When change advocate Melinda Epler became the victim of workplace “microaggressions” that eroded her confidence and ability to perform her job, she began to champion the importance of diversity as a core corporate value rather than a mere “side project.” Epler’s candid tale and succinct advice will appeal to human resources managers, team leaders, and anyone who wants to become a better ally, employee or person.
- A toxic work environment can undermine individual, team and company productivity.
- Minority employees frequently encounter hostility and “microaggressions” in the workplace. As a result, some colleagues can feel ostracized.
- A workplace that promotes “allyship” views diversity and inclusion as core corporate values and encourages employees to support and champion one another.
- Identify those with less privilege than you, and realize that they could use an ally to vouch for them.
- To be an ally, be civil to everyone, champion your colleagues, mentor those with less privilege than you and promote allyship across your organization.
In 2013, Melinda Epler landed her dream job at an engineering firm, a post that combined her interests and expertise. But her time at the company was nightmarish. The workplace environment was toxic. The first time Epler gave a presentation, her colleagues ignored her, interrupted her and expropriated her ideas. As the only female present, Epler yearned for an ally. She encountered rude behavior throughout her time at the company, which dented her confidence and her ability to perform her job. Pervasive “microaggressions” – that is, “everyday slights, insults, [and] negative verbal and nonverbal communication” – had created an unproductive atmosphere within the organization.
“Allyship is about understanding that imbalance in opportunity and working to correct it. Allyship is really seeing the person next to us – and the person missing, who should be standing next to us.”
Minorities frequently encounter such hostility in the workplace. Corporate cultures that foster “allyship” can break this tendency. Allyship occurs when organizations view diversity and inclusion as core corporate values that the staff works on collectively rather than as a mere “side project.” When employees recognize the opportunity imbalances that their less-privileged co-workers experience and help those colleagues to thrive, the working environment becomes more innovation, productive and profitable.
“Help normalize allyship. If you’re a person with privilege, it’s easier for you to advocate for allies. So use that privilege to create change.”
Everyone can be an ally. Those with less privilege will always need a champion to fortify their position and help them succeed. You can become an ally in four ways:
- “Do no harm” – Give people your full attention. Don’t interrupt or talk over others. Identify others as they wish to be identified; learn the pronouns and language they use to describe themselves. Give people credit for their ideas.
- “Advocate for underrepresented people in small ways” – Intervene when you see microagressions and power plays at work. Solicit input from underrepresented populations. “Help normalize allyship.” If you hold privilege, it’s easier for you to champion allyship and to manifest change.
- “Change someone’s life significantly” – Be a mentor for other people throughout their careers, and extend opportunities their way. Introduce allyship to your team, and hold yourself and your team liable for the success of the initiative.
- “Help advocate for change across your company” – When organizations adopt allyship, diversity and inclusion thrive. Promote allyship among colleagues on and off the clock. When co-workers support one another, employees and businesses thrive.
About the Speaker
Melinda Epler is a strategic adviser for tech companies and an advocate for workplace inclusion and diversity.
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