6 questions to engage employees in DEI ‘allyship’ training
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6 questions to engage employees in DEI ‘allyship’ training

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is on just about everybody’s training menu these days. And one of key aspect of inculcating DEI values is showing members of your organization’s dominant culture how to be allies for employees who fall outside that culture.

There’s at least one big obstacle to “allyship” training, though. People may think they’re effective allies when they’re actually not.

Eye of the beholder

An online poll conducted by LeanIn.org put a finger on the problem. The pollsters contacted 7,400 American employees. Of those who responded, 82% of white men said they saw themselves as allies to colleagues of other races or ethnicities. (For purposes of the poll, “allyship” was defined as “using one’s power or status to support or advocate for co-workers with less power or status.”) The figure was very similar — 81% — for white women.

The study highlighted the responses of black and Latina women who stood in stark contrast. Only 26% of black women felt that people like them had strong allies in their workplace, while just 25% of Latina women did. The figures were somewhat higher when the question was posed differently, inquiring whether they personally had strong workplace allies — 45% and 55% respectively. These figures were still much lower than the ones coming from the white respondents.

In a further indication that effective “allyship” isn’t happening as often as some people think, only 41% of white men and 38% of white women said they’d ever spoken out against discrimination at work. For black women, the figure was also 41%, and for Latinas, it was 35%.


There’s a good chance these trends are replicated in your workplace, with white people thinking they’re better allies than people of color consider them to be. If you think that’s the case, you might want to consider a series of questions people can use to self-evaluate their “allyship” effectiveness.

Honest answers to these six questions may make people more receptive to DEI training you want to implement:

  1. Do you acknowledge your unconscious bias? Acknowledgment involves more than just thinking or speaking. It’s about action. For instance, if one of your duties is assigning tasks, do you recognize that women — especially women of color — are more likely to be given low-level administrative work than, say, white men, and do you actively try to even out this imbalance?
  2. Do you get defensive when a co-worker calls you out? How do you react when told you’ve personally caused harm, or are part of a system that causes harm? Remember that effect is more important than intent.
  3. Are you educating yourself? Are you taking advantage of the many resources that explain the challenges underrepresented groups face, both historically and in the present? Are you sharing these with co-workers?
  4. Are you willing to use your privilege to help others? For instance, are you transparent about standard terms and conditions of employment? Sharing industry averages on pay, vacation, and other variable benefits can help others determine if they’re being treated fairly.
  5. Do you amplify the voices of co-workers? When colleagues of color make a good point in a meeting, do you openly recognize the contribution and give the person who made it credit, to avoid its being claimed later by someone from the dominant group? Also, do you do what you can to ensure that underrepresented voices are actually present in the room?
  6. Do you hold your colleagues accountable? When you witness instances of racism, genderism or other exclusionary conduct, do you speak up in the moment? If that’s not possible, do you make sure to have a word with the offender later?

Whose responsibility

A final note: Becoming an effective ally is primarily the work of the would-be ally, not the people he or she wants to advocate for.

It’s a good idea to stress in your DEI training that allies bear the responsibility of acknowledgement, research, action and accountability. It’s unfair for would-be allies to expect that members of an underrepresented group will do any or all of that work for them. The ally can ask for help, but not demand it.

This blog entry is based on the study “White employees see themselves as allies — but Black women and Latinas disagree,” at leanin.org, and the blog post “Are You a Good Ally at Work? Ask Yourself These Questions to Find Out,” at themuse.com

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