Don’t Blame the Fish, and Other Actions for Allies

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

1. Don’t blame the fish; instead, change your hiring technique

At the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Lab, researchers frequently hear comments like, “I’d love to hire more women, but when I post a job, they don’t apply. They’re not interested.” And, “There just aren’t enough qualified women to do the job.”

Each time, they’re reminded of the art of fishing: If you don’t catch a fish, you don’t blame the fish. You change your technique.

Read their suggestions for how to change your hiring technique, and identify a thing or two to change.

2. Push back on demeaning or degrading marketing

Last week, the University of Missouri Athletics Department attempted to celebrate the diverse backgrounds and talents of its student athletes. But, they blew it. For the white athletes, they included statements of “I am a future doctor” and “I am a future corporate financer.” For the black athletes, they didn’t paint a promising future at all: “I am an African American woman” and “I am a brother.” (No, we’re not making this up. See the photo here.)

Allies, if you notice demeaning, degrading, or just plain stupid marketing campaigns, push back. Enough said.

3. Don’t ask for volunteers for administrative tasks

In How the Best Bosses Interrupt Bias on Their Teams, Joan C. Williams and Sky Mihaylo share four ways bias plays out in everyday work interactions:

  • Prove it again: Some groups have to prove themselves more than others do.
  • Tightrope: A narrower range of behaviors is accepted from some groups than from others.
  • Maternal wall: Women with children see their commitment and competence questioned or face disapproval for being too career focused.
  • Tug-of-war: Disadvantaged groups find themselves pitted against one another because of differing strategies for assimilating — or refusing to do so.

While we recommend reading the full article, we want to call out one piece of advice to interrupt bias:

Don’t ask for volunteers for tasks like organizing team dinners, taking notes at a meeting, bringing in donuts for a customer briefing. As Williams and Mihaylo point out, “Because women and people of color will feel powerful pressure to prove they are ‘team players’ by raising their hands.”

Instead, set up rotations so everyone takes a turn at doing these “office housework” tasks.

4. Find alternatives for “blind” words and phrases

Author Hayden Smith recently tweeted:

“The idiom ‘the blind leading the blind’ has always frustrated me — blind people are the best equipped to help others navigate blindness. Similarly, there is no better resource for deaf people than other deaf people.

Disabled people are experts on how to live with disability.”

His tweet reminded us that words like “blind” and “blind spot” are often used in a negative way to imply being unaware or ignorant. Using them in this fashion can perpetuate stigmas around disability.

Instead, we could easily use “unaware” or “ignorant” or “blank spot” to describe the situation.

5. Use gender-neutral emojis

The latest iOS release (13.2) contains a boatload of new and revised emojis, many of which represent gender-neutral versions of professions and people in general. Plus there are lots of new accessibility-related images. If you’re on iOS, check them out and start using them today.

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

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