Be A Better Ally With These Five Ideas

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

5 bulb lights in Newton’s Cradle position
5 bulb lights in Newton’s Cradle position
Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels

1. Make a stretch opportunity spreadsheet

As Google engineering manager Mekka Okereke recently pointed out,

“Men tend to get the lionshare of stretch opportunities — ‘I believe you can do this new thing!’ Women tend to get lateral opportunities — ‘You did it there, you can do it here!’”

Mekka went on to share a compelling, practical idea to evaluate how you’re assigning stretch projects: Make a spreadsheet with columns for employee’s name, demographics if available (e.g., race, gender), if they have a stretch opportunity for 2020 (yes/no), and a description of that opportunity. Fill it out for each of your team members. Then ask questions. For example, what percentage of your team are women or non-binary? What percentage get stretch opportunities? Ditto for the men.

If you’re not giving these stretch opportunities equally today, what action will you take to be more equitable?

2. Track ideas in meetings

Here’s an approach to combat this all-too-common phenomenon:

In meetings, track whose ideas get acknowledged or built on, versus ignored or appropriated. Then, look for any patterns based on gender, race, sexual orientation, age, and abilities. If you spot a pattern, work to fix it by paying attention to ideas that get repeated and reminding everyone who originated them. For example, “That’s a great idea. Thanks to Jen for surfacing it earlier.”

3. Jot down pronunciation reminders

“Learning to pronounce a colleague’s name correctly is not just a common courtesy but it’s an important effort in creating an inclusive workplace, one that emphasizes psychological safety and belonging.”

Ruchika offers some simple guidance, including asking how to pronounce someone’s name, apologizing if you get it wrong, gently correcting others if they mispronounce, and not giving someone a nickname just because you’re not familiar with their name.

We also love this idea, from software engineer Katy Kahla:

“Saying someone’s name properly is one of the most respectful things you can do. I hate it when I’ve been saying someone’s name wrong and work hard to correct myself. I write pronunciations down for people interviewing so I can review back to it when I am struggling to remember.”

By the way, Katy also uses a custom “Name Pronunciation” field on Slack to help coworkers learn how to say her name: Kat-ee Kay-la.

She’s not the only one. We learned that Monzo added a pronunciation custom field to their Slack profiles and bet that other companies have done so, too. What a great best practice.

4. Offer to write a recommendation

“For faculty looking to support #MinoritiesInSTEM, why not offer to write a recommendation letter instead of waiting to be asked for one?”

She goes on to give credit to a documentary about being allies for underrepresented people of color in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) by journalism professor Kendall Moore. Adding it to our must-watch list.

And while we’re on the subject…

5. Give wholehearted recommendations

Wondering why we’re calling this out? Turns out that in a 2018 study of recommendations for academic positions, researchers found that letters about women included more doubt-raising phrases than those about men, and that even one such phrase can make a difference in a job search. This means that a lukewarm recommendation may be more harmful than no recommendation at all.

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.

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

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