Five Tips to Become an Effective Ally in the Contact Center

In the United States, nearly 300,000 people work as call center agents, and 70 of them are women. Of the total population, about 60 percent are white, 20 percent are Latino, and 11 percent are black, with the industry forecasted to grow even more diverse in the years ahead.

While these figures seem refreshing compared to other industries, it's important to note that the number of women and other marginalized groups in leadership positions is not reflective of the diversity in the agent population overall. As a result, allies—or those who are not members of marginalized or disadvantaged groups but who express or give support to those groups—have become critical to move the industry forward.

As individuals and organizations alike consider advancing allyship, here are five ways to be a more effective ally within the contact center:

1. Don't Solve Problems, Actively Listen.

The best leaders do not answer questions and solve problems; instead, they lead people to build the confidence and skill to do that on their own. The most effective way to do that is through listening.

Every call center agent is different. Each one has been through unique challenges and experiences, which makes listening so critical. Try to understand where they come from and what they are experiencing, especially as it relates to their intersectionality. Try to understand the complexity of the marginality they face now have faced in the past. Try to look at their perspectives based on the marginalized groups to which they belong.

While listening, don't try to solve the problem. Instead, actively listen to assumptions made or unconscious bias faced.

2. Believe and Respect Different Perspectives.

A common issue within contact centers is trust. This lack of trust is due to a few people taking advantage of the system many years ago. This is worth researching, as it creates a unique intersection in allyship.

Allies must believe and trust people who have marginalized experiences. It is human nature to frame situations in our own context, and when those run counter to other individuals, it can suspend belief. Add in the trust factor in a contact center and it makes allyship tremendously difficult.

For example, if an African-American woman feels discrimination, we need to first and foremost believe and trust that from her perspective she was. Allies should not explain it away or offer what might have happened from an unmarginalized perspective. Believe in your people and respect their perspectives.

3. Consistently Do the Homework.

Increasing one's knowledge of marginalized situations and people is a critical step in discovery. By doing homework, we become better allies. It's not the best approach to ask marginalized groups about their experiences with inequality. Instead, gather data, read research, and create space from your knowledge. Then, discussions with your colleagues will be more productive.

Research suggests that white women will reach gender parity with men in the United States in 2059, but data shows that for black women, this date is 2130, and Hispanic women, the date is 2224. Allies should take the time to understand how this impacts women in the industry. For example, this group cannot necessarily apply the lessons taught during coaching sessions led by white males, given the unique challenges this marginalized group experiences. Consistently do the homework to better understand your position as an ally.

4. Recognize Your Privileges

Understanding yourself and your privileges should be part of the process of becoming an ally. Being a great ally means recognizing the opportunities, resources, and power you've been given, while understanding others have been denied such privileges. A white male in the United States might have certain privileges over a female working in Latin America. The bright spot is that, through self-awareness, privilege is a resource that can be deployed for good.

One of the most powerful things allies can do is change and challenge their peer groups. Instead of lifting a group up, think about how, as an ally, you can get out of the way and make space for that group or person. Allowing a person to be who they are and learning to adapt to the diversity around the workplace and society in general is critical for allyship to be successful.

5. See It Happening? Shut It Down.

The last step is perhaps one of the hardest and most uncomfortable aspects of allyship. As an ally, analyze the workplace for racist, sexist, or inappropriate behaviors and then be clear and decisive to shut them down. When witnessing discrimination, don't approach the victim later to offer sympathy; give support in the moment and do not walk away from the matter.

Most importantly, intervene, even if the employee is not in the room, and when doing so, speak for yourself and not for others. Explain why the behavior is offensive and that such comments or actions aren't acceptable. Frame this as a learning experience for the person, the team, and the organization at large.

The best, most impactful allies support and don't degrade. They praise in public and give feedback in private, in a way that the person wants to receive it. They are a constant source of support and provide a voice for those who often go unheard.

Be a great ally. It makes a difference in the satisfaction of call center agents and the overall success of the contact center.

Rick Britt is vice president of artificial intelligence at CallMiner.