How to be an anti-racist ally

In this extract from our anti-racism toolkit, we look at the roles we can all play to be better allies, active bystanders and accomplices.

If everyone plays their part, we can ensure that our ethnic minority colleagues are supported and begin to embed an anti-racist workplace culture.

Read on to learn more.

Many of us want and need to challenge racism in our workplaces. We want to change the behaviours and the language, as well as the organisational systems and processes that restrict the opportunities of ethnic minority people.

This is vital work, but it can’t be done without everyone playing their part. Anti-racism is everybody’s responsibility; all of us have to take action.

So how do we go about it?

What’s my role in eradicating racism at work?

To support a programme of anti-racism in your organisation, there are three broad roles people can adopt:

Active bystander

This is someone who intervenes or challenges when they see discriminatory (meaning racist) language or behaviour. Active bystanders understand how their actions help to build an inclusive culture; they believe in doing the right thing.


An ally is someone who will stand with an individual or group in a marginalised community, and use their privilege to amplify the marginalised voices. Examples include White people taking part in the Black Lives Matter marches or actively championing anti-racism.


Someone who works to dismantle structures and systems that create or perpetuate racism, and whose work is informed by ethnic minority people. An example would be a person who works with ethnic minority colleagues to ensure that the recruitment practices in their organisation are free from racial bias.

Accomplices take a step beyond allyship, though the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Improve your own knowledge of racism in the workplace

Before you start, you can take steps to understand more about racism in the workplace.

This could include everything from your organisation’s legal responsibilities to understanding more about the experiences of those who are different from you, to understanding your own biases and how they can unconsciously influence your behaviour.

More steps to understand racism in the workplace are outlined below:

  • Get to understand everyone’s responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 – know who is protected, and from what. Be aware of how different types of discrimination can affect your organisation, the perpetrators and the victims.
  • Seek out diverse opinions and experiences to broaden your understanding of anti-racism, particularly in a work context, and to benefit from a wider range of perspectives.
  • Learn about the experiences of those who are different to you. You can do this through sharing media libraries, reading articles, blog posts and books (fiction or non-fiction), watching internet videos (YouTube etc) and TED talks, etc. Don’t assume that ethnic minority friends and colleagues will teach you – the onus is not on them to resolve racism.
  • Challenge your own unconscious bias and assumptions. Understand your blind spots and where they come from, and find ways to eliminate their influence on your thoughts and decisions.
  • Be intentional: consider why you are doing something or saying something, and think it through carefully before you start.

How to be an active bystander, ally, or accomplice at work

There are many ways you can be an ally, active bystander and accomplice in your workplace. Here we outline some of the behaviours and actions that are needed to embedded anti-racism:

  • Before you step in, check the situation – is it safe for you to challenge in the moment? Employers – you must work to give people the confidence that they will be safe if they challenge racism.
  • Support the person to whom the racism was directed. If they want to share their experience, listen attentively. Should they decide to report the incident, your help or support could be useful. Or maybe you could point them towards other resources, such as HR, a staff network, the union rep or your employee-assistance programme.
  • Use your body language to make it clear you don’t approve of the behaviour – e.g. don’t laugh or even force a polite smile when you hear a racist joke.
  • Call out the behaviour – publicly if you can – and support the person it was directed towards.
  • Name or acknowledge the behaviour for what it is. For example, if someone repeatedly commits microaggressions or subtle acts of exclusion, discuss it with them; explain why it’s unacceptable and be clear it needs to stop.
  • If it’s not possible to challenge the behaviour in the moment, change the subject. Move the conversation on, then follow up later with a direct conversation or a report.
  • If you’re in a group, more than one of you can challenge the behaviour. Sometimes it takes one person to call out the behaviour before others step in to provide support.
  • Report the behaviour. Follow your organisation’s policy for reporting incidents. It doesn’t have to have been directed at you for you to report it.
  • Finally, be kind to yourself. Standing up for what’s right requires courage, and is rarely comfortable. Challenge in whatever way works for you – you don’t always have to do it publicly or in a way that’s confrontational.

How to build an anti-racist culture in your organisation

Building an anti-racist culture takes a real focused effort.

Our Anti-racism toolkit: Building an anti-racist culture is designed to help you take practical action. The 162-page guide contains all the practical advice you need to embed an anti-racist culture in your organisation. The toolkit provides guidance for everyone in your organisation, from HR and I&D leads to business leaders, to managers and employees, and includes a series of ‘how to’ guides with step-by-step best practice.

Take a look at the contents page for an overview of what’s included, or you can buy the anti-racism toolkit now for £199+VAT.

Alternatively, our ‘how-to’ guides are available to purchase separately. The nine guides provide step-by-step best practice to support the implementation of anti-racist principles in your organisation. Find out more or buy them today for £99+VAT.

This blog contains extracts from one of the ‘how to’ guides within our toolkit. You can download this guide in full ‘How to challenge racism as active bystanders, allies, and accomplices’ for FREE today.