An Ally’s Guide to Apologizing in the Workplace in 2024

InHerSight
InHerSight
Published in
8 min readJan 5, 2024

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How to say sorry for interrupting, misgendering, and more

Allyship is top of mind as we head into a new year and continue to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. In order to truly foster inclusivity, members of majority groups in the workplace must actively support and advocate for marginalized groups.

“The goal of an ally should be to encourage, stand beside in solidarity, and offer emotional support to colleagues when they ask for help. Good allies do not question experiences or the emotions involved,” says Sara So, who cofounded The Ally League with Kesha Rodgers to offer action-focused workshops that give participants the resources they need to model inclusive behaviors and practice skills in a supportive environment.

We’re all continuously learning about diversity-related concepts and terminology, which means we might make mistakes when referring to a group of people or pronouncing someone’s name or so on. It’s inevitably part of the process of becoming an ally.

That being said, apologizing-and learning from the experience-is one of the main keys to being a good ally at work. The best leaders are ones who take initiative and are brave enough to talk about uncomfortable topics and who aren’t too proud to own up to their mistakes and grow from them. The good news is that anyone can be that kind of leader. Here, learn how to apologize properly for a variety of diversity-related mistakes in the workplace.

Read more: How to Handle Getting Called Out & Learn from the Mistake

Learn how to properly apologize for a mistake

Making a diversity-related mistake can be anxiety-inducing, frustrating, or embarrassing for everyone involved. When you know you made a mistake, take a moment to acknowledge what you did wrong and why it was wrong. Think carefully about how you should genuinely rectify the situation.

If you’re called out for the mistake, you might need to take a second to reframe your reaction. Keep in mind whoever called you out isn’t aiming to attack your character, they’re intending to bring to light how your actions or words hurt someone else-whether it was intentional or not. Listen without interrupting or getting defensive.

Certified diversity professional Marrietta Harrison says when someone is apologizing, “Taking accountability for the mistake is the first step. The person should verbally acknowledge that they are willing to learn about why the mistake was offensive and how they intend on changing their behavior moving forward.”

DEI leader and certified executive coach Deborah S. Willis says it’s important to include five things in your apology:

  1. Acknowledgement of wrongdoing
  2. Gratitude to the person that provided feedback or called you out
  3. An intent to change and educate yourself
  4. Commitment to fostering an inclusive environment and psychological safety
  5. Specific actions you plan to take

Now, here’s some more specific language you can use after making a diversity-related mistake.

Say this when you misgender someone

Misgendering is the act of referring to someone using words, pronouns, or gender-related terms that don’t align with their gender identity. It can be using incorrect pronouns (e.g., referring to a transgender woman as “he” instead of “she”) or making an assumption about a person’s gender that doesn’t match their self-identified gender (e.g., assuming that a person with long hair or makeup must identify as a woman). As an ally, it’s important to validate everyone’s identity and sense of belonging at work.

If you misgender someone, say something like this:

  • “I just realized I used the incorrect pronoun for you. Please accept my apologies, and I won’t make that mistake again. Your identity matters, and I want to respect it.”
  • “I apologize for using the wrong pronouns when referring to you in that conversation. It was not my intention, but I understand it was hurtful. I’m committed to learning from this mistake and making sure I use the correct pronouns from now on.”
  • “I’m truly sorry for misgendering you during our meeting. It was my mistake, and I’m truly sorry for any discomfort or offense it caused. I will make a conscious effort to ensure I get it right in the future and show the respect you deserve.”

Say this when you speak over or interrupt someone

Interrupting someone at work — even if you’re simply passionate about a subject and sharing your perspective — is disrespectful and dismissive. Taking responsibility for your interrupting is a sign of self-awareness and taking accountability can improve workplace communication overall, ensuring everyone’s opinions are heard and valued.

If you interrupt someone, try apologizing with language like:

  • “I’m really sorry for jumping in earlier and cutting you off. I didn’t mean to interrupt your flow. Can I catch up with you later when you have a moment?”
  • “Apologies for cutting in — I got carried away with my thoughts. When you’re free, I’d love to hear your perspective on the matter.”
  • “My apologies for interrupting your train of thought. Whenever you’re available, I’d like to continue our conversation.”

Say this when you mispronounce someone’s name

Pronouncing someone’s name correctly can make them feel respected, valued, and seen. It’s especially important for marginalized employees who are already subjected to other microaggressions and forms of discrimination based on their identity. When you mispronounce someone’s name, it can make them feel like they don’t belong or their identity or culture doesn’t matter.

In order to apologize, use language along these lines:

  • “I’m really sorry if I mispronounced your name earlier. I want to make sure I get it right. Could you please correct me so I don’t make the same mistake again?”
  • “My sincerest apologies if I didn’t get your name quite right today. It’s important to me to address you properly. Could you help me with the correct pronunciation?”
  • “I realized I might have mispronounced your name in our meeting, and I’m sorry for that. Would you mind guiding me on the correct way to say it? I want to show you the respect your name deserves.”

Read more: What Is Systemic Oppression? Definition, Examples & The Impact on Marginalized Groups

Say this when your joke or comment offends someone

Humor is subjective, and what might be innocuous to one person could be offensive to another. However, there are topics that should never be joked about at work, including someone’s race, gender, physical appearance, family, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and culture. Making a joke at someone else’s expense is always off limits. Regardless of what you said or the intent of it, if someone is hurt or offended by a joke or comment you made, you should apologize.

Here’s what you can say:

  • “I’m genuinely sorry that my comment came across the wrong way and was hurtful. It wasn’t my intention to offend you, and I promise to be more mindful in the future.”
  • “I realize my joke might have missed the mark and caused offense. I sincerely apologize for that. I value our working relationship and will show you more respect going forward.”
  • “I want to apologize if what I said earlier upset you. It wasn’t my intention, and I’m truly sorry if it came across that way. I’ll strive to be more considerate in my interactions in the future.”

Say this when you were silent after witnessing a microaggression

Microaggressions, discriminatory or insensitive comments or actions, are often committed subconsciously, stemming from implicit biases learned and internalized over time. For example, a racist microaggression might sound like, “ Wow, you’re so articulate,” or “ Is that your natural hair? Can I touch it?” Other times, this discriminatory behavior can be more intentional and overt. Because microaggressions are usually directed at marginalized employees, it’s incredibly important for allies to call out this unacceptable behavior.

If you believe you witnessed a microaggression but remained silent at the time, apologize using language like this:

  • “I’m truly sorry for not speaking up when you were mistaken as an intern. I recognize the importance of actively advocating for others. In the future, I’ll make sure to address such situations and offer my support.”
  • “I regret not intervening when Sam asked to touch your hair. It was a mistake, and I apologize. I’ll strive to be more proactive in speaking up for others and creating a safe and supportive environment.”
  • “I didn’t support you when I heard Joshua discussing your English skills, and I’m sorry for not stepping in. I value inclusivity and respect, and I’ll work on being more confident in challenging such behavior to ensure everyone feels respected and heard.”

Read more: How Microaggressions Affect Identity in the Workplace

Say this when you use non-inclusive language

Using inclusive and gender-neutral language is a super simple first step to being an ally and fostering a sense of belonging for BIPOC, non-binary, LGBTQ+ employees. For example, many people resort to using non-inclusive terms like “guys” to address a group in the workplace. Although “guys” may seem like an informal, friendly greeting, it’s male-coded and is not inclusive of people of all genders. Another example might be using the Native American term “powwow” to describe a quick meeting at work.

If you catch yourself using non-inclusive language, try apologizing this way:

  • “I apologize for using ableist terminology earlier. I’m learning and striving to be more inclusive in my communication, so please feel free to correct me going forward if I slip up.”
  • “I realize I unintentionally used non-inclusive language in my presentation today. I’m very sorry for the misstep, and I’ll rephrase my statement for the client to be more inclusive.”
  • “My apologies for using gendered language in the meeting this morning. I’ve started a note with gender-neutral language that we can all use to address everyone in a more inclusive way. Let me know if you’d like me to share it!”

Read more: Gender-Neutral Terms for the Workplace & Beyond

Say this when you exhibit exclusionary behavior

Unintentionally excluding certain groups from important meetings, social gatherings, or decision-making processes can foster feelings of isolation and hinder diversity and inclusion efforts. For example, consistently leaving out employees of a certain demographic from team events or not providing necessary accommodations for employees with disabilities is exclusionary behavior.

If you displayed exclusionary behavior, apologize like this:

  • “I want to acknowledge and apologize for my oversight in recent team meetings. I’ve realized that I haven’t been as inclusive as I should have been in my invitations, and going forward, I’m committed to ensuring that all team members are included in these important discussions.”
  • “I deeply regret not considering the accommodations needed for our team members with disabilities during our recent event. I understand that this exclusionary behavior was not in line with our commitment to inclusivity. Moving forward, I’ll ensure that our events are designed to be accessible to everyone.”
  • “I want to apologize for inadvertently excluding certain groups from our recent decision-making processes. To rectify this, I plan to implement a more structured and inclusive approach, ensuring that all voices are heard and considered in our future discussions.”

About the author

Cara Hutto is the assistant editor at InHerSight. Her writing primarily focuses on workplace rights, job searching, diversity, and allyship, and she holds a bachelor’s degree in media and journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Originally published at https://www.inhersight.com.

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InHerSight
InHerSight

At InHerSight, our mission is to improve the workplace for women by measuring it.