Five allyship strategies for lasting change


Nov 24, 2023

Gender allyship can help to support workplace equity, but only when it is genuine and meaningful. Andrea Dermody offers her advice on how to embed a culture of true support and allyship

Harvard Business Review defines gender allyship as the purposeful collaboration of dominant group members (men) with women to actively promote gender equality and equity in their personal lives and the workplace through supportive and collaborative relationships, acts of sponsorship, and public advocacy to drive systemic change.

While allyship can be a powerful tool for creating inclusive and equitable environments, however, there are instances in which it might not be as effective as intended.

Research has suggested a stark perception gap between what men think they are doing to support women versus what they are actually doing.

The recent Allyship-In-Action study of more than 1,400 men and women found 78 percent of men said they had personally given a woman credit for her contributions and ideas in a meeting in the previous year. Just 49 percent of the women in the study reported witnessing such behaviour during that period.

Despite good intentions, the effectiveness of men’s allyship efforts may be limited by several factors, including:

  1. Superficial engagement: Some allyship efforts may lack genuine commitment and understanding of the issues at hand.
  2. Tokenism and performative actions: Both can create an illusion of support without leading to meaningful change.
  3. Lack of accountability and measurement: Allyship efforts can lack direction and fail to produce tangible outcomes without clear accountability and measurable goals.
  4. Resistance to change and inclusivity: Resistance from certain individuals or groups within the organisation can hinder effective allyship efforts.

In short, allyship is more than just ‘talking the talk’. It’s about fundamentally changing attitudes and behaviours. Simply calling yourself an ally to any person of an underrepresented group misses the point of allyship altogether.

Steps to successful allyship

The secret to successful, long-lasting allyship lies in the combination of interpersonal action (developing awareness and motivation) and public action to create accountability and transparency.

Here are five steps you can take to help allyship succeed in your organisation.

  1. Educate yourself: Don’t ask people from marginalised backgrounds to take on the emotional, psychological and physical burden of educating you. Take responsibility for yourself. This list of resources from the University of Kent is a great place to start.
  2. Listen: Actively listen and amplify the voices of the communities for which you are trying to be an ally. Without listening, you have the danger of venturing into ‘saviour’ territory, where you assume you know more about what marginalised groups need than those in that group. Your actions become self-serving, and you benefit more than the groups you are trying to help.
  3. Reflect on your privileges: The word “privilege” can be polarising, but it is essential to recognise the privileges you have to be an ally for others. Use your voice to make the voices of marginalised people heard. Use your privilege and influence to advocate for change and promote inclusivity. Stand up against discriminatory practices, biases and systemic injustices.
  4. Mentor others: As an ally, showing your support through mentoring programmes is a great idea. By getting to know your mentee as an individual, you can learn about their experiences and perspectives. The more you know and understand, the better equipped you will be to help.
  5. See something, say something: Speak out in support of marginalised groups and actively challenge discriminatory behaviours and policies within your sphere of influence.

If you see someone being discriminated against, support them at that moment, not later. Intervene even if the targeted individual or community is not present. By demonstrating that you don’t find it appropriate, you can help change the culture and create a more inclusive and equitable society.

Remember, though, that allyship is an ongoing journey that requires continuous self-reflection, learning and active engagement – it’s playing the long game for success.

Andrea Dermody is a diversity and inclusion consultant, speaker and coach at Dermody

This article was first published by Chartered Accountants Ireland at the following URL: