Consider the following scenario:

A sales team at a technology company is preparing for an important meeting with a new client. Mark, the chief sales officer, needs to select one of his team members to make the pitch. At the next C-level meeting, he asks for his colleagues’ advice. Nearly all of them say that Brad, who is a white man, is up for the task. However, Brad has been selected to make the past three major pitches to no avail. Alexa, the only woman of color on the sales team, has never been selected to make a pitch of this importance because she is often deemed as “too abrasive” or “too outspoken,” which might make the client feel uncomfortable.

Alexa has closed multiple deals in the past quarter and gets consistent positive feedback from her clients. Elle, a white woman in a C-level role at the company, decides to speak up during the meeting: “Personally, I think Alexa is well-prepared to make this pitch. She has a deep understanding of our products and has strong communication skills, which are key in closing this deal. Let’s give her a shot.”  

In the above scenario, Elle is acting as an ally by advocating for Alexa and challenging a common microaggression people make against people of color —particularly against Black women.

Allyship means using your privilege to uplift and amplify the voices and skills of people from underrepresented groups. It isn’t performative or defined by trending hashtags or posting about current events on social media. Rather, allyship means taking action — no matter how small it may seem in the moment, says Susie Silver, a senior consultant at The Diversity Movement, a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) solutions provider. After all, small actions can have “such a big ripple effect” across the entire organization. Deanna Singh, author of “Actions Speak Louder: A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Inclusive Workplace,” releasing in May 2022, and founder and chief executive officer of Uplifting Impact, a DEI solutions provider, agrees, adding that, “If you’re trying to practice allyship, you should be doing something. It doesn’t work from the sidelines.”

When implemented effectively, allyship training can take your DEI efforts from check-the-box training events to programs that drive sustained change.

The Importance of Allyship

In a recent survey by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, two-thirds of respondents said that DEI is an “important strategic priority” for their organization. However, only one-third of respondents said that their organization is “very successful” at creating an organization that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Where’s the disconnect?

Singh says that, too often, DEI is an afterthought. Organizations need to do more than roll out a last-minute course on racial bias in response to a major current event or internal issue. They shouldn’t save DEI programs for “after something goes wrong.” To create a culture of inclusion, she says, companies must make DEI “a part of who they are” — and how they show up.

Janine Yancey, president and CEO at Emtrain, an online compliance training provider, says that DEI is a competency. An inclusive workforce, therefore, is “an outcome that happens when the majority of your workforce has developed an inclusive set of skills,” which includes allyship along with other skills like valuing differences and leading through curiosity and empathy.

Allyship training arms learners with the tools and confidence they need to put what they have learned about DEI into action, whether that means recommending a person of color who has been overlooked for an important project, starting an employee resource group (ERG) for working moms or simply adding their gender pronouns to their email signature.

How to Get Started

It’s not easy to create DEI programs that drive true change, and allyship training isn’t any different.

Here are three tips to consider for successful allyship training:

1.)Do Your Prework

Before delivering allyship training, learning leaders themselves need to assess their biases and privileges that may hold them back from delivering inclusive programs. There are many training resources that can help you identify unconscious bias so that you can lead DEI at your organization. “When you own your privilege and understand it, then you can start understanding how you can be an ally and use your privilege for good,” Silver says.

Your learners also need “room to reflect” on where they are starting their allyship journey from, Singh says. “Everybody has a different experience,” which means your learners have different comfort levels talking about DEI. For example, while some of your learners may have a deep understanding of what it means to be anti-racist, others might have never even heard the term “anti-racism” before. As such, prework for allyship training should include common DEI-related terms and definitions to ensure that learners can communicate inclusively and effectively, Silver says.

2.)Make it Actionable

Allyship means taking action, so it makes sense that allyship training should be actionable. Learners need tangible tools that they can go back to and pull from after the training, Singh says.

Learning technologies can help make allyship training more actionable and applicable for learners. Emtrain, for example, uses videos to help learners see what allyship looks like in action, Yancey says. By modeling what allyship looks like in practice, learners will leave the training feeling empowered to act when they need to.

Learners also need space to practice being an ally. With immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR), learners can practice intervening in difficult situations and develop many of the soft skills needed to be an ally, such as empathy and self-awareness. When it comes to allyship, practice makes progress.

3.)Keep it Going

Allyship, like DEI, is a journey, Silver says. It’s one thing to roll out an allyship training program. It’s a completely different ball game to make it a sustainable part of your organization’s broader DEI strategy. There are many ways to reinforce allyship training, such as hosting quarterly workshops, highlighting relevant DEI events in the area (or online) or sending out a regular allyship newsletter featuring articles, blogs or podcasts written or produced by people from underrepresented groups in your industry.

Learning leaders in the DEI space know that driving equitable work is no walk in the park. But by delivering effective allyship training, learners will be better educated, empowered and competent to act on what they have learned, Silver says. The more that people feel that they can say something, do something, change behaviors and bring others forward through courageous conversation, the more inclusive your organization will become. “That’s why allyship is important.”

To learn more on how you can champion DEI in your organization, download this complimentary job aid.