February 07, 2024

The Best Workplace Allies Use These 3 Words

At a live panel discussion, Exact Sciences employees discuss effective ways to show up for others.

Several hands shown fist bumping
In a work situation where you’re trying to be an ally, you’ll get better results by reminding yourself to be just a little less certain. 
That was the consensus from a group of Exact Sciences team members chatting at a live panel discussion about workplace allyship — how people can support colleagues from any community that has been historically marginalized. The event was part of the company’s Stories About Us conversation series, designed to build understanding through content that elevates employee voices and experiences.  
Panelists agreed that one key to allyship is a person’s ability and willingness to take a step back from their beliefs or thoughts in a situation, a practice known as “decentering.” Removing yourself from the middle of a situation makes more space for those you’re supporting. 
The panelists’ advice? To be a good ally, remind yourself of one simple phrase: “I don’t know.”  
Peter Lohr, senior provider support inquiry specialist 
“I’m a member of the disabled community, and my advice is that if you want to be an ally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. To me, decentering yourself means being able to have that open mindset and being able to shift that mindset if you need to, relatively quickly. It means being able to be humble about what you don’t know. That can be one of the hardest things to do, because as humans, we’re pretty confident in who we are.  
“But sometimes saying ‘I don’t know’ is the most confident thing you can do.”   
Katie Boyce, senior director of corporate impact and community relations
“The No. 1 thing that I think about as an ally is to never be completely certain of what I believe, whether that’s about my own self or about another person. Certainty can get us into trouble, and making blanket statements or having blanket beliefs about any person or set of people is a place we shouldn’t go. We need to keep our minds open and catch ourselves if we are doing that. 
“That allyship approach translates to our community work at Exact Sciences. We work to be community-centric in how we give our resources, versus being a donor-centric giver that instructs community partners on what we want to see. We want our community partners — people who are in the communities and working to serve them — to be able to do their work the way they know best. We take the approach of, ‘We don’t know; you’re the expert. Please tell us what works for you, and then we will figure out how to work with you.’”   
T Sneed, laboratory service training administrator 
“You might find out that something you held as a normal belief is harmful. You have to be open to the fact that others know certain things that you don’t. 
“It ties into understanding what your role fundamentally is when you’re being an ally. It’s simply advancing causes and not trying to own them or put yourself at the center. As you begin to do research and learn and become engaged, you might be confronted by something that you don’t necessarily like or understand. Sometimes that means being open to correction, and this is the space where you begin to unlearn your own biases.  
“It takes strength and courage to be a good ally and stand in it for the long haul and be called out sometimes. You have to put pride aside and take yourself out of it as you amplify the voices of others.”