About the “P” Word, and Other Actions for Allies

Each week, we share five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

1. Examine your privilege

In the US, February is Black History Month: a celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of black people in our history.

We think it’s also a time to discuss the “P” word. Privilege.

At its core, privilege is a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group. Due to our race, class, gender, sexual orientation, language, geographical location, ability, religion, and more, all of us have greater or lesser access to resources and social power.

Then there’s intersectionality. When someone is a member of more than one marginalized group, they live in an intersection of overlapping and compounded oppression. In other words, they experience drastically reduced privilege.

Here’s the thing: Privilege is often invisible to those who have it. This means that people can get defensive when someone mentions their privilege. Having one’s privilege pointed out might feel like the equivalent of being told that one is lazy or lucky — or that one’s life has been easy. Many people are quick to respond that they’ve had their fair share of difficulties in getting where they are today.

But doing this means forgetting that privilege is simply a system of advantages granted to all people in a given group.

Now for the hard part: Take a moment to examine your own privilege, and reflect on the benefits or obstacles you face at work. Using this list of 50 Potential Privileges in the Workplace, quiz yourself by measuring how your privilege compares to your coworkers.

We have a feeling it will be eye-opening.

(Credits go to Kimberlé Crenshaw for coining the term “intersectionality” in her 1989 essay “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.”)

2. Steer clear of these phrases

Speaking of Black History Month, here’s another idea. Stay away from these 5 Phrases Your Black Friend Wishes You’d Stop Saying. In this post, Ajah Hales offers a short but crucial list of phrases for white people to not say to their black friends and coworkers.

“You’re so strong!”
“You’re so articulate!”
“I wish I could wear/get away with/style my hair like that.”
“You’re not really Black.”
“I can’t believe it.”

Check out the full article to understand why you should avoid these phrases.

3. Don’t purchase unnecessarily gendered products

Buzzfeed recently reported on a Twitter thread of “unnecessarily gendered products.” It included a boy’s bible, a cleaning trolley playset marked for “girls only,” and a restaurant menu with entrees “for her” and “for him.” Our favorite has to be the dude wipes. Just kidding.

We’ve got a few issues with these products. First up: Gender isn’t binary. Secondly, these products are appropriate for all genders.

Folks, we can take a stand against gendered advertising by saying no with our wallets.

4. Avoid biased language in job descriptions

This may seem obvious and straightforward, yet biased language can easily creep into job postings. Words such as “guy,” “craftsman,” “he/him/his,” and “right-hand man” may seem innocuous, but are actually exclusionary. Using other masculine-coded words like “aggressive,” “competitive,” and “individual” can deter women from applying.

To show you what this might look like, here’s a job description from the Tech Companies That Only Hire Men blog, edited to be less biased:

Original: Entrepreneurial Minded Small Business seeks “Fireman” Operations Associate. Aggressive, assertive, “get stuff done”/“take charge” type personality sought for a position of operations manager and assistant to Chief Operating Officer of technology company.

After editing: Entrepreneurial Minded Small Business seeks Operations Associate. Organized, motivated person sought for a position of operations manager and assistant to Chief Operating Officer of technology company.

You can use an automated tool to find instances of gendered or otherwise biased language, or get help from a keen-eyed editor.

(If you have a favorite tool for flagging gendered language, please let us know by commenting below or Tweeting about it with the hashtag #BetterAllies.)

5. Also, avoid sports terminology in job postings

To cast a wider net when recruiting employees, avoid sports terminology in your job descriptions. After all, not everyone grew up playing or watching the sports you might think are mainstream. Reading a job posting with baseball, basketball, or US football phrases, for example, can be a turn-off or just confusing to someone not familiar with them. Here are some examples:

“Seeking a quarterback to join our sales group.”
“This role is for someone who can step up to the plate and hit it out of the park.”
“The ideal candidate has a track record of entrepreneurial home runs.”

(For more tips on being inclusive in the hiring process, check out Karen’s new book, The Better Allies™ Approach to Hiring.)

Being an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

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✉️ This content originally appeared in our newsletter, 5 Ally Actions; Subscribe to get it delivered to your inbox every Friday

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Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies™ approach.

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

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