We’ve all heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words.” As many companies have given increased attention to the value of diversity and inclusion at work, we’ve also heard from many employees who say their companies do not walk the walk. 

It can feel disappointing, frustrating, and disorienting when your organization says they value one thing, but fails to deliver. 

One texter wrote: 

“[My company will] tout how much they care about diversity and inclusion. But their actions say another thing.. It makes me so mad!”

Creating an inclusive environment is a shared responsibility that requires sustained commitment from all levels of an organization. No matter your title or role, there are tangible actions you can take to contribute to a more inclusive workplace. 

One way of taking action is to practice allyship. 

What is allyship? 

According to diversity, equity, and inclusion advocate Michelle Kim, allyship is “an active and consistent practice of using power and privilege to achieve equity and inclusion while holding ourselves accountable to marginalized people’s needs.” 

Allyship includes several important components:

  1. Allyship requires action. Instead of thinking of ourselves as allies, we regularly practice acts of allyship. 
  2. Allyship requires self-awareness. We all hold multiple identities, both of privilege and marginalization, and we must build awareness of the power we hold in different situations. 
  3. Allyship requires accountability. Practicing allyship is not about ourselves—instead, practicing allyship is about advancing the needs of those who are marginalized. 
  4. Allyship’s goal is equity and inclusion. The purpose of allyship isn’t to make ourselves feel better or “save” anyone, it’s to promote fairness. 

When we think of allyship as a verb rather than a noun—as an ongoing practice rather than a static identity—it becomes an invitation to take regular, sustained action. 

So what actions can you take to practice allyship and promote inclusion and respect in your own organization? 

Inclusion in practice 

There are specific steps you can take to promote inclusion in your workplace, regardless of your title or position. Though none of these strategies will be a one-size-fits-all approach, they all offer a good place to start. 

Call out behaviors that aren’t inclusive 

Practice being an upstander: someone who recognizes when something is wrong and acts to make it right. If you see or hear something that’s discriminatory, exclusive, or harmful, you can make a difference by saying something, instead of being a bystander. One of our partners, Hollaback!, offers five methods to intervene when you see bias and harassment in front of you: Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct.

Microaggressions are a more subtle form of exclusionary behavior—usually brief, intentional or unintentional comments or behaviors that show bias towards members of historically marginalized groups—yet they still have a powerful “othering” effect. 

One texter reached out to Empower Work after witnessing a colleague ask for someone to be removed because “they don’t have a college degree like us”—and in connecting with an Empower Work peer counselor, the texter was able to talk through how they could be an upstander in calling out that comment as racist and exclusionary. 

Seemingly small interventions like this can make a big impact in changing culture. 

Amplify historically excluded voices

Managers play a significant role in their employees’ ability to move up in an organization, and often unintentionally create inequities in promotions and professional growth. For example, despite representing nearly 18% of the population, women of color made up only 4% of C-level positions in 2018; much of this has been attributed to microaggressions, double standards, and unconscious bias. However, managers can make positive changes within their own sphere of influence. If you’re a manager, consider equity in hiring, promotions, and salary decisions, ensure your team is equitably reviewed during performance reviews, and create more positive, supportive pathway behaviors to increase inclusion. 

Even if you aren’t in a leadership role, you can still make meaningful interventions. For example, women staffers in President Obama’s White House used a strategy called “amplification:” when one woman made a point, other women would repeat it and give her credit so it wouldn’t be claimed by someone else. 

Practice stepping back 

Sometimes, allyship requires taking a step back in order to make room for someone else: for their voice, their perspective, or their expertise. If you notice only people of your race are being asked for their opinion in a meeting, consider passing the mic to someone else. If you notice only people of your gender are on a panel, consider giving up your seat so there can be more representation. 

An important question to ask when practicing allyship: What does this person (or community) need from me? By prioritizing the needs of others with less positional power, you can help to create an environment that is more inclusive of everyone. 

With all of these actions, check out our suggestions for staying engaged while feeling discomfort, listening deeply and seeking to understand, and committing to continued learning.

Inclusion starts with you 

According to Gallup, the most important factor for true inclusion in the workplace is respect: employees need to feel valued and accepted. Part of respect is remembering that actions speak louder than words. By taking small, specific actions to help create an inclusive work environment, each of us can help ensure our coworkers feel more heard, seen, and connected at work. 

Ultimately, it’s about helping create a space where you—and your peers—can thrive.

If you’re wondering what to do to help make your workplace more inclusive, free, confidential support is just a text away: 510-674-1414.

This post originally appeared on Empower Work’s website.