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Embracing Equity For International Women’s Day – How To Be An Ally

Written by: Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Last week saw the wonderful ripple of activities from organisations across the world to celebrate International Women’s Day, with the theme this year being embrace equity. Whilst it was great to see the activities during the week, what does embracing equity truly mean and how do we achieve it?

group of women on their back holding on together

Equity is about the recognition that every individual has different circumstances, characteristics and lived experiences and therefore each person needs different support to allow them to succeed and achieve their potential. So if equality is the goal then equity is the means to get there.

But in reality, unless there is action taken every day then this will never be achieved – and that action is being an ally. Everyone needs allies, particularly those with different characteristics but this week I am focusing on women, in order to continue the theme from IWD. Women desperately need men to be allies but also need other women to be allies.

Women of every race, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, religion, or Neurodiversity will face casual sexism or discrimination on a daily basis. This could be generalised sexist remarks, crude language, a workplace culture that is diminishing, excluding, or intimidating, sexual harassment or banter that makes them feel uncomfortable. It may simply be being talked over during meetings, or, as many would call it ‘mansplaining’. (Merriam-Webster defined ‘mansplaining’ as “when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he's talking to does”.) A study from George Washington University found that men were inclined to interrupt 33% more often than when they were talking to women and according to YouGov 82% of women said that they had been ‘mansplained’ to.

Other examples cited are, evaluating women less positively than men, having to deal with double standards, being side-lined in social and work networks, diminishing comments (i.e., they belong in the kitchen), using demeaning language, being asked to take on the role of coffee maker/secretary or assistant, and being asked about marriage, having children and childcare. However, due to the complex nature of gender equality, these factors, that are fundamental to discrimination are not always easily identifiable, and, when women challenge them, they can be made to feel paranoid or a troublemaker. However, a person who is feeling marginalised or excluded, tokenised or like an imposter may sideline themselves — by not speaking up, not contributing, or not showing up. This is where allies are vital.

What is an Ally?

  • Allies can speak or stand up for someone who is being treated unfairly or is being dismissed

  • Allies can also help to give people opportunities, whether that is at work, or in social networks

  • Allies can stop behaviour that is inappropriate or destructive through intervening or speaking to the person

  • Allies can offer personal support to people so they don’t feel so alone or excluded

You can be an ally in many different ways either by supporting, being an upstander in a situation, sponsoring them, championing them in meetings or in other situations or by being a confidante if they have had an uncomfortable experience.

But it really is worth remembering that ally is not a noun it is a verb, and if we don’t do something, if we don’t speak up or stand up for people then we will never change the narrative. However, being an ally requires courage, and it could require confrontation that may have negative consequences.

What Exactly Can an Ally Do?

Firstly, you can help in a positive way to amplify other people. Many of the uncomfortable situations that people experience can be described as micro-aggressions, but you can help to counter these with micro-affirmations.

  • Make sure you get to know different people and understand their backgrounds and values

  • When someone uses language to describe their identity (or pronouns), mirror these

  • Learn to pronounce people’s names properly

  • Notice key moments that might be important to others, i.e., religious and cultural occasions or life milestones and mention them

  • If someone isn’t participating in a meeting, ensure you help to give them an opening if they want it

  • If someone is not speaking up at a meeting or turns their video off, speak to them later and check if they are okay

  • Acknowledge people’s expertise and skills and ensure their opinions are solicited

  • If someone is being talked over, ensure that you refer back to let them finish what they were going to say

  • If you feel an idea has been hijacked – say specifically “that was a great idea from XXX perhaps she would like to tell us some more…?”

  • If you have been invited to give a presentation ask if you can bring an expert colleague with you to give them exposure

  • If you see someone from a marginalised group missing, advocate for them to be invited

  • Recognise other people’s achievements – if they have been part of a team with you ensure they are mentioned

  • If you have colleagues from under-represented groups, consider who you might be able to introduce them to so that they gain more visibility

  • Provide good quality feedback, either formal or informal

Next, if you observe a situation in the workplace that appears to be making someone feel uncomfortable, the first thing is to feel responsible to act. Then you will have to identify the best possible type of action, whether that is to interrupt to divert a situation, to interject to support someone, to intervene to stop what is going on or to wait until afterwards and enquire whether the person is okay and needs your help. It is vital that you always speak up if you witness behaviour or speech that is degrading or offensive and take action if you see anyone in your company being bullied or harassed.

How do you interject or intervene? It is a bold and brave thing to do but sometimes it will be the only way to make people understand the impact of their behaviour. It could be by doing any of the following:

  • Telling a group who are making comments that their behaviour is inappropriate and they need to stop

  • Asking the perpetrator to imagine how they would feel if someone made that comment about one of their family members or someone else that they cared about

  • Suggesting that the meeting is stopped or paused

  • Identifying other bystanders who can assist you in intervening

  • If you want to approach someone after you have noticed a situation where their behaviour is inappropriate, here is a simple framework for ensuring that it is not too confrontational:

  • Begin with empathy – “I am sure that you were not aware of this”

  • Be accurate about repeating their words to them i.e. “when you said...”

  • Describe what you observed and how you think it made the other person feel (i.e., I thought they felt undermined)

  • If they apologise and say they won’t do it again, simply thank them

  • If they deny it or argue, say ‘I just wanted to tell you how I felt when I observed it’ – they may need time to process the information

If it is not appropriate to do any of the above maybe you can check in with the person who the comment was aimed at afterwards. To be a confidante to another person, here are some of the things that are important:

  • Demonstrate your belief in the other persons’ experiences – it is easy to assume something wouldn’t happen because you haven’t personally experienced it

  • Actively listen and demonstrate empathy

  • Ask questions that help them to express themselves

  • Hold back your own personal experience, you may feel you are being helpful by adding your own examples, but it could feel as if you have ‘hijacked’ the conversations

In summary, be a bold ally by recognising that you are part of the solution, being alert and noticing what is happening and calling it out. Be particularly observant to any micro-aggressions and be prepared to challenge or support other people. Remember banter can often be perceived as bullying if it goes too far and some people may need a reminder that they are veering into this territory. The more that people are publicly called out or observe people being supported with micro affirmations the more people will realise the power of being an ally.

If you want to know more about our training and development solutions or Allyship programmes please do contact us. For more information contact us on 01329 820580 or via my website.

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Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Gillian Managing Director of Emerge Development Consultancy which she founded 25 years ago. Emerge is internationally renowned for unlocking the potential that achieves transformation within organizations by providing a full range of bespoke development and coaching solutions. She is a master executive coach working with many CEOs and managing Directors globally. She is also an international speaker and in 2020 was named by f: Entrepreneur as one of the leading UK Female Entrepreneurs in the Ialso campaign.

Gillian founded the RISE Women’s Development Programme which is delivered both in the UK and the Middle East, and Saudi and is her absolute passion.

She is also the co-author of How to Create a Coaching Culture, 50 Top Tools for Coaching, and the author of Locked Down but Not Out which is a diary of the first 3 months of the pandemic to raise money for the bereaved families of the NHS workers who died during COVID-19.



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