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Dan RobertsonFeb 29, 2024 12:46:56 PM5 min read

How to be a white ally to black colleagues

How to be a white ally to black colleagues  

The Coronavirus pandemic prompted the world to scrutinise race-related policies and procedures, with minority ethnic groups being disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Looking specifically at the working world, black and Asian front-line social care workers experienced increased racism, bullying and harassment at work during this time. And, as a further catalyst for change, the Black Lives Matter movement – fuelled by the murder of George Floyd - was a key stepping stone for racial inclusion moving forward. 

But despite more open discussions about race at work, ethnic minority employees are more likely to feel that other people are disinterested in having conversations about race in the workplace, compared to their white counterparts.

In fact, a Racism at Work survey found that 60% of black employees had experienced racism in the workplace, compared to 14% of white employees. When witnessing a racist event at work, over a quarter of the survey respondents took no action in response, with 14% explaining that it was “none of their business”. 

These statistics bring the importance of race allyship and collaboration into sharp focus, as if we are to combat racism at work – and within society – we must all be aligned to the same agenda. A powerful way to do this is for white allies to leverage their white privilege and power to uplift and amplify the unheard voices of black employees. 

MD of FAIRER Consulting Dan Robertson, discusses ways in which white allies can help to progress positive change towards racial inclusion at work.  

Why is it important for white colleagues to champion race inclusion in the workplace? 

“To truly understand the damage of racism, we first need to define it”, explains Dan. “People assume racism is the individual conscious, or intentional, attempt to exclude others because of their race, but this is fundamentally problematic as a definition”, he continues. 

“We need to think about racism as micro-behaviours and the every-day instances of exclusion because of skin colour or racial background, which results in institutional practices. We need to consider organisational behaviour.  

“Racism is not a black issue; it’s an issue of power and privilege, and to tackle that, we need to focus on who has the power and privilege and engage that stakeholder population. That’s why we need to get white people involved in promoting the principles of anti-racism”, adds Dan.  

What are the blockers to getting white people engaged in the topic of racism?

If white people hold the majority power, what are the obstacles to getting them on board with the racial inclusion agenda, turning them from bystanders into allies? 

“A lot of white people articulate race or racism under a false premise, which acts as a blocker to engagement”, says Dan. Many operate on a “colour blind” approach, in which they claim to not see race in a bid to treat everyone fairly and equally, but inadvertently, they disregard the disadvantages of minority ethnic groups 

In addition, “a lot of white people will say they’ve had to work hard to get where they are, which may be true, but they don’t always understand the role of intersectionality, such as the interplay between social class and race,” says Dan.

We see this thinking play out often in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, where people will respond with “Don’t all lives matter?” “Actually, they are missing the point here. They are seeing conversations around race as being centred in political correctness, rather than being centred in equality and opportunity”, clarifies Dan. 

5 ways white people can become race allies

Looking forward, what can white people do to help amplify and uplift the voices of black people who are feeling marginalised or unheard? 

1. Lend your power and voice to the conversation. Spend time role-modelling your principles. If you spot racial injustice, make the effort to raise awareness of it. Social media can be a useful tool in spreading your message, whether it’s a cry for other white allies to speak up, or an education piece to raise awareness of current racial issues. 
2. Become a role model. If you are managing people in the workplace, use your responsibility as a leader to role model. When someone makes even a small comment based on race, we must call it out. It can be difficult because these comments are often microaggressions, but we need to be allies rather than bystanders. We need to educate ourselves rather than relying on black people to explain race issues to us. Write blogs, attend events and race training, and have discussions to encourage other white allies to adopt the agenda.  
3. Work with the data you have. Data is a powerful tool in spotting and mitigating racial inequalities in the workplace. Start aggregating data in terms of your organisation’s decision-making process around the employee lifecycle. Look for bias in hiring, work allocation, performance scores and promotions. This will allow you to identify and track institutional racism in the system and then call it out.  
4. Extend the dialogue to family and friends. Racism is a social, political and structural issue which we see within all of our institutions, such as education, healthcare and the workplace. We can’t park the conversation as just a workplace matter, so we must extend it out to our family and friends, too.

It’s easier for us to avoid the conversation with our social circle because we often assume our peers have the same values as us, but this is not always the case. “It is our responsibility to move the dialogue from work to society and social culture as a whole”, advises Dan. 
5. Make space for mistakes. It's important that we are allowed to make mistakes when discussing race matters – or DE&I matters in general. It should not be about policing or having all the answers. “Social media is a popular forum for people to criticise and attack each other, but we must allow people the space to make errors and learn from them, rather than constantly attacking. It’s not healthy and doesn’t help with learning”, says Dan.

If someone makes a mistake, use it as an opportunity to explain to them and have an open conversation, rather than shutting them down. Race-related conversations can be difficult, but let’s not make them harder than they need to be.  

Let us help you  

FAIRER Consulting offers an extensive range of training, consultation services and bespoke services to suit your DE&I needs. Explore our race ally training for a comprehensive look at how to leverage white privilege to amplify the voices of minority ethnic groups, or register for our conscious inclusion training for practical takeaways on creating an inclusive environment.  

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Schedule a chat with one of our consultants and see how we can help you.   


Dan Robertson

Dan Robertson is MD of FAIRER Consulting and Global Head of ED&I Advisory Services at Hays International. Over the last 15 years Dan has spent his time supporting global business leaders to transform their ideas into meaningful action, with a focus on inclusion as a strategic management issue, bias mitigation and inclusive leadership.