Creating Conversational Speed Bumps, and Other Actions for Allies

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

Image for post
Image for post
Photo of a speed bump in the road, by Atomity via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

1. Create “conversational speed bumps”

Imagine you’ve just heard someone making an oppressive comment. Maybe you’re offended personally, maybe not. Regardless, imagine you want to speak up, but the balance of power is not in your favor. For example, if the other person is a client. Or a senior leader. Or the alpha person in the room.

Dear Ally Skills Teacher addressed this question in their latest advice column. They recommended embracing “polite incomprehension” and creating the equivalent of speed bumps in the conversation. For example,

  • “Sorry, my sound dropped out for a second there, but the gist of what you are saying is [repeat without the oppressive comment], right?”
  • “I’m a little confused, but what I think you are saying is [topic minus the oppressive comment].”
  • “I’m afraid I don’t get the joke. Moving on…”
  • “I think I’ve lost the thread of the conversation. What about [topic]?”
  • “I didn’t quite catch that, but what I understood was [topic] and here’s my thoughts…”
  • [Slightly too long of a silence after someone makes an oppressive comment and then asks you to speak] “… So, back to what we were talking about…”

Read the full post for more ideas for how to speak up against oppressive comments.

2. Scrub “generous” from descriptions of parental leave

In It’s time to stop referring to maternity leave as “generous,” we learned about the disparity between maternity benefits given here in the U.S. and those of other countries. And how the word “generous” should not be used to describe most of these offerings, especially those that fall short of the International Labor Organization’s guideline — 14 weeks of leave at no less than two-thirds pay.

You know what else? The adjective “generous” makes it sound like the employer is expecting kindness karma points for offering it … because it’s not actually necessary.

Does your company offer parental leave? Check how it’s described on your careers page. If you see the word “generous,” put in a request to change it to instead just state the facts.

3. Invite someone from an underrepresented group to a key meeting

Think about important events you’re invited to. Perhaps it’s to grab a drink after work with an executive who’s visiting from out-of-town. Or to meet and greet a luminary who’s speaking at your company. Or attend a demo of a new technology.

Why not ask the organizer if you can bring along a colleague. If you get the green light, invite someone from an underrepresented group. Doing so can help them break into networks of influence and be more visible. Both of which can lead to career growth.

4. Don’t penalize women or people of color for being angry at work

Consider how Serena Williams was treated at the 2018 U.S. Open finals, where she was penalized for expressing her frustration on the court. Multiple male tennis players came forward to say they’d said and done much worse during their matches and never been criticized.

Furthermore, as explored in How women and minorities are claiming their right to rage, men who display anger at work gain influence, whereas their female peers lose influence.

If you find yourself negatively evaluating a woman or person of color for displaying anger at work, perform the “flip it to test it” approach. Would you think the same thing if a white man had expressed those emotions?

5. Enter the Better Allies™ Goodreads Giveaway

Image for post
Image for post
Photo of the book “Better Allies”

Level up your ally skills by reading Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces. And, if you’re in the U.S., you can enter to win a free Kindle version on Goodreads.

This giveaway ends on June 3, 2019, at which point 10 people will be randomly selected to receive a free copy.

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.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store