5 Ways to Do Better As an Ally

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

Better Allies®
5 min readJul 10, 2020
Illustration titled Responses to Racist Behavior. There is a spiral notebook page with 4 points. Seek clarity: “Tell me more about __.” Offer an alternative perspective: “Have you ever considered __.” Speak your truth: “I don’t see it the way you do. I see it as __.” Find common ground: “We don’t agree on __ but we can agree on __.” The page has the National Museum of African American History & Culture. In the lower corners are the better allies logo and a red bubble with betterallies.com
Phrases from the “Being Antiracist” resource on The National Museum of African American History & Culture website

1. Memorize a phrase to respond to racist behavior

I’m working through Layla Saad’s Me And White Supremacy with some of my closest friends. In our discussions, many of us have admitted that we don’t do enough when we hear racist comments. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have the energy to push back. Or we don’t want to cause tension at a family gathering. Or we don’t know what to say.

Regardless of our excuses, we want to do better.

To be prepared to respond to the next conversation where I encounter racism, I’m memorizing some of these phrases from Being Antiracist from The National Museum of African American History & Culture:

  • Seek clarity: “Tell me more about __________.”
  • Offer an alternative perspective: “Have you ever considered __________.”
  • Speak your truth: “I don’t see it the way you do. I see it as __________.”
  • Find common ground: “We don’t agree on __________ but we can agree on __________.”
  • Give yourself the time and space you need: “Could we revisit the conversation about __________ tomorrow.”
  • Set boundaries. “Please do not say __________ again to me or around me.

Which phrase will you use to combat racism?

2. Hold an inclusive language hackathon

While I’ve addressed the topic of language in past newsletters, I’ve got some new insight to share.

Imagine receiving an email about restarting a computer process with the subject line, “automatic slave rekick.” Now imagine how a Black engineer might feel. Regynald Augustin, a programmer at Twitter, shared in an interview with CNET that he “was used to seeing the term ‘slave’ in technical contexts. ‘But with ‘rekick’ — I was madder than I ever thought I’d be in the workplace.”

That subject line catalyzed an initiative at Twitter to replace offensive terms. Not only racist terms but also ones that are linked to other forms of discrimination based on sex, age, and abilities. You can see the list here.

Then there are sports team mascots like the Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Braves. As Fortune journalist Ellen McGirt tweeted,

“Tons of research shows that racist mascots are truly harmful — and hundreds remain across the US. If the Washington team changes their name, it would do a lot of good”

Her tweet made me think about project code names, conference room names, and server names. Could racial mascots be in play across workplaces?

So, here’s an idea to find and replace mascots and language that aren’t in keeping with your organization’s values: Organize an internal “inclusive naming hackathon.” Tech company Delphix held one on Juneteenth to update their code base and documentation. I love it.

3. Record how to pronounce your name

I tend to mispronounce names that I’m not familiar with. While this may not seem like a big deal, it can be one more reminder to someone that they are different from the norm. It might make someone feel they don’t belong, or that they’re less important than others in a meeting. I know it’s important to get it right, but some names are hard for me.

For years now, every time I met someone who worked at LinkedIn, I told them about my dream feature: Allow users to record their names so others can hear how to pronounce them. This would be a game-changer for me. I could listen to someone’s name before meeting them or as a follow-up to a conversation so I could get it right the next time. (In my pitch, I also mentioned that it would increase page views and usage of the platform. This feature would be good for business!)

Imagine how thrilled I was when I read that LinkedIn is rolling out this exact feature. Fantastic! Here’s the LinkedIn Help page with details on how to record your name. (Available only on their iOS and Android apps for now. It’s being rolled out to all members in a phased approach, so you may or may not have access to it yet.)

Even if you think your name is easy to say, take the time to record your pronunciation. There may be people who aren’t familiar with your name and will want to address you correctly. Plus, doing so can normalize using this profile feature.

By the way, here’s one more resource for those of us who struggle with saying unfamiliar names: pronouncenames.com. It’s a crowd-sourced site with loads of pronunciations. Check it out.

4. Ask where your company keeps its cash on hand

Successful companies have cash on hand. Often a lot of it. For example, my former employer, Adobe, reported over US $4.3 billion cash on hand for the quarter that ended May 31, 2020. If you work for a public company, you can easily find this number from fiscal earnings reports.

As you might expect, this cash is typically in short-term, liquid investments and holding accounts. Companies make choices about where to invest or save their cash on hand.

Now, here’s the connection between cash on hand and allyship.

Last week, Netflix announced plans to put 2% of its cash on hand, or around $5 billion, to financial institutions that serve Black communities. Their press release explained why:

“We believe bringing more capital to these communities can make a meaningful difference for the people and businesses in them, helping more families buy their first home or save for college, and more small businesses get started or grow.”

They also encouraged other businesses to do the same.

At your next all-hands meeting, consider asking where your company keeps its cash on hand and if it could move some to financial institutions serving Black communities. Like Netflix.

5. Capitalize the “b” in Black

The Associated Press recently updated its style guide to capitalize the “b” in Black when referring to race, ethnicity, or culture. As explained on their blog, the change is to “align with long-standing capitalization of other racial and ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American and Native American.”

Hundreds of other newsrooms have also done so.

While we may not work in a newsroom, many of us write every day. Think emails, Slack messages, blogs, and social media posts. When we refer to Black people or culture, let’s be sure to capitalize the “b” in Black.

That’s all for this week. I wish you strength and safety as we all move forward,

— Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies

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Better Allies®

Everyday actions to create more inclusive, engaging workplaces: the Better Allies® approach from Karen Catlin.