little Help with Allyship? 

We’re currently offering a free webinar series on Leadership in Action. On October 14, our panel of experts will be discussing Becoming an Ally and Upstander. Learn concrete steps you can take to partner with others to support their success and create conditions that allow everyone to feel that they belong. Register now.

(Don’t worry if you missed the first session on Becoming Aware, you can watch the free recording and catch up here.)

Interested in learning more? Here are some resources:

How to Be a Better Ally to Your Black Colleagues By Stephanie Creary

Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces by Karen Catlin


The Inclusive Leader’s Playbook

This easy-to-use guide offers a wealth of tips and techniques for fostering a mindset of inclusion and creating a culture of equity in your organization. Available now on Amazon.com.


Watch the recordings from our Inclusive Leadership in Action Webinar Series:

Becoming Aware [Recording & Moderator Insights]
> How to get clear on your own values and blindspots, and learn more about the experiences, needs and concerns of others.

Becoming an Ally and Upstander [Recording & Moderator Insights]
> How to partner with others to support their success, and create conditions that allow everyone to feel that they belong.

Becoming a Change Agent [Recording & Moderator Insights]
> How to sponsor people from underrepresented groups and make changes in how work gets done so that everyone has equal access to opportunities.