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Allyship - a female gender representation perspective

In this post, we explore allyship from a perspective of female gender representation. However, allyship has the potential to positively impact all marginalised groups and we recommend challenging yourself to consider how you can become an ally for all diversity and inclusion.


According to a recent survey, women only comprise around a quarter of the workforce within the automotive industry.1 There is low visibility of women in manufacturing and engineering roles and a significantly low representation of women in executive positions (with women comprising fewer than 10% of board positions). This under-representation leads to challenges such as: lack of female role models; lack of encouragement and support of women within the company culture; limited flexibility of female career trajectories; a gender pay gap; and even the absence of research on female anatomy considerations when designing vehicle safety features.

To combat these statistics and encourage better gender representation within the automotive industry, it is vital for all individuals within automotive to become active allies of women and other under-represented groups.

To become an ally, you must first understand your own privilege and bias. By addressing your bias, and encouraging others around you to do the same, you can limit the number of micro-aggressions used within the workplace that make women uncomfortable. By utilising your privilege to influence positive change, you can amplify the voices of those less privileged than yourself – thus, becoming an ally. Allyship is a journey that may be uncomfortable but is required to positively shape workplace experiences and encourage a positive corporate culture for women.

What is Privilege?

Privilege occurs when an individual has access to advantages based on their race, gender, religion, sexuality or other social group. Therefore, people with privilege often enjoy benefits that they have not earned and that are not available to other groups.

This privilege often has an influence on various spheres of our lives including education, experiences in the workplace and relationships. Recognising inequality and privilege is not about feeling guilty, but about using this position to create change – such as, becoming an active ally.

When looking at privilege, it is important to consider intersectionality. Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. Due to intersectionality, there are various levels of privilege that must be addressed. For example, a black man may be more privileged than a black woman but is still less privileged than a white man.

Those in a position of privilege, often have the ability to influence, and should actively use their privilege to support others and encourage the voices of others (who may not have such privilege) to be heard.This may be as simple as, a male in a meeting addressing the fact a woman has been talked over. The male may use his privilege to re-direct attention to the woman in that scenario.

What is Bias?

Bias refers to a tendency or natural inclination of people to be in favour or against someone, often because of certain stereotypes, rather than actual knowledge of a person. Such bias can negatively impact personal and professional relationships.

Every person has bias but recognising and becoming aware of what biases we might have, is the first step in fighting them. On average, people are faced with 11 billion pieces of information at any moment, which can be incredibly challenging to process at one time - so our brains often take shortcuts.2 As a result, these shortcuts often affect our perceptions – how we see things; our attitudes – how we react; our behaviours – how receptive we are and what kind of things we pay attention to.

Paying close attention to our reactions and attitudes is one of the best ways to explore what biases we might have. Furthermore, discussing these reactions with people who you can trust can be a productive way to become self-aware. There are various resources on the topic that can be extremely useful, for example, the Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test.

A common symptom of bias is microaggressions. These can be subtle comments and/or actions that are made and make a person uncomfortable. Being an active ally means preventing these microaggressions or spotting and addressing them from others.

Anything that makes a person feel uneasy is considered a microaggression. At a workplace, this might be describing the same type of behaviour by a man and a woman differently. An example of a micro-aggression may be a situation where a man is perceived as an “engaged leader”, but a woman is described as “bossy” for the same attribute. By exploring resources online, such as this article by The Way Women Work, you can become aware of micro-aggressions that women commonly face.

Unfortunately, it is quite common for women to experience microaggressions in the workplace. If this occurs to you or someone that you know, it is recommended to calmly explain how a certain phrase or behaviour made you feel. If you find it uncomfortable to speak up, there are various points of contacts that you can reach out to, both within your organisation, such as HR, and outside of your workplace, such as The Way Women Work Team. There is a wide range of free resources that are available online, where you can find advice on how to approach tricky situations, foster inclusive culture, and make sure your actions encourage positive change. The Inclusive Network can be a good place to start.

What is allyship?

Both bias and microaggressions can disproportionately affect people not belonging to certain privilege groups, including women in the workplace. Allies can become a significant force of change to prompt a cultural shift in an organisation and even the whole industry.

An ally is someone who uses their power and privilege to advocate for people with marginalised identities. A marginalised identity can be anyone who feels or is, “underserved, disregarded, ostracized, harassed, persecuted, or side-lined in the community.” Possible groups include, but are not limited to, women, people within the LGBTQ+ community, and people of colour.

Continuous education and the use of knowledgeable resources will provide guidance and information on how to identify our personal tendencies and stereotypes. Consequently, to be an active ally, you need to implement what you have learned into practice. This might mean a whole variety of things, but you can start by having more honest and open conversations, speaking up in difficult situations and amplifying the voices of others.

At first, it might not be easy to become aware of our own biases and confront our beliefs, because we are not used to doing this. But it is worth remembering, that being an ally is a constant journey. We should always be on the lookout for new opportunities to learn, listen, speak up and act – even if it seems uncomfortable.

Learning and transforming the work culture can feel like an ambiguous task. However, it is important to make sure that everybody in your environment feels safe and respected. It is widely recognised that diverse teams with equitable members are the higher performing ones, who bring a wide range of ideas to the table. In some cases, it might take just one ally to make women feel more comfortable in a workplace and encourage other employees to be more aware and speak out – changing the whole culture of an organisation over time.


To be an active ally, it is important to understand the privilege that you have been granted, and the biases that you have. You may have a level of privilege (due to your race, gender, religion, sexuality or other social group) that grants you an unfair advantage or benefit against others. It is crucial to be aware of this privilege and use it to speak up and amplify the voices of others. This allyship can prompt others to do the same and eventually foster a positive work culture.

As well as knowing and addressing your own privilege, you must also know and address your biases. Everyone is prone to bias but, the good news is, these biases can be fought. By exploring a range of resources such as those mentioned above, you can identify the type of bias that you are prone to having and then try to actively avoid falling victim to such inclinations in your judgements and behaviours. By actively avoiding using microaggressions, and by calling those out those who do, you will actively be an ally who is supporting positive change.

To actively use your powerful voice to amplify others, it is essential to always listen, learn, discuss and then to re-learn. Think about the world you want to live in and use your privilege to facilitate the change. Do not be afraid to make a mistake – learn from them!

Women at the Wheel is a Deloitte community, headed by Sarah Noble, that is committed to driving gender diversity, equity and inclusion in the next generation of automotive industry leaders. Women at the Wheel are committed to creating active allies within the automotive industry and to educating its members on the different challenges that intersections of women face in the workplace. If you are interested in joining the community, please sign up via this link to receive the monthly newsletter and be notified of upcoming events.



Deloitte United Kingdom. 2020. 2020 Women in Automotive Industry Study. [online] Available at: <> 2020. Understanding Unconscious Bias. [online] Available at: <>