How Can Allies Build Workplace Cultures of Belonging?

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Allies. We all need them, and we all have the potential to be one. When it comes to cultivating workplace cultures of belonging, allies are a critical component to advancing an organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments. But what does it mean to be an ally? This post will walk you through the basics, and empower you to step up and serve as a #BelongingChampion.

First, I’d like to share how I think about several related terms.

  • Ally. An ally is a person who supports a cause or community beyond their identity or lived experiences. Allies leverage their privilege to work in partnership with historically underrepresented people and communities. An effective ally builds strong and meaningful relationships across differences, listens to what marginalized communities ask of them, and then takes meaningful action requested of them.

  • Accomplice. An accomplice is a person who assists in growing a cause or movement beyond their identity or lived experiences. Accomplices invest their social and financial capital to resource the work historically underrepresented people and communities lead. An effective accomplice serves a movement that is not their own in ways that are often not visible and refrains from taking credit or seeking attention for their role.

  • Co-conspirator. A co-conspirator is a person who builds coalition between two separate causes or movements, connecting those from enfranchised groups with those from marginalized groups. Co-conspirators leverage their associations (i.e. relationships with elected officials, membership within a professional organization, etc.) and encourages other members within these organizations to serve as accomplices or allies to a cause or movement that is beyond their own identities or lived experiences. 

  • #BelongingChampion. A #BelongingChampion is a person who commits to taking action by stepping into any of the above roles. They are committed to making positive organizational changes and work in partnership with individuals or communities that are historically underrepresented. An effective #BelongingChampion understands the value of cultivating workplace cultures of belonging, and takes action within their reach to make a difference. 

Why #BelongingChampions Matter

Stepping up as a #BelongingChampion - no matter your role within your organization - is the key ingredient to building workplace cultures of belonging. For example, think back to a time when you felt excluded, undervalued or when you just didn’t have a sense that you belonged at work. Maybe you were given a hard time for leaving early to pick up your sick child. Maybe you weren’t into sports and missed out on an important business decision because you didn’t go to the weekend golfing tournament. Or perhaps you worked on a team where everyone but yourself had an advanced degree. How did that feel? What do you remember about the situation?

When reflecting upon this particular experience, was there someone at work who reassured you that prioritizing your family was okay? Was there someone else who called you after the golf tournament to update you on the business decision to make you feel more included? Or was there a person who recognized the talent and experience you bring to the team that just couldn’t be learned in a formal classroom setting? 

If you were fortunate to have someone who took the time to see your authentic self, recognized the genius you bring to work, and went above and beyond to make you feel included - you were fortunate enough to connect with a #BelongingChampion. In contrast, have you considered paying it forward by actively stepping up to intentionally welcome and include another colleague struggling for acceptance and belonging? Is there someone you know in particular who may be having a hard time at work? If so, what can you do to help them feel included?

How to Serve as a #BelongingChampion

To take the mystery out of how you can serve as a #BelongingChampion, I am sharing a few concrete strategies featured in my best-selling book, Belonging At Work. You can take any of these strategies starting as soon as today to help you grow into an effective #BelongingChampion.

  1. Take the Implicit Association Test. The IAT helps you identify your implicit biases so you can gain a better sense of where they exist, and how to manage them. It is free to take via Harvard’s Project Implicit. By taking this action, you begin the path to growing into a more inclusive leader.

  2. When Possible, Speak Up. One of the most important ways to serve as a belonging champion is by safely intervening when you witness microaggressions or discriminatory behaviors. Consider referring to your organization’s DEI commitments or values, share how the behavior is out of alignment with them, and offer model inclusive behavior.

  3. Embrace the Platinum Rule. Since we are all unique, we will need different things to feel a sense of belonging at work. This means how you wish to be treated is not necessarily how others want to be treated. Rather, embrace the platinum rule by getting to know your colleagues, which will help you treat them in a manner in which they want to be treated.

  4. Leverage Your Privilege. Recognize that many of us carry privileges for certain aspects of our identities, and at the same time we may experience oppression for other aspects of our identities. If you find you carry privilege, get curious as to how you can use it in partnership with people or groups who do not. This article will help you consider how to leverage the privileges you may carry.

Take the #BelongingChampion Pledge!

The following pledge is adapted from, Belonging At Work.

As I work to build a workplace culture of belonging, I pledge to:

  • Make the Commitment. I’ll let my colleagues know I am willing to take the time necessary to consider what role I can play at work to create a feeling of belonging for all of my organization’s stakeholders - from shareholders to workers, and customers to suppliers. 

  • Serve as a Possibility Model. I will serve as a champion of this work by treating others as they wish to be treated, and standing up for others, should they need a #BelongingChampion.

  • Share this Knowledge. I will take the initiative to educate myself about the actions I can take to intentionally include my colleagues, and I will share what I learn with trusted colleagues, encouraging them to commit to this important work as well.

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If you found this post helpful, and would like to learn more about how to serve as a #BelongingChampion, be sure to register for the free Belonging At Work Virtual Summit taking place October 7 - 11. You’ll have the opportunity to learn from over two dozen DEI thought leaders including Howard Ross, Mara Keilsing and Wade Davis. Save your seat today!

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Rhodes Perry

Rhodes Perry is a nationally recognized expert on LGBTQ and social justice public policy matters, with two decades of leadership experience innovating strategy management, policy and program solutions for corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. At his core, Rhodes is an entrepreneur, where he most recently established Rhodes Perry Consulting, LLC, a national diversity and inclusion consulting firm that uses an intersectional approach to collaborate with leaders on creating solutions in the practice areas of strategy management, issue advocacy, and stakeholder engagement. Previously, Rhodes founded the Office of LGBTQ Policy & Practice at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, and prior to this assignment he served as the founding Director of Policy at PFLAG National where he led the policy strategy and advocacy efforts for the organization’s 350 chapters. He cut his teeth serving as a Program Examiner at the White House Office of Management & Budget, where he improved upon federal benefit programs designed to provide assistance to low-income communities. Rhodes earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Gender Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and obtained a Master of Public Administration from New York University.