How Leaders Can Step Up and Be An Ally for Women of Colour

5 min read | Michelle Redfern

How Leaders Can Step Up and Be An Ally for Women of Colour

This blog was written by Michelle Redfern, Strategic Partner and Senior Consultant based in Melbourne, Australia, and was originally published on her blog


Who is an ally to Women of Colour at work? Me. You. What is an ally to Women of Colour in the workplace? Put simply, it is someone who actively supports and promotes a culture of including people, such as Women of Colour, First Nations women, culturally and linguistically diverse and migrant women, who are more often than not under-represented in leadership in organisations. An ally uses their political and social capital to advocate for those women so both the woman and the organisation can reach their full potential.

I want to share my experiences of learning to step up and be an ally for Women of Colour (WoC) at work. Like many people who identify as white, I have had to shift my mindset, take the time and make the effort to understand how my sisters of colour encounter different, and intersecting barriers in life, work and leadership. I hope this is useful for others who want to be better allies for Women of Colour.


Being an Ally to Women of Colour Starts With Mindset

The first mindset to move into is that being an ally to Women of Colour is a lifelong learning journey without a destination. In other words, you won’t wake up one day and be ‘cooked’!  Like me, you will have opportunities to learn when you’ve got it (being an ally) right, and when you have royally stuffed up.  Applying a growth mindset is especially useful. The second mindset is that the learning must be done by you. In her seminal book “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” Renni Eddo-Lodge discusses the emotional disconnect that white people have when black people talk about their experiences of bias, discrimination, oppression and violence. One of the ways I see that play out is by well-meaning allies asking Women of Colour to explain “what it’s like” for them rather than investing effort into learning about their lived experience might be. Do the reading, watch the videos, join the CDW Allies and Advocates Channel


What Women of Colour Experience at Work

“A Woman of Colour is on the receiving end of harm from both racial and gender discrimination.”

There is robust research about the experience that First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse, migrant and Women of Colour experience in the workplace.

  • Feel demoralised and disengaged due to the constant pressure of being on guard against discrimination and bias
  • Feel pressure to ‘act white’ so as to conform to the dominant culture
  • Are still grossly under-represented in the workplace, particularly in leadership positions where 12% are in a management position and 4% in C-Suite positions (LeanIn and McKinsey)
  • Are ambitious! 83% of Asian women, 80% of black women and 76% of Latino women want to advance their careers. (compared to 68% of white women)
  • Lack managerial support, coaching and sponsorship to advance their careers


What Do Women of Colour Want Leaders to Do?

The 21st Century workplace leader must become skilled in understanding, acknowledging and mitigating the intersection of race and gender discrimination in workplaces. They are allies and advocates to Women of Colour. This means stepping up and taking the time to listen to learn. I asked my network of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women what they want leaders to do, here is what they said:

  • “Speak positively for me and about me in my absence”
  • “Look out for opportunities for me”
  • “Use the information I tell you about my experiences”
  • “Promote and sponsor a workplace network for culturally diverse women”
  • Take action!”
  • “Educate yourself (don’t always ask me)”
  • “Continually practice your allyship skills”
  • “Create a safe space for us”
  • “Pull us up”
  • “Make time to coach me, share ideas, give me direction and open doors”
  • “Understand most of us are good at what we do – We want the opportunity to showcase that”
  • “Speak up when you see or hear cultural discrimination or bias”
  • “Please don’t coach me on what my voice needs to sound like – I don’t want my identity and diversity stripped away”
  • “Provide a seat and a voice at the table”


6 Actions for Allies

I hope you are now feeling inspired to take action. The next best steps you can take are:

  1. Do not assume the lived experience of all women is one and the same.
  2. Relinquish a one size fits all mindset to creating and implementing workplace policies.
  3. Find out about the unique challenges Women of Colour face before any strategy or policy is developed and implemented. Join the Allies and Advocates Channel in Culturally Diverse Women.
  4. Participate in our “Walk a Mile” activity to increase your understanding of and empathy for diverse peoples experiences.
  5. Make time to learn about experiences women have in your workplace using our 5X5 Activity – you can request a copy HERE.
  6. Empower, enable and develop people managers’ capability to be inclusive and equitable leaders. Contact Leading NOW to discover how we can do that together.

I’ll say it again, we can ALL be allies to Women of Colour at work. In fact, no, we MUST all become allies to Women of Colour at work. Because Women of Colour must be able to reach their full potential and they can do that when there is a workplace culture of actively supporting and promoting inclusion.




Learn more about Leading NOW's strategic partnership with Advancing Women in Business & Sport here