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Workplace culture: The importance of allyship in creating a truly inclusive and diverse workplace

23 October 2023

Kate Meadowcroft, partner and employment expert and Charlotte Lloyd-Jones, Professional Support Lawyer, at global law firm DWF, examine the significance of workplace allyship.

The term 'allyship' is one we are hearing a lot more of in respect of fostering a positive workplace culture. It is defined as "the quality or practice of helping or supporting other people who are part of a group that is treated badly or unfairly, although you are not yourself a member of this group" (Cambridge Online Dictionary).

Why is allyship important?

ESG is becoming a key focus for organisations' stakeholders and a culture of allyship is an important element of the "S" in ESG. Many organisations understand the importance of diversity, but don’t always recognise that diversity does not necessarily lead to inclusion and a true sense of belonging. As organisations seek to move the dial from diversity to inclusion, many are turning to the incorporation of allyship as it is a crucial element of creating a truly inclusive workforce through the proactive practice of supporting people with historically under represented characteristics.

The benefits to organisations with good allyship strategies are clear; improved productivity, attraction and retention of talent, employee engagement, easier change management, increased innovation and better decision making – to name but a few. 

On the flip side those organisations who do not embrace allyship are at risk of talent leakage, not meeting the expectations of stakeholders and reputational and legal risk.

Despite many employers taking positive steps towards promoting allyship and encouraging their workforce to be courageous bystanders when they witness inappropriate behaviour, this does not always translate into action.  A recent study by Wates found that just one third of UK employees have spoken up when they have seen discrimination or exclusion of a minority colleague at work, despite almost 7 in 10 considering themselves an "ally".  There is therefore work to be done to embed allyship.  As detailed in our recent article "Creating a culture of voice in the workplace" -  the sound of silence is an indication of a disengaged workforce who feels undervalued and disconnected. 

What are the legal implications surrounding allyship?

The key piece of legislation relevant to allyship is the Equality Act 2010 ("the Act").  Under the Act, employees are protected against discrimination (direct and indirect), harassment and victimisation.  There are nine different protected characteristics listed under the Act ranging from age, to sex, to race.  Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.  Anything done by an employee in the course of employment is treated as having also been done by the employer – this is regardless of the employer's knowledge or approval.  An employer will have a defence available if it can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act. 

Employers which are able to promote and embed allyship and create an inclusive and diverse environment reduce the legal risk of successful claims under the Act:

  • Firstly – Claims are less likely to arise.  With a strong programme of allyship together with the supporting policies and procedures promoting diversity and inclusion, issues are less likely to occur.
  • Secondly – Should a claim arise an employer which has taken allyship seriously and promoted it across the workplace will be in a better position to rely on the reasonable steps defence. 

Allyship: An action plan for employers

Investors, stakeholders, employees, customers, suppliers and talent of today, and the future, look for organisations that are ethical and authentic. Employers should be focused on:


Allyship should be promoted and endorsed from the top down – through blogs, video updates, workshops, intranets or quite simply actions around the workplace – allyship should be lived and breathed by leaders. 

Policies and procedures

Enacted in daily practice, policies and procedures should ensure that employees know how to act as allies and feel assured of support when voicing concerns. Clear standards of expected behaviour should be set out and employees should be clear on how to report issues. 


Equality and diversity training should be provided regularly, giving employees the opportunity to understand different perspectives from across the workforce and how to be a successful ally.  Unconscious bias and courageous bystander training can be particularly useful to help ensure employees understand their own biases and what steps can be taken to overcome them. 


Spotlights on different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds and experiences can help highlight the diversity across the organisation.  Podcasts, newsletters and LinkedIn articles can all help people to learn and evolve understanding of inclusion and diversity. Keeping the conversation going is crucial and with a better understanding, employees are more likely to take positive steps towards inclusivity and acting as allies. 


Embracing inclusivity and diversity within the workforce brings a multitude of business advantages - from enhanced creativity to improved decision-making - the value of diversity of thought is proven. 

Research from FTSE Russell and a Great Place to Work highlights that companies listed in the 'Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For' outperform the market significantly, with a factor of 3.36 - businesses with high-trust cultures demonstrate increased profitability and enjoy higher returns in the stock market.

Recent headlines serve as a stark reminder that poor culture poses significant reputational risks. Building a reputable image takes a considerable amount of time and yet it can take five minutes to destroy. Thus, cultivating an inclusive and diverse workforce where employees act as "allies" should be a priority for all organisations.

As the saying goes, "culture eats strategy for breakfast"!

Kate Meadowcroft is a Partner in the DWF employment team and advises private and public multi-site organisations on a wide range of employment law matters.

DWF is a global provider of integrated legal and business services. It has approximately 4,000 people and offices and associations located across the globe. For more information visit: dwfgroup.com

Further Reading