The importance of allyship in the workplace

Lucie Mitchell explores what employers are doing to encourage allyship to ensure diversity and inclusion work is something everyone feels part of.

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Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has been a much talked about topic in recent years, especially in the light of movements such as Black Lives Matter and MeToo. This has filtered down to business leaders, who are aware that creating a genuinely diverse and inclusive organisation can help them to recruit and retain top talent, as well as foster innovation and increase profitability.

However, while many organisations have placed DEI high on their agenda, some don’t always know where to begin to drive positive change.

This is where allyship comes in. To truly bring DEI to life and create real inclusion, employers need allies to advocate for others in the workplace, challenge biases and establish safe spaces where people feel seen and heard.

Allyship is a recognition that everyone, whoever they may be, can help support others and build a more inclusive environment for all,” remarks Ali Shalfooshan, head of international assessment, R&D at Talogy. “The term has been used extensively in the context of enabling under-represented voices to be heard and helping address the societal injustices that have existed for centuries. However, as our society evolves, the term is becoming broader, and is about every type of person, in all our kaleidoscopic glory, acting as an ally for others, and helping create a sense of belonging for everyone.”

Allyship includes leveraging personal privilege to advocate for the rights of others, adds Teresa Boughey, CEO of Jungle HR and founder of Inclusion 247. “An ally is willing to uplift, support and improve the outcomes for others. In the workplace, this involves actively promoting and practising inclusivity, understanding and respect for all co-workers, irrespective of their backgrounds, identities or experiences. It requires proactive action to challenge the status quo, educate oneself about different experiences, and support initiatives that foster diversity and inclusion.”

Active allyship

Caroline Fox, global ED&I strategy lead at Nigel Frank International, a Tenth Revolution Group company, believes that allyship requires action that demonstrates commitment, rather than just performance or declarations. “Allyship can sometimes be a buzzword that gets misunderstood as simply meaning not being harmful to marginalised people. But allyship must be more active than this and should involve advocating and taking action to support the equality of marginalised communities.”

If, as an organisation, you are committed to creating a culture of allyship, there are several initiatives that you can implement.

“Employee resource groups are an excellent starting point to connect diverse individuals with others who share their experiences; inclusion means being able to be your real self at work with everyone, and feeling comfortable with sharing different experiences, knowledge and ideas across the whole organisation,” says Aimee Treasure, marketing and D&I director at Templeton & Partners.

Shalfooshan believes that the best foundation for allyship is to enable individuals to understand how they can act as allies and personally be more inclusive. “The process of doing this is three-fold – accepting that all of us are biased; understanding our own preferences when it comes to inclusive behaviour; and then actually focusing on how we can improve our behaviour.”
According to the ‘Accelerating Inclusion’ report by Inclusion 247, only 16% of respondents said they had training in place designed to enhance people’s understanding of becoming ambassadors, allies and advocates for others, while 68% reported that their workplace had not implemented such a programme.

Yet training is key to filling gaps in knowledge and understanding, and organisations can implement programmes such as cultural competence training, which addresses everyday prejudices and microaggressions, as well as allyship workshops.

“Specific workshops that focus on the concept of allyship might include how to be an effective ally as well as equipping employees with the skills and knowledge they need to promote DEI in their everyday interactions, and knowing how to navigate a challenging diversity-related issue or conflict within the workplace,” comments Boughey.

What are employers doing?

Supermarket chain Aldi recently announced that it will be rolling out allyship training to its UK managers to help ensure all colleagues feel respected and included at work.

The training will include topics such as how to adopt allyship behaviours and how to productively challenge others. Aldi also launched an allyship guide earlier in 2023 which contains information on how to be an ally.

“We’re always looking for ways to better support our colleagues, and providing training for our managers is a significant step we can take to assist them and their teams in becoming allies,” says Richard Shuttleworth, diversity and inclusion director at Aldi UK.

EssenceMediacom is another company that introduced a series of initiatives after a staff survey revealed the need to place more focus on allyship. They implemented allyship training, which included workshops on microaggressions.

“It is crucial to develop an environment where everyday prejudices and microaggressions are addressed,” remarks Boughey. “This could involve encouraging employees to call out such behaviours, providing resources and safe spaces for open discussion, and ensuring that any incidents are dealt with swiftly and effectively.”

She adds: “Creating a culture of allyship requires consistent commitment from all levels of the organisation, especially from leadership. Top-down initiatives like integrating DEI goals into the business strategy, enforcing zero-tolerance policies for discrimination, and encouraging ongoing dialogue about allyship are essential.

“By encouraging allyship through training, initiatives, and a supportive culture, organisations can create a harmonious environment where everyone feels valued and respected, thereby driving innovation, productivity, and success.”

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