Professionals of color, whether in the legal industry or elsewhere, face hurdles to advancement in their careers that non-minority colleagues may not face, nor in some cases, even be aware of. Indeed, some of these hurdles can occur in the most benign workplace settings, like group meetings, performance reviews, networking opportunities, and client introductions.
A recent Thomson Reuters survey of 100 individuals from underrepresented groups, primarily from the legal and finance industries, showed that respondents indicated they want allies to speak out to question bias when it occurs. More specifically, the responses overwhelming referred to situations in group settings when bias is displayed and that most people in the majority (white men) lack awareness of the group’s power dynamics.
Common communication scenarios mentioned included:
- sitting by when diverse people are interrupted;
- allowing one person to dominate the dialogue unchecked in group meetings;
- failing, by those of influence, to invite less-vocal individuals to share; and
- accepting ongoing unproductive behavior, such as belittling a colleague in a meeting or constant interruption by one person.
Although not a communication scenario, professionals of color reported feeling discomfort when speaking up or sharing if they are the only person of color among all white people in the room.
6 Ways to Be a Better Ally
The results of the survey also focused on the ideal behaviors of those who would be allies. Respondents from underrepresented groups outlined the following behaviors as ideal examples of how allies could make a difference:
- Display curiosity and seek to understand the “lived experience” of diverse colleagues and don’t brush it off by, for example, saying, “That is not true” when a person of color shares their truth.
- Listen and allow the person to finish speaking before talking.
- Speak up in group settings when another colleague is interrupted and invite the person who was shut down to complete sharing their thought.
- Intervene politely when one person is dominating the conversation in a group and request that quiet attendees join the dialogue.
- Attend workplace community gatherings hosted by affinity groups, employee business resource groups, and underrepresented groups.
- Assign one person during a group meeting to watch the situations described above in #3 and #4 in order to better guard against bias and allow all people to participate in meetings.
For more on how to be a good ally to female colleagues and colleagues of color, check out our coverage on Allies.