Be a Trusted Sidekick and Other Actions for Allies

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

1. Be a trusted sidekick (and not the hero)

Tech policy professional Corey Ponder penned a beautiful essay on how he learned to be a better ally by failing to be one. The biggest lesson he learned? Being an ally is not about being the hero. By contrast,

“Allyship is the journey of the trusted sidekick.

And that is because sidekicks do three things very well —

They show up for everyday moments.

They are willing to confront ugly truths, especially about themselves.

They use their special abilities to help the protagonist achieve their goals.”

Spot on.

2. Fight racism beyond social media

Author Hannah Drake tweeted: “#WhitePeopleAgainstRacism I get the hashtag. However, please be against racism outside of the safety of social media. Many people ‘amen’ Black people on Twitter but won’t say one word to their racist coworker, spouse, or friends. Fighting racism extends beyond social media.”

Hearing a racist comment and staying quiet doesn’t make us neutral, it makes us complicit.

Does coming forward and objecting feel uncomfortable? For many of us, the answer is a resounding, “Heck yes.” But this discomfort is nothing compared to how it feels for the person whose racial group is being demeaned or joked about.

Here are some open-ended phrases to consider using:
“What makes you feel that way?”
“Why do you say that?”
Or a simple but firm, “We don’t do that here.”

See the website Teaching Tolerance for more actionable suggestions.

3. Use gender-neutral terms

Last week, the city of Berkeley, California passed an ordinance to replace terms in its municipal codes that refer to gender with non gender-specific words. For example, a manhole will become “maintenance hole,” “he” and “she” become “they” and “them,” and “manpower” is now “human effort” or “workforce.”

Let’s face it. “Man” phrases are commonplace in our everyday language. Think “right-hand man,” “a two-man job,” and “man up.” Because we live in a world where gender is a spectrum and professions aren’t limited by gender, we should all strive to use and promote gender-neutral terms. Yet, some “man” phrases don’t have obvious alternatives.

Recently, web developer Tim Myers asked the Twitterverse for a gender-neutral term for “workmanship” or “craftsmanship” to use in a banner image for a client.

To which @EinLi responded: “According to the Bias-Free Word Finder, some synonyms for both ‘workmanship’ and ‘craftsmanship’ are artisanship, artisanry, skilled-craft work, skill, expertise, handicraft, proficiency, expertness, competence.”

We ❤️ the image Tim ended up designing.

4. Leverage tollway pass technology to improve workplace accessibility

In the article, Technology Innovations on Campus Can Open the Door to Accessibility for Individuals with Disabilities, we learned how a community college leveraged technology to meet the needs of a quadriplegic faculty member. Here’s our favorite idea: Use the E-ZPASS technology used on tollways to automatically open doors on campus.

After this technology was installed, the faculty member said it felt unbelievable to be able to go into his office without any assistance. “I was overwhelmed with a sense of empowerment that doing something so simple completely on my own could help me feel so normal,” he said. “I have been a quadriplegic for the last 16 years. Though the thought had not really crossed my mind prior to this experience of true independence, I have basically been asking people for permission to do basic things that everyone takes for granted. Being able to come and go as I please at work has been a thrill for me, and it motivates me when I get up in the morning.”

The authors of the article recommend reaching out and listening to colleagues with disabilities and think about how technology could be leveraged to empower them in their daily work. Words of wisdom for all of us on a journey to be better allies.

(Thanks to Marcia Dority Baker for bringing this article to our attention.)

5. Recommend people from underrepresented groups for stretch assignments

Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup, researchers at the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, found that women and people of color often wind up with worse assignments than their white male counterparts.

To open career doors for people from underrepresented groups, recommend them for career-growing stretch assignments. These challenging or prominent roles can increase their visibility, set them up for promotion, and even help retain them at your company or industry at large.

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

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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