Most leaders want to be allies to women and people of color because they know that inclusive and diverse teams are the most productive, engaged and deliver the best results. *However, many leaders who have the intention of bringing their high-performance teams together under the banner of diversity, inclusion and being an ally aren’t exactly sure how to do it “right,” and may even feel paralyzed and unable to take action because the stakes feel so high.

For many, it can feel awkward and unsafe to breach the topics of others’ identities and needs without accidentally creating an uncomfortable work environment. So what does it take to be an ally? How do you do it “the right way”? And how can a person in a leadership position champion an environment of diversity and inclusion, while still meeting the needs of a high-performance team? 

It is absolutely possible to be an ally leading a high-performance and diverse team. Many leaders have no idea where to start, which is why we created the thought paper How to be Inclusive, High Performing ALLIES Who Help WOMEN Lead Boldly Today, we’ll take a peek into three steps you can take to become an ally.

1. Build Your Self-Awareness

The first and most important step toward being an ally who leads a diverse, high-performing team is to look in the mirror. Be honest with yourself and ask: am I open to examining my own beliefs and behaviors around diversity and inclusion? Am I willing to change one (or more) behaviors in order to help my team excel? 

If you answered yes to both, congratulations: you are coach-able. Being coach-able means you seek self-awareness and realize that your abilities in any area can be developed. 

It also means that you are willing to change your behavior(s) to achieve a better result. In our thought paper, we look more deeply about what it means to be coach-able and how you can make the mental shift to get there.

Remember that stepping into the role of ally is an ongoing process. No matter how much you evolve in this direction, there will always be more to learn, deeper self-reflection to be experienced, and more opportunity for growth. If you feel confused about the “right way forward,” just remember that many others are also consciously stepping into this role for the first time – mistakes will be made. As long as you remain open to feedback and empathetic to others — i.e., as long as you’re coach-able — you will be moving in the right direction.

2. Involve Others in Your Journey

It may be tempting to “go it alone” and figure this out for yourself, but the most effective leaders recruit others on their journey. If you want to have a breakthrough in your ability to be inclusive, don’t do it alone. Ask others for input and feedback, check in with a coach, a trusted colleague, and/or take the opportunity to be authentic and vulnerable with your peers and team. 

In our BOLD leadership program, we coach women and their managers to use “The Two-Way Street” process to identify what is most needed to strengthen their mutual relationship. It is a powerful part of our leadership development program that involves women and their leaders. It can only be successful when both parties — managers and their participants — come to the table in the spirit of being coach-able.

There are three steps to “The Two-Way Street”, and they are laid out in detail in the thought paper. It is a simple process that creates a strong connection with powerful contracting between a leader and his (or her) direct. Remember – allies can be anyone who care about supporting others.

A critical piece of being an ally is identifying areas that you don’t realize are problematic, and including others is the fastest way to pinpoint specific behaviors or attitudes that aren’t serving your goal of creating a high-performing, diverse and inclusive atmosphere. Once you have had “The Two-Way Street” conversation, be sure to create an accountability structure for both people to check in and gauge progress over time.

3. Practice Behaviors of High Performing, Inclusive ALLIES

As the leader, your team members look to you for cues as to what is acceptable behavior and what is not. If you purposefully take on the top behaviors allies embody, you will become a higher performing leader AND your team members will notice and begin living these behaviors, too. The 18 core leadership behaviors are organized into six categories (A-L-L-I-E-S) that leaders actively practice and are detailed in How to be Inclusive, High Performing ALLIES Who Help WOMEN Lead Boldly

  • Advocate
  • Listen
  • Learn
  • Include
  • Enable
  • Sponsor

Leadership starts with you. Addressing behaviors and holding others accountable requires courage, commitment and curiosity from everyone. Demonstrate what it means to take on these behaviors in front of your team members, and acknowledge them when you see them making efforts. This is what it takes to motivate a team to engage in REALTALK (i.e. real, candid and authentic conversations) that allow everyone to feel safe and valued.

In the thought paper, we look closely at each of these behaviors, including examples of each one in practice. If you’re committed to being an ally in your workplace, reviewing the paper is a great place to start. 

Ask Yourself:

  • Am I open to examining my own beliefs and behaviors around diversity and inclusion?
  • Am I willing to change one (or more) behaviors in order to help my team excel? 
  • What is the extent to which I am involving others on my journey?
  • If I were to do one thing, what would make the most difference that would positively impact my ability to be a high performing, inclusive leader?

Each of these areas is a key area of focus and not easy to do alone. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to connect about any of these areas, or to discuss the biggest challenge you are facing today.    

If you’re ready to take it further and explore what it means to be a high-performing, inclusive ally and a BOLD leader who engages with others to be inclusive allies, please contact Gisele Garcia Shelley to explore actions you can take and get more resources to help you move forward powerfully.

Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health. 

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in practice,


*Multiple studies have verified this, including McKinsey’s 2015 “Why Diversity Matters” report which found that public companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in management were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean, and companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. The Credit Suisse Research Institute found in 2012 that “Large-cap companies with at least one woman on the board have outperformed their peer group with no women on the board by 26% over the last six years.” Morgan Stanley released findings from their 2016 study, “Putting Gender Diversity to Work: Better Fundamentals, Less Volatility” that demonstrated companies with high levels of gender diversity have lower volatility and a better return on equity than others ranked low in diversity. These are just three of many studies indicating that diversity pays. 

Please join me and the other wonderful speakers in this lineup! 

My topic is Overcoming Barriers to Women’s Leadership and Unlocking the Power of Diversity for Men and Women and will be released on July 23. There is a wonderful lineup of other speakers discussing Leadership, Diversity, and Women’s Empowerment relevant to both male and female leaders. 

If you are interested in exploring whether we are a good fit to help you and your organization, contact us for a complimentary discovery conversation.

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