Leaders as Allies to Employees of Color

Key Takeaways:

  • The nation and world are hurting right now from racial inequity and violence.
  • Leaders of all races can be important allies for employees of color.
  • Allies play important roles in promoting diversity and inclusion at work.

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died after a police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, setting off a wave of protests over racial inequality and violence across the country and even the world. For a long time now, racial tensions have been simmering in the United States, but this event has unleashed a wave of public anger and a collective sense of injustice at the way black people are treated in our society.

All across America, so many people have asked themselves “How can I help?” 

On every level (from personal to political and everything in between), there is a lot that people can do. Today, I want to focus on the role leaders in organizations can play.

Right now, allyship is one of the strongest things leaders in organizations can do. All leaders, regardless of their race or any other aspect of who they are, can be strong allies for people of color. 

What do I mean by allyship? Generally, I’m referring to non-minorities using their majority status to help minorities and create positive change[1].

Research has shown that leaders as allies can be effective. For instance, a recent study looked at how male leaders, compared to female leaders, were perceived when discussing issues of gender equality[2]. Although both leaders had positive effects, the male leaders actually had more positive benefits in some ways than the females (such as inspiring feelings of collective action).

In other words: Male leaders as allies can be particularly persuasive and play a very important role!

Although it is always important, it has become critical — now more than ever.

In the past, I have argued for leaders to show empathy for their employees during the coronavirus. Once again, I implore leaders to show empathy — this time for employees of color in particular. Leader support can go a long way toward this. One study found that higher levels of leader and social support resulted in employees recovering from traumatic events more quickly[3].

And make no mistake: Black employees are traumatized right now by everything that is and has been going on to their community.

Moving forward, there are many structural changes already being enacted in response to the tragic death of George Floyd, and we can only hope that more will come. But change can start on the individual level.

I have previously written about how leaders can promote diversity when working virtually due to the pandemic. Today, I ask all leaders to think about how they can be allies and promote diversity, equity and inclusion of all employees at work —  but especially employees of color during this difficult time.


[1] Salter, N. P., & Migliaccio, L. M. (2019).  Allyship as a diversity and inclusion tool in the workplace.  In A. Georgiadou, M. A. Gonzalez-Perez, & M. R. Olivas-Lujan (Eds.) Diversity in Diversity Management (pp. 131 – 152).  Emerald Publishing Limited.

[2] Hardacre, S. L., & Subašić, E. (2018). Whose issue is it anyway? The effects of leader gender and equality message framing on men’s and women’s mobilization toward workplace gender equality. Frontiers in Psychology, 9.

[3] Birkeland, M. S., Nielsen, M. B., Hansen, M. B., Knardahl, S., & Heir, T. (2017). Like a bridge over troubled water? A longitudinal study of general social support, colleague support, and leader support as recovery factors after a traumatic event. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 8.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.