Note: This article was updated June 6, 2020.

Terms like “glass ceiling” and “boy’s club” — monikers representing academic and professional barriers that prevent advancement — are slowly being replaced with “diversity and inclusion” (D&I) and a focus on retention, support, and increased visibility of minority participants.

But in some instances, D&I programs fall short. A four-year study focusing on women of all ethnicities  found that efforts to “promote and maintain” women into senior scientific roles are “largely inadequate.”

VIDEO: What is an ally?

Part of the problem is that institutions haven’t sufficiently rolled-out policies supporting the development of women’s careers in STEM.

Data suggests supporting all minority groups — including people of colour, white women, individuals with disabilities, and those from the LGBTQ+ community — isn’t just good from a moral standpoint. It also can help a company’s bottom line, allow employers and schools to develop untapped talent, and give institutions a competitive edge.

So why are some D&I programs missing the mark?

One issue is that some institutions fail to recognize the difference between “diversity” and “inclusion.”

While “diversity” refers to the differences within a group — in this case, a group of people — “inclusion” is the practice of making all voices feel welcome.

But that’s easier said than done, because studies suggest many of us possess biases we aren’t even aware about.

Training workers to be allies for underrepresented groups can help with inclusion — but it can be complicated. 

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Studies show that every individual, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, possesses some degree of unconscious bias. Being an ally is a growth exercise and may require an individual to confront, accept, and move past biases they may not even realize they have.

RELATED: ‘Death by a thousand cuts’: Real-life examples of microaggressions

What is an ally?

An ally is a person who challenges stereotypes while advocating for marginalized and/or vulnerable groups. 

It is not the responsibility of a minority group to educate others on what is or is not offensive but that task often falls on the most marginalized people in the room, according to Alberta Health Services. This can be both mentally and physically exhausting.

The role of an ally is to help amplify the experiences of people who are often disregarded.

How to become an ally

Here are some tips on how to become an ally, courtesy of Alberta Health Services:

  • Listen, listen, and listen some more.
  • Don’t make assumptions. If you aren’t sure how to help, ask.
  • When you learn something is insensitive or offensive, stop saying or doing it. If you witness that behaviour from others, call it out.
  • If you are in a position of privilege, acknowledge it and use it to help colleagues who may not have enjoyed the same advantages.
  • Do not speak for others and do not grandstand. Authentic allyship is humble and sincere.

As an ally, understand that inclusion is a sensitive subject and you will likely make missteps. That doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for the role. Understand that becoming an ally is a process and you will continually be learning new things.

VIDEO: The difference between diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality