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How To Be An Ally

Ever hear about someone who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps?” Success, especially in the United States, is often seen as something forged by people who made it to the top…without any help.

But is that how it works?

The truth is, people network in social groups, sometimes subconsciously, and that can make it easier for certain kinds of people to succeed…and for others to fail.

In other words, we don’t succeed alone. We succeed together. The good news: if we know how, we can seize opportunities to help elevate the influence of others. When we help others succeed, we are acting as allies.

Women’s History Month makes the importance of allyship especially clear. People hold different privileges in different contexts, and their privilege can be used to help those without it. Throughout history, the voices, ideas and influence of women have taken a back seat to those of men, and in today’s workplaces, women still benefit from male allies who can help elevate them.

But allyship isn’t always easy, or even easy to define. For instance, being an ally is NOT:

  • A state of being
  • Thinking you know best
  • Listening to what you want to hear
  • Expecting others to educate you
  • Using your privilege to speak over marginalized voices
  • Being a bystander

So…what is it?

To unpack this complex topic, IBIS offers workshops in Allyship that address the following learning objectives:

  • Understand the impact of being an ally on the workforce and society
  • Understand the experiences (microaggressions, code switching, and more) of underrepresented communities and the issues that might arise in the workplace
  • Develop strategies for effective allyship

Allyship is a state of taking action, shifting focus away from yourself and engaging in active listening.

To be allies, we educate ourselves, and use our privilege to amplify marginalized voices and advocate for others. We also work on deepening the understanding and commitment of our networks.

We have many creative approaches to teaching and understanding allyship, from mini-documentaries to workshops to Interactive Theater. In our workshops, we use a proprietary framework called the FLEX model to support learners as they individually reflect on the most effective approach to taking action and making change. The four areas are Focus Within, Learn From Others, Engage in Dialogue, and eXpand the Options.

As we Focus Within, we examine our own identity, which we define as the qualities that make us a person, including beliefs, values, personality traits, and expressions. Identity includes race, age, sexual orientation, immigration status, gender, ability, religion, and class. When we detect more than one demographic that puts us in a marginalized position, we can describe it as intersectionality.

We grow and build our awareness in the act of Learning from Others.

When we Engage in Dialogue, we identify our own power and privilege, which are developed through social relationships.

Sometimes being an ally is outside of our capability. But why? What’s stopping our efforts to be allies? Learners eXpand the Options by digging into roadblocks on the path to allyship and building an understanding of different approaches to lifting others up.

Awareness is the first step, but never the last.

Allyship is an action. As soon as we learn, we apply that learning in service of the greater goal: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Are you ready to learn more about the workshops offered at IBIS, including developing allies? Please contact us today.


Cedar Pruitt is a Senior Consultant at IBIS specializing in leadership and culture that allows everyone to thrive, whether it’s at a competitive university, mid-size financial firm, an innovative start-up, or something completely different.