DEI Dialogue

5 Ways To Be An Ally

Written by:
Cathy Nestrick (she/her)
DEI Leader / Co-Host, Parity Podcast; Former VP and General Counsel, Berry Global Group, Inc.

Political allies have joined forces throughout history to defeat common enemies and liberate people. Why? Because we recognize that we are better together. Allies also belong in the workplace as we work together to support people who are underrepresented so that everyone has equal opportunities. 

An ally is someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group but who takes action to support that group. As a White woman, I can be an ally by supporting a Black or Brown woman, a gay man, or a person who has a disability. Men can be allies by taking action to support women. These are just examples because there are too many potential allyships to list them all. The bottom line is that we all have the capability to take action to support someone in an underrepresented group, so we can all choose to be an ally. 

Allies use their power - their credibility, influence, and network - to support someone in an underrepresented group. And every time an ally takes this action, their workplace becomes a more inclusive and equitable place to work. According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, when men show up as allies by proactively supporting women, 96% of their organizations see progress towards greater gender equality as compared to only 30% of all other organizations. Clearly, allies can make an impact.  

If you want to be an ally but you aren’t sure how to get started, these are some ways you can start making impact today: 

  1. Advocate For Advancement and Growth: People who are underrepresented are not always seen, heard, and top of mind when it comes to promotions and other advancement opportunities. Look around your organization for those talented people who may be overlooked and advocate for them. Talk to them about their career aspirations and get to know who they are and how their background and skills can enhance your organization. Finally, keep your eyes open for opportunities that will help them stretch and grow, and then advocate for them to fill those roles.
  2. Amplify During Meetings and Calls: People who are underrepresented may be interrupted more frequently during meetings and calls, or not receive credit for their ideas. Allies can intervene by repeating the idea and giving them credit: “I agree with Mary’s idea about how to reduce cost by XYZ.” If someone is interrupted during a meeting, redirect the conversation back: “George, I think you were interrupted a moment ago. Can you continue your thoughts?” And finally, make sure that everyone feels included in the conversation so that all ideas are heard: “Does anyone else have ideas to share about how to reduce cost?”
  3. Educate Yourself About Bias: Bias runs counter to our first impressions and our “gut” feel so it can be hard to detect unless you look for it. You can take a fast, free, online assessment - google Harvard Implicit Bias test - to measure your own unconscious bias. You should also read books, listen to podcasts, and engage in other learning activities. You can start by tuning into Plastics and Beyond, a new SPE sponsored podcast hosted by Lilian Agyemang-Yeboah or listen to the podcast that I co-host, Parity Podcast. You can find both on Apple, Spotify, and other places you listen to podcasts.
  4. Speak Up When You See Bias: Speak up if you witness behavior that is belittling or offensive. Diffuse situations if you suspect that someone is being bullied or harassed, and then check in with the victim privately. In response to social media trolls who make biased comments on well-intentioned posts, call out the bias.
  5. Be Open to the Possibility of Bias: Too often when people muster up the courage to talk about their experience with bias, they are shut down and their experiences are discounted. Even if you haven’t personally experienced bias, be open to the possibility that bias did occur. Be curious about the experience and show empathy by being an active listener and asking questions.  

You can learn more about how to be an ally by reading Better Allies by Karen Catlin. As she recently said “There are many opportunities in every workplace to listen, learn, and take action as allies. It’s truly something anyone can do.” If you have a story about how an ally supported you, please reach out to me at 

Cathy Nestrick is a retired executive in the plastics industry, the founder and co-host of Parity Podcast focused on accelerating gender equality, and a DEI thought leader and speaker. You can find her on LinkedIn or

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