Bullying in the Workplace: How to Step Up as an Ally to Your Co-workers
When thinking about work, we usually think about deadlines, vacation days and getting that big promotion, but what we often don’t think about (and should be) is our work environment. A healthy work environment sees everyone respected and treated equally, but for many, equality isn’t the reality we imagine it to be. From bullying in the workplace, to discrimination based on ability, race, gender, age or sexuality and even the gender pay gap, our workplaces can be fraught with system-wide exclusion.
Once you see the ways your workplace can improve, it’s up to you to those of us with the power to know when to stand up, speak out, and make space for our colleagues who may not have the ability. Here are 10 ways to step up as an ally to your co-workers in inequitable working conditions.
Make spaceSome days, work can seem like a battle and our goal is to win. But what happens if allies take a step back and ask ourselves if we’re truly contributing — or if we’re taking up more space than is necessary. But how can we make space for others without overshadowing ourselves?
Start by being confident at work, and then share that confidence by allowing others around you — particularly those who may be marginalized — a chance to shine. This might mean taking a back seat from colour commentary at meetings or asking a colleague for input when you see they may be struggling to get a word in edge wise.
Stand up and show upWe’ve all heard the saying if you see something, say something and when it comes to being an ally at work, this is one of the strongest ways we can create change. Whether speaking against behaviour or speech that is offensive or dehumanizing or taking action by stepping into a bullying situation by diffusing, our voices can be powerful at work.
If you see someone in a tough spot — being harassed or bullied in the workplace — it can be as simple as interjecting to diffuse the situation. “Hey, Ronit, I really need your advice on this piece and it can’t wait because we’re on deadline, can I borrow you for a moment?” is a fast way to dissolve an aggressive situation. After the fact, check in with the victim, and offer support if they choose to head to a senior leadership member or human resources.
Act as a sponsorYou don’t have to be a career mentor to sponsor someone in the workplace. It can be as simple as amplifying the voices of people around you. You can talk about the expertise you see in colleagues, recommend team members for new, and challenging tasks, and regularly vocally support the work of those around you who may not be getting credit for their work.
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Be someone’s championLike a sponsor, a champion can help steer their work environment towards those who may not be getting the recognition or work they should be due to any number of barriers, but it can also take the role of stepping aside in support of someone more deserving to give a presentation or speak on a topic such a racial equality or gender diversity in the workplace.
With all other forms of allyship, the key here is speaking up — but without hostility. It’s important to ensure that the person your championing doesn’t feel put upon or singled out.
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Advocate, advocate, advocateDo you see someone from an underrepresented group in your office not getting invited to collaborate or having their achievements overlooked? Have you been tasked with helping build a panel of recognized speakers for a big corporate event? Now’s the time to advocate for professionals who may have previously been overlooked.
And while you may think that your workplace may not be ready, it’s up to allies to lead the charge in creating opportunities for marginalized people, and for marrying our work with our activism. Need inspiration? Have a peek at some of the exciting work Canadian fashion designers did advocating for themselves and others.
Recognize where you might be falling shortWe can’t always empathize with everyone, particularly when we aren’t aware of what other people might be going through. The same goes for allies trying to understand our own privilege. While it’s true that there’s nuance in everything, just recognizing (and truly embracing) the fact that we don’t know everything can help free up space in an ally’s mind to see where we might be missing pieces of the puzzle.
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Don’t stop learningOften when we think of work-related education, we look at ways we can increase our salaries. But we can utilize off-the-job training to our benefit when it comes to allyship at work.
Immersing ourselves in articles and books is a great way to get the bigger picture and offer lessons in how to incorporate activism at work.
Know when to back downAlthough it seems like the wrong move to back down in the workplace, sometimes, it might be the best (or only) option to avoid escalation — and more importantly: it may not be your place. Standing up as an ally doesn't mean erasing or drowning out the oppressed. It's important we stand up for numbers and show support — without taking over the cause and making it our own. Follow the lead and respect the decisions of the people you're supporting.
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Be open to listeningNobody’s perfect, right? Sometimes when we have the best intentions, we miss the mark. Its important to always listen to marginalized folks at work and really hear what they’re saying, whether it’s a complaint over the lack of diversity in a panel, or we’ve said or done something that offended them.
And if you’re the offender? Actively listen to the person you’ve hurt, don’t make excuses, and work towards being better towards them by learning, recognizing your position, and leaving your ego at the door.
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Be a confidantYou might not be ready to start organizing a reconciliation committee at the office, but most of us are able to listen to, and believe in the issues that may be plaguing colleagues. Listening to, and believing what we are being told about a colleague's experience creates a safe space for them to express their fears and frustrations, and can add a layer of support that they may not get if they need to speak with your company’s HR department about something that might be bothering them.
Remember that taking small steps to be a better ally can make a world of difference for you and your colleagues.
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