Five Ways to Show up as an Ally for DEI

Choose your own adventure as an ally with these 5 ideas

Allyship is a choose-your-own-adventure approach. There is no one-size-fits-all, prescriptive step by step process to being an ally.  Allies show up in ways that are aligned with their strengths, their skill sets, and in ways that people that experience adversity need them to show up. We like to say that ‘ally’ is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of ways to take action.

When thinking about what kind of ally you want to be, think about your personal brand, think about the things you’re really good at, and areas that you’re really passionate about.  Think about the people that could benefit from your privilege, skill sets, expertise, and passion areas.

Be a Sponsor

One of the most underutilized roles of an ally is sponsorship.  Sponsors are in rooms that you are likely not in.  Sponsors are influential either by position of power or sheer force inside an organization.  People listen to sponsors – they have a major influence over career decisions and talent management processes in succession planning.  If you have the ability to be a sponsor, be a sponsor for somebody that’s different than yourself.  Sponsor those with different gender identities, sexual orientations, and racial identities and ethnicities.  Speak up on their behalf when they’re not in the room.  Seek out sponsors that can help you as an ally.  

Allyship is a two-way street.  You want to be an ally for others, while also seeking allyship from those that are different from you.

Mentor People Different than Yourself

Mentors are like future versions of ourselves.  When you think about where you want to be in 3 years, a mentor is likely already there.  Mentors give advice, they help with problem-solving, and career decisions.  Mentors are very likely to be people like us.  We simply don’t learn as much from people just like us.  By diversifying who you mentor and who your mentors are, you’re more likely to learn and get a different perspective than what you already know.


Perhaps the #1 attribute of an ally is listening.  Really listening.  That is just what coaches do so well. Coaches ask open-ended questions, actively listen, and promote self discovery, contrary to the misperception that coaches give advice.  They do not give advice, rather they help people solve their own problems.  This is extremely helpful as an ally because we don’t want people to be reliant on us to solve their problems.  People are far better at solving their own problems and are more committed to solving the problems that they solved themselves.  People need space to facilitate their own thinking.  By asking thought-provoking questions, coaches guide someone to their own solution.  Coach and be coached by different types of people.

Challenge with Care

Challenge people that are different from yourself.  This means giving challenging feedback and advocating for challenging assignments for people that are not in the majority group.  It’s all too common inside organizations for us to assume the majority group (i.e. white men) have the potential to do a job they have yet to do based on their association with the majority group.  Our brains have simply seen a lot of people that look like that succeed.  We tend to doubt under-represented groups (i.e. women, people of color) because our brains haven’t seen as many people like that succeed yet.  We generally assess talent based on performance  which means minority groups have to prove it over and over again, while the majority group does not have that same obligation.  This is a bias that most humans carry.  By challenging people equally, we open the door to more equal treatment and reduce bias in the workplace. 


Perhaps the most sophisticated form of allyship is advocacy.  Merriam-Webster defines advocacy as “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal : the act or process of advocating something.” This means speaking up when you see something inappropriate, and then addressing the broken systems that allow for the inappropriate behavior. This requires allies to call in people that might be making mistakes unknowingly and help by setting better expectations or reforming systems to disrupt exclusionary behaviors or inequality where you’ve seen it.

Want to do better, and not sure where to start?  That is why we developed the Lead Like an Ally virtual self-paced training program, perfect for organizations struggling with accountability for diversity. You can also check out all of our other virtual and live program offerings.