Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

neon orange numbers, overlapping, on black background, with the number 5 the brightest
neon orange numbers, overlapping, on black background, with the number 5 the brightest
Photo by ANIRUDH on Unsplash

This week’s newsletter is somewhat different from the norm. Instead of five everyday actions to take to be better allies, I decided to write about five things not to do. The news has been full of these cautionary tales, and I wanted to share them with all of you.

1. Don’t talk over someone

I’m starting this week’s newsletter with something I shouldn’t have to explain. Don’t talk over a person when someone directly asks them a question. Sadly, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did precisely this last week. Here’s what happened.

A reporter asked a member of Parliament, Anne Ruston, about the government’s culture for women. Just as she started to answer, the PM cut her off and made it all about himself, emphasizing how seriously he treats the issue of sexual misconduct. If you haven’t already watched this viral clip, you’re missing out on a master class in what not to do. …


Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Person sitting on quote bubble, with other quote bubbles floating nearby
Person sitting on quote bubble, with other quote bubbles floating nearby
Illustration by Katerina Limpitsouni of unDraw

1. Turn on automatic captioning

In an article for Fast Company, product designer Quinn Keast shared his experience participating in video calls as a deaf person. Lip reading doesn’t work well over video, so he relies on automatic captioning. However, this also has its challenges due to time lags or dropped words.

To better understand the experience of someone relying on captions, his VP suggested their team all join a video meeting without audio. What was fascinating to Quinn is how their interactions changed during the call.

“The rhythm of conversation changed, from tentative, short sentences, to longer, well-thought-through blocks of thought. We discovered how difficult it was to go back and forth between speakers without the benefit of sound, and how important it was to give each other conversational space to join in. …


Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

drawing of person sitting cross-legged, working on a laptop
drawing of person sitting cross-legged, working on a laptop
Illustration by Katerina Limpitsouni of unDraw

1. Focus on what you can control

I often recommend a simple framework to my coaching clients: Focus on what you can control and acknowledge what you can’t.

At the start of the pandemic, I worked with a leader struggling to support her team while navigating how the situation impacted her personally. She didn’t have all the answers, and she felt she was letting her team down. As a result, she wanted to run away and hide.

This simple framework became her go-to tool for handling the uncertainty of the times. For example, while she couldn’t change the fact that they had to work from home, she could look into securing some budget for home office furniture. By focusing on what she could control and acknowledging what she couldn’t, this leader went from wanting to avoid her team to holding listening sessions and showing up as the leader they needed. …


Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Illustration of 2 hands holding DO and DON’T cards, with suggestions of what to say and not say when complimenting.
Illustration of 2 hands holding DO and DON’T cards, with suggestions of what to say and not say when complimenting.

1. Compliment with context

Last week, Lacey Wilson of Nutanix interviewed me in a fireside chat for their employees. We covered a range of topics, including privilege, the mindset of being an “ally in training,” and specific scenarios of how to take action as an ally. One of them was especially insightful and helped me crystallize how I want to show up. With Lacey’s permission, I’m sharing it with all of you.

Here’s the scenario Lacey posed: “I overheard someone saying to a Black person: ‘You were so articulate in that meeting just now.’ How might an ally respond?”

I went on to explain that, while they most likely thought they were paying a compliment, many Black people don’t take it as one. Here’s why: There’s an underlying assumption that they couldn’t possibly be well-educated, well-spoken, or articulate. It’s a lousy stereotype. …


Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

looking up at a USA flag on a flag pole, flying on a cloudy day
looking up at a USA flag on a flag pole, flying on a cloudy day
Photo by Dave Sherrill on Unsplash

1. Prepare to support coworkers after the US election

I speak with potential clients almost daily, and last week, someone asked for my thoughts about how to be a better ally after the upcoming US election on November 3. Given how divided our country is over this election, there’s a good chance there will be division in our workplaces once the results are announced.

We discussed a few ideas for how to be an ally. Consider pushing out work deadlines because people will most likely be distracted. Make space for people to talk about their feelings. …


Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Illustration of a person presenting a slide with the 5 tips in this article. People in meeting are clapping their hands.
Illustration of a person presenting a slide with the 5 tips in this article. People in meeting are clapping their hands.

1. Avoid phrases that diminish or disparage Indigenous people

On Monday, the US celebrated a federal holiday that’s a bit controversial. The original holiday was declared “Columbus Day,” in honor of the European explorer who landed on the shores of our country in 1492. However, many universities, cities, and states have moved to celebrate “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” a holiday that celebrates the history and contributions of Native Americans — rather than Columbus. (Interestingly, both holidays appeared on my Google calendar.)

Unfortunately, there are all too many sayings that diminish or disparage the culture of Indigenous peoples. …


Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Person holding umbrella over child in a field on a stormy day
Person holding umbrella over child in a field on a stormy day
Photo by J W on Unsplash

Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford’s VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and co-author of the new 2020 Women in the Workplace Report, wrote a chilling-yet-not-surprising article, Mothers’ Careers Are at Extraordinary Risk Right Now. The subtitle says it all, “The conditions of teleworking combined with increased child-care demands are a perfect storm for bias against working mothers.”

On the same day that I read Dr. Cooper’s article, I saw data from the US Department of Labor showing that 80% of the 1.1 million workers who dropped out of the workforce during September were women. That’s 865,000 women compared to 216,000 men. …


Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

1. Avoid digital Blackface

The University of Illinois Social Media Accessibility & Inclusivity Guide defines digital Blackface as non-Black people using technology to “try out” Black identities online. For example, excessive use of dark-skinned emojis or GIFs featuring Black people.

They recommend watching this brief BBC video to understand the term and its historical origins. Believe me, it’s worth your time. (Content Warning: The video contains historical footage of Blackface minstrel shows.)

The guide goes on to explain:

“The easiest way to avoid digital Blackface is to learn more about it and make sure that Black people are widely represented in a variety of roles in your social media posts. It’s not about not showing Black images, it’s about being mindful of the way Black people (and all marginalized people for that matter) are represented by your organization and ensuring that you are not furthering harmful, stereotypical representations of any group of people.” …


Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

1. Ask coworkers about gender inequality

Soon after the death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, my social channels filled with stories of the impact she had on gender equality…for men and women. I bet yours did, too. Here are just a few examples. A woman’s right to secure a mortgage or have a credit card without a man. A widower’s right to receive Social Security benefits from his late wife. A military husband’s right to be his wife’s dependent. The list goes on.

While Justice Ginsberg’s position allowed her to impact the highest level of the US judicial system, I’m wondering how each of us, working for organizations around the world, might have an impact on our ecosystems. What gender inequalities exist in our employee benefits, for men, women, and non-binary people? In our product or content offerings? In our pricing structure for consumer goods? …


Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Person in brown jacket, holding hands up and away from their body in a stop, block motion
Person in brown jacket, holding hands up and away from their body in a stop, block motion
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash1

1. Know when to call out bias, even in public

Early in my career, I learned to “criticize in private, praise in public.” That said, there are times when I need to let someone know in the moment that their words or actions are unacceptable, regardless of whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or in a group setting. I have a feeling I’ll be doing more of this as part of my personal goal to be anti-racist.

Most recently, this happened when I was enjoying a socially-distanced outdoor dinner with some friends. At one point, someone said something racist, and I simply couldn’t let the conversation continue. I called them out. …

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Better Allies®

Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces. Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies® approach.

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