Learn How to Be a Successful Ally: Four Key Practices

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Cite the four Equality ally practices.
  • Explain how to ask, listen, show up, and speak up as an Equality ally.

The Four Equality Ally Practices

At Salesforce, we started a campaign to help educate our employees on how to be allies to one another. This was in response to the feedback from an overwhelming number of people who said that they would like to help forward the Equality movement, but were unsure where to start. We worked with our community to distill the steps everyone can take to be an ally to others into four key practices. 

Four equality practices: ask, listen, show up, and speak up.

Ask others about their experiences and share yours.

One of the seemingly smallest but also most powerful things we can do is ask others about their experience and how they are feeling. This can help you better understand the people you work with and their diverse experiences.

Photo of Fatima Mekkaoui.

As an example, employee Fatima Mekkaoui talks about her colleagues asking her if she was okay the day after the Muslim ban was announced in the US. "As a Muslim immigrant woman of color, it has never been easy living in this country. I grew up wanting to hide being Muslim… I deeply appreciate the people who are stepping up and standing in solidarity with the Muslim community. My exhaustion this morning was met with hugs, love, and genuine words of empowerment from my colleagues. Be it a smile down the hall or an affectionate note on messenger, these actions have power. Thank you.” 

Another example, is simply asking a question during a panel event on a topic. For example, one of our employees asked Haben Girma, the first-ever deaf and blind graduate of Harvard Law school and a disability rights activist, to explain more about her unique experiences and how technology can be used to help people who share her challenges. It was a powerful learning moment for everyone in the room, not just this specific employee. 

Start with the people in your company. Ask someone new to coffee, raise your hand during a discussion, be inquisitive about issues that don’t necessarily impact you. That is the first step to being an ally. 

Listen with empathy and seek to understand different perspectives.

As we’ve mentioned throughout this module, empathy and mindful listening are critical components of allyship. As we have difficult discussions, careful listening helps us to have productive dialogue rather than circular debates. Practice your listening skills everywhere: While someone is speaking in a meeting, sharing their story, or presenting on an Equality topic.

Use these tips from the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) to help increase mindful listening.

  • Make eye contact.
  • Express interest through your body language.
  • Ask thoughtful questions and ask for opinions.
  • Listen with empathy and compassion, rather than just listening for a chance to share your own story.

There are other ways to “listen” too. Listening can include analyzing the content you are reading and researching in your spare time, particularly on social media. Mary Scotton, Salesforce employee and VP of Evangelism often talks about “Diversifying your feed,” which means following people in underrepresented groups so that you start to hear differing points of views and learn about a greater variety of issues. Then amplify their voices to others in your own circle. 

Show up by being present, engaged, and committed.

The next step in the ally journey is an active one. Once you have practiced asking questions and listening with empathy for a while, you can begin to understand what action is needed to help move a cause forward and feel more comfortable getting involved. Showing up is an extremely powerful way to show your support. This can mean showing up to an employee resource group meeting—or it can mean showing up for a local march like our CEO, Marc Benioff, did during the women’s march in 2017. 

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff holds a sign at the local women’s march in 2017.

Wherever you are on your journey, don’t be afraid to start showing up. Most people are ready and even asking for allies to show up and join the cause. They’ll appreciate the effort and the earnestness as long as you continue to ask about others’ experiences and listen with empathy when you arrive. 

“Just show up,” says Chris Duarte, Trailhead editor-in-chief at Salesforce.

Here are a few more ways you can show up.

  • Walk in a Pride parade.
  • Offer to mentor someone who hasn’t had the same experiences as you.
  • Attend a local talk on an Equality issue.
  • Get involved in community organizations you care about.

Speak up as an advocate and evangelize your allyship among others.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter.” 

Corresponding image of Martin Luther King, Jr. with the quote: “Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter.”

One of the bravest and most effective things an ally can do is speak up for someone. Speaking up can be uncomfortable and even scary. But not speaking up can mean you agree with the injustice or harmful actions around you. When we advocate for issues that don’t directly impact us, we are giving a voice and platform to those who do not have one or need it to be amplified. The more voices that speak up for what’s right, the louder we can be, and the more others have to take notice. When we are a booming chorus of advocates and activists for Equality, that is when we see positive cultural change. 

Here are some ways you can speak up for others.

  • Restate an idea that wasn’t recognized in a meeting, and give credit to the person who said it.
  • Confront a harmful comment by asking the person on the receiving end if they are okay and addressing the speaker by saying something like, “That wasn’t acceptable.”
  • Speak out about an injustice using your platforms (social media, blog, stage, and so forth).
  • Propose policy changes within your workplace or society that can create a better environment for all.

In an article entitled, “As the immigration debate continues, remember H-1B workers,” Amy Weaver, chief legal officer at Salesforce and Tony Prophet, chief Equality officer at Salesforce use their platforms to advocate for immigration reform. (See the link to the article in the Resources section.)

Lobby of a Salesforce building with the quote “We are a nation of immigrants” as a light-up display in reaction to policies around DACA and H1B visas.

Thank you for taking the very first steps of your ally journey by completing this module. You have the power to make a difference, and together we can reach Equality For All. Has someone ever been an ally to you, or do you have a story about the moment you became an ally? Share with us on Twitter using the #EqualityForAll hashtag. 


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