How to Support Racially Diverse Colleagues

The recent traumatizing acts of systemic racism, has unleashed a barrage of global emotions and protests. People of all communities have stepped up to express outrage in solidarity with the black community which is already overwhelmed with frustration and exhaustion. Allyship can increasingly play a key role in supporting marginalized groups that are continuously short-changed by justice. Here are eight ways white allies can offer actionable support:

Be Transparent & Authentic


During vulnerable times, it’s more important for you to demonstrate empathy vs caution. Many well intentioned and sincere white colleagues, are often conflicted about what to do and afraid to say the wrong things. But know at this point in time, people will appreciate genuineness more than anything else. Do not wait too long to express your concern even if you’re uncertain and still trying to understand the situation. Reach out to staff members, be as transparent as you can and share what you know while being honest about what you haven’t done yet or don’t know. And if there is any miscommunication, be quick to rectify and apologise – most people will acknowledge authenticity more than a half-hearted cover-up. Also, understand that not everyone will open up despite your best intentions. Individuals have different grief coping mechanisms so if they do not wish to engage yet, give them space and time.    

Be Aware

Educate yourself on the issues racially diverse colleague’s face in the workplace and, most importantly, believe them without dismissing them or getting defensive if a racial injustice is highlighted. Recognizing privilege is crucial in understanding how unequal access to power and resources have impacted various communities. Having a Black person in your circle is not a guarantee that you anti-racist. Moreover, give employees opportunities to communicate grievances. In The Grey Area surveys, nearly 50% of respondents revealed lack of avenues to communicate barriers encountered at work. Minority ethnic groups who frequently face external bias and discrimination often develop internal barriers which impact their sense of self-worth.  Often times, this leads to changing their behaviour to fit in; an example of this is code switching. The more you know, the easier it will be to help colleagues feel more comfortable.


Seek ways to bridge the gap by identifying shared interests and common bonds. Get to know them as people. Ask them about their families and hobbies. Deep down we are all human beings and have similar ambitions with our own fears, dreams and experiences. You may even take time to understand cultural practices; open communication is key to dissolving barriers which, in turn, can foster authentic relationships. No matter how well intentioned you are, acknowledge that you may not be fully aware of cultural nuances and may risk coming across as ignorant or condescending; the last thing you want to do is deliver unintended slights and micoraggresions so be aware of  inappropriate communication sounds like.

Avoid Stereotyping and Generalising

The racially diverse groups you work with might not fit the stereotypes that society defines for that group so never assume anything. Also, avoid clustering communities. There are certain terminologies used to describe marginalised groups in many workplaces, but whatever the term, understand that while nearly all marginalised communities have experienced prejudice at some point, certain challenges maybe unique to specific ethnicities. A black colleague’s experience may be very different from that of an Asian colleague, hence it’s important not to generalise, cluster, digress or dilute the barriers respective communities face. Moreover, some people can experience multiple disadvantages due to gender, faith, colour, ability, socioeconomic background and/or orientation. Take, for example, a Black or Asian Muslim woman who may experience prejudice based on her skin colour, gender and faith.


Show Empathy

As human beings, we all have a natural tendency to judge and form internal biases, but we can “unlearn” harmful tendencies and behaviours. Using an NLP lens, you can appreciate that each individual has his/her own unique map of the world which is shaped by his/her own lived experiences.

Identify your own triggers and keep them in check. Ask yourself if there are any precipitating factors clouding your judgement. If you are already frustrated about one thing or have had a bad experience with a certain type of person or the group he/ she represents, that triggered response can make you angrier that much faster. Are you walking along any historical emotional tracks and unable to view a situation dispassionately?

Question the following negative limiting beliefs: 

·         Emotional Reasoning: You assume your negative emotions and that of the majority are proof of the way things really are; 

·         Personalization & Blame: You hold someone personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under his/her control;  

·         Mental Filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it; 

·         Magnification: Exaggerating a personal flaw, a small negative experience, or the abilities of someone else; 

·         Labelling: Tendency to resort to simplistic and negative labels to define behaviour. 


Act as a Micro Sponsor

Many minorities experience racism at work. Instead of feeling ashamed or guilty because you are white, use your privilege to advocate and speak up for undermined colleagues who deserve recognition for their accomplishments. White colleagues can engage in what is popularly called “amplification” — a concept shared in my article on male allies, and a powerful strategy for addressing unconscious bias. You can tactfully interject on behalf of their colleagues by engaging them in conversations and giving them an opportunity to voice their opinions.

Call Out Inequality

Understand that silence is complicit. Supportive allies can no longer be oblivious to the challenges marginalised communities face in the workplace; they need to increasingly participate in equality discussions. If you witness racism, bias or micro-aggressions on the job, intervene and call the behaviour out instead of remaining an apathetic bystander. If you don’t feel equipped to do it on your own, rally support or share the matter with relevant personnel.

Networks provide opportunities for colleagues to be vulnerable and vent their frustrations in a safe space. Engage with team members via these networks, find out their challenges, attend meetings, and demonstrate support.

Advocate & Mentor

Advocate for a fair system that offer equal opportunity to everyone.  During a crises, minorities are twice likely to be more vulnerable. It’s important to advocate for these colleagues during such times and offer them the mentorship they need and otherwise too.

As I shared in my book, it’s not much fun being the only ‘type’ in the room, whether it’s due to your gender, faith, background, orientation, preferences or ability- let’s try and make that experience more inclusive.

Hira Ali

Originally published in Forbes