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  • Writer's pictureKhadija Owusu

5 Tips on HOW to be an Effective and Authentic Ally

Yes, it's Black History Month in the UK! A lot of excitement is generated during this month with the purpose of educating, promoting and celebrating the contributions that those of African and Caribbean heritage have made in our world in the past, present and for the future. However, we mustn't forget that this month should also serve its purpose as a reminder that we still have a lot of work to do towards building a more equitable and anti-racist society. Many of our conversations now become centred around equality, diversity and inclusion as well as race and the Black identity. The real question then becomes whether or not these conversations providing solutions will then be translated into reality, into real action.

With that being said, in this article I share 5 practical tips on HOW to be an effective and authentic ALLY, especially to your colleagues in the workplace. Tips that you can start acting on and implementing NOW.

First, let's define the terms 'Allyship' and to be an 'Ally':

Allyship - is a continual investment of time in supporting others, holding ourselves accountable when mistakes are made, apologising and being prepared to rework the approach towards allyship as and when needs change.

An Ally (according to the Cambridge dictionary) is someone who helps and supports other people who are part of a group that is treated badly or unfairly, although they are not themselves a member of/from this group.

Simply put: Allyship is NOT a noun. It is a VERB.

It is a simple act of solidarity.


1. Listen to your Black colleagues

Listen. For real. Never underestimate the power that listening holds. Listening in this case does not mean listen for the sake of just listening; but listen so that you can believe and build an understanding of the experiences your Black colleagues may have. Recognise the systemic inequalities that still sadly exist today and realise the impact that unconscious bias and tiny daily microaggressions can eventually have on one's mental and physical health. Therefore, ensure that you not only listen, but also check in, lift and amplify the voices of your Black colleagues, so that they are at the centre of focus.

2. Stand Up and Call it Out

The words empathy and advocacy are easily applied when it pertains to our clients, patients or customers. Why can't we do the same for our Black colleagues? Sometimes it may be quite difficult to call these things out. Easier said than done right? However, be brave and be an active bystander, as this is one of the most valuable things you can offer. From personal experience in the workplace, having a colleague stand up for you is key to making sure that the unacceptable behaviour towards you does not continue and cause more harm to others. Additionally, having an ally relieves some of the loneliness that is often associated with these experiences we may face, thus reducing some of the impact or burden. Which has scientifically been proven to cause Black individuals to age quicker - the concept of Biological Weathering.

3. Support Career Growth and Development

Black colleagues face similar but varying challenges across different industries. Some of these challenges include the existence of an ethnicity pay gap as well as difficulty progressing and climbing up the career ladder. Let's have more open and honest conversations about what we earn, equally assign high-profile assignments or duties to our Black colleagues and build a leadership or board that is diverse. This is so that we level the playing field and create a workplace culture that isn't toxic but focuses on achieving equity for everyone.

4. Do not make a performance out of your Allyship

It is vital we distinguish the difference between authentic and performative allyship. Performative allyship is based on the concept of self-gratification, 'proving' to yourself that you are not racist. It is disingenuous. On the other hand, authentic allyship is the genuine act of using your privilege to advocate for and uplift others. Posting on social media e.g. a black square is simply not enough, authentic allyship requires follow-up action. For example taking the responsibility to educate yourself on issues affecting the Black community, as opposed to relying on them to educate you. Follow-up action can also mean committing to anti-racist work in your workplaces. And so my advice would be, if you're going to be performative with your allyship it, don't bother at all. The consistency of our actions in being an ally, will speak louder than words.

Below is an image summarising examples of both:

5. You must ALWAYS be an Ally...

...not just during Black History Month. The advice shared in this article must not be put into practice only during the month of October, but for all 365 days in every year. Your Black colleagues unfortunately do not get to 'take breaks' from the discrimination, racism, microaggressions and more, therefore, do not expect to 'take breaks' from allyship. However, please note that you may make mistakes along the way as an ally, it's an ongoing process. It's only okay if you apologise and take the time to self-reflect and ultimately, change.

'No one is free until we are all free' - Martin Luther King Jr

I hope the tips shared in this article are useful! What other tips and tools do you believe are important for being an effective and authentic ally?

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