The Better Allies™ Approach for Creating More Inclusive Online Communities

Graphic titled “Game Plan for Better Allies: Be welcoming to all” with thought bubbles saying “Share best practices for navigating your community”, “Support newcomers who make rookie mistakes” and “Offer to review newcomers’ patches before submission to improve changes of being accepted.”

1. Share the best way to navigate your online community

In Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, Brad Johnson and David Smith wrote about how students at the US Naval Academy rely on their upper-class mentors to pass along “the gouge” — salient tips for surviving, thriving, and avoiding big trouble. Mentors aren’t just there to build confidence in their mentees; they can help prepare them for new challenges by sharing their own experiences and wisdom.

Which begs the questions…When people join your community, do you share best practices for navigating it? Are members of underrepresented groups receiving the equivalent of “the gouge?”

2. Clarify the experience needed for roles in your community

Research by both McKinsey and the Catalyst Group found that “men get promoted based on potential and women get promoted based on performance.” This means that women are stuck on a treadmill, constantly proving and reproving that they’re worthy of responsibility and capable of leadership.

It’s even got a name: “Prove It Again” bias.

Think about how this bias might show up in your community. Do members drop vague references to women having to prove themselves before being given responsibility? When filling leadership roles, do male organizers favor other men because their gut tells them they’ll do a good job?

Here’s one approach to combat “Prove It Again” bias: Clarify the experience needed for various roles in your community. And objectively evaluate members who could fill them.

3. Create a “Language Matters” discussion area

Every industry has its lingo, and some of these words and phrases could be less than inclusive or outright harmful. In tech, examples include “master/slave” to describe storage backup systems and “whitelist/blacklist” to filter items in algorithms. Despite their racist undertones, these terms are industry-standard and almost universally accepted.

While it can be challenging to steer colleagues away from jargon and terms that have been widely used in their fields for decades, think about how you can eradicate problematic terms in your community.

One idea is to make a “Language Matters” discussion forum. And encourage members to ask questions about non-inclusive language and suggest alternatives.

4. Redirect questions to the most qualified subject matter expert

In the 2017 “Elephant in the Valley” survey, more than two hundred women working in tech positions were polled. Of women with at least ten years of experience working in tech, 88 percent said they had seen a question directed toward a male colleague when they themselves were the most qualified person in the meeting to answer it. And it’s not just men who are guilty of this, because people of all gender identities are taught to assume that men naturally hold more power.

In your community, if you notice someone incorrectly assuming a man is the subject matter expert, redirect the question. All it takes is a simple, “Mei’s the person who knows open source AI libraries inside and out. Ask her.”

5. For more ideas, watch this video

The Air Mozilla team recently hosted Karen Catlin to speak about building more inclusive open source communities. Watch the recording
to get more ideas for how you can level up your ally skills.

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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