Being an Ally When People Don’t Look The Part or Have Other Visible (or Invisible) Differences

5 Ally Actions | Dec 14, 2018

Photo of woman of color looking surprised. By RawPixel via Pexels.

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

1. Be wary of unconscious demotions when people don’t “look the part”

This week brought us another reminder that unconscious demotions are real, especially for people of color. The New York Times interviewed about a dozen professionals of color who shared some disturbing stories. Like how others assumed that they were part of the help. Or that they weren’t qualified to treat patients. Or that they should be patted down when entering a courthouse (when white colleagues weren’t).

Folks, let’s pay attention to times we might think someone doesn’t “look the part.” And not give them an unconscious demotion.*

*Credit to Dr. Suzanne Wertheim who coined this term.

2. Check in with underrepresented employees to help combat their concerns of overspending social capital

Lawyer and disabilities rights activist Liz Allen wrote about navigating her career with an invisible disability. It’s an excellent article, and we recommend you read it in full to understand how to be a better ally for people with disabilities.

We especially appreciate one concern she shared about overspending social capital — “I found it difficult to then ask for things like a raise, because I felt like I had already asked for so much.”

And this concern is not limited to people with disabilities. Anyone from an underrepresented group could feel this way. That they’ve already gotten so much support to land their current role or score a dream assignment, and they don’t want to ask for anything else.

Allies, to help combat this concern, let’s check in with employees from marginalized groups to ask if there’s anything they need to be more successful. To have a bigger impact on their current project or on the business at large. And identify how we can be a better ally.

3. Understand size bias is real

A recent LinkedIn study found over half (56%) of employers surveyed said they believe they’re missing out on talent due to discrimination against people because of their weight.

As Kristen Pressner tweeted, “Great #FlipItToTestIt” opportunity. In other words, when deciding to pass on a candidate who is heavy, ask yourself, “Would I make the same decision if they were thin?” You could discover you’re acting in a biased way.

4. Consider candidates even if they have career gaps

Returnship programs are basically internships for people who have taken a prolonged period of time off work mid-career — most often women. As the Financial Times reported, returnships have been effective for tech companies “grappling with gender diversity issues and seeking to unearth much-needed talent.”

Even if your company doesn’t have a returnship program, you can still tap into this pool of talent by not discounting resumes with mid-career gaps. Instead, think about the training you might provide them on some new technology to address a business need. And heartily welcome them back to the workforce.

5. Give constructive feedback to people who are different from you (without holding back)

We’re thrilled to bring you another interview with our founder, Karen Catlin, about her upcoming book, Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces.

In this video, Karen shares how to give performance feedback equitably (along with many other best practices for allies). Did you know we might hold back from giving constructive feedback to people who are different than us? For example, men might not give tough feedback to women because it might come across as being sexist. Or white people might hold back from giving feedback to people of color because it might be perceived as racist.

Employees deserve feedback to grow and develop. Let’s make sure we’re not holding back.

Photo of Karen Catlin and Poornima Vijashanker, with text, ‘3 Simple Everyday Actions You Can Do To Be A Better Ally & Create An Inclusive Workplace.’

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

Together, we can — and will — make a difference.

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

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