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Beyond Bystanders: 3 Steps to Be a Better Upstander & Ally

I had the privilege to speak with Dr. Ho Kwan Cheung for an episode of our livestream video series, Better Humans @ Work (BH@W).


Ho Kwan is an assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Calgary, and her research focuses broadly on workplace diversity and discrimination issues. In addition to her research and teaching roles, she also works as a Human Resources expert witness for employment discrimination and harassment lawsuits.


We had a great conversation about what it means to move beyond being a bystander to being an upstander and an ally. Watch the episode below to hear more about what you can do today to stand up rather than stand by:



Below are some of the key themes of our episode:


1. We all hold a multitude of privileges and disadvantages

Often, individuals may feel that they are either not in need of allyship or not in a position to be an ally based on some aspect of their identity. An upstander, however, is aware of where they stand relative to the rest of society. This awareness is intersectional in that we hold a multitude of privileges of disadvantages. Therefore, upstanders understand that it is our responsibility as a member of society to uplift other people.


2. Allyship is fluid and intersectional

Upstanders also understand that allyship is fluid and intersectional. Our role is likely to change based on the context we are in and the identities that hold privilege in that setting. We all have opportunities to be allies and it is up to us to critically assess the environments we are in to determine who has the power and who is being marginalized in some way.


3. There are both ‘big A’ and ‘little a’ allyship and both are important

Being an upstander does not have to be a giant gesture. It is important to know that ‘little a’ allyship, or small everyday acts can have important and meaningful impacts. We often think of allyship in terms of ‘big A’ allyship, or large actions that stir the pot. While these actions are important, both ‘little a’ and ‘big A’ actions are needed to make a difference.


Steps to Become an Upstander
  1. Look inside yourself and understand what you have

    1. Understand your own multitude of privileges and disadvantages

    2. Self-reflect to know when you should leverage privileges and where you need support

  2. Start with ‘little a’

    1. Don't think of allyship as a momentous declaration of your stance

    2. Start with small actions and as you get more invested, other actions will come a little easier

  3. Accept allyship when you need it

    1. Accept the allyship, knowing it is a fluid, reciprocal process

    2. Foster the culture and habit of being allies for each other

    3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable


Looking to step up your allyship game? Contact Mattingly Solutions today to learn how we can partner to advance your DEI goals. Together.




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