Don’t Use Your Strength to Walk Off With The Rope

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

1. Don’t use your strength to walk off with the rope

In The Big Dog Problem, we read the following:

“Have you ever watched a big dog play with a small one? Somehow, without having to be taught, the big dog figures out how to self-handicap so both dogs can play. They lie down or roll over on their back to equalize the height advantage; they go in with little nips instead of using their larger jaws to overwhelm the little dog. Even when they play tug-of-war they don’t use their strength to walk off with the rope.

Just like the big dog, if you aren’t conscious and aware of how you use your weight, you are going to roll over people. So you have to actively pay attention. You don’t get to be oblivious. You don’t get to say, ‘I don’t see race or gender, I just treat everyone the same.’ If a big dog plays with all other dogs the same, he’s going to bowl over the smaller ones. That dog is a jerk.”

What sage advice for allies everywhere.

(Many thanks to long-time Better Allies supporter David Lemon for sending us this article.)

2. Leave loudly

We’ve all got them. Personal things that need to be done during work hours, such as doctor appointments and children’s school events. We might need to work remotely to be home for a repair person or to take care of a sick child. We might utilize a company benefit of spending time volunteering at our children’s school or a non-profit we support.

Yet, how many of us slink away from work, hoping no one notices? Each time we do so, we miss an opportunity to leave loudly and tell people why we’re heading out. To set an example that it’s okay (and frequently required) to prioritize personal needs or utilize flexible, family-friendly policies.

We can all normalize taking advantage of benefits and flexible work arrangements by being transparent about it in a Slack status or out-of-office automated email response. For example,

“Working remotely to care for a sick child”
“OOO volunteering today”
“At home waiting for a plumber”
“On parental leave”

(That last one is especially important for the non-birth parent to be loud about. Many American men don’t take advantage of it, perhaps because over concerns they’ll be seen as less committed employees. The more men who take parental leave, the more accepted it will be.)

3. Beware resume-scanning tools that reject employment gaps

In a recent Fortune raceAhead newsletter, editor Ellen McGirt explored the world of A.I. in hiring and human resources. One concern that caught our eye? A hiring algorithm designed to scan resumes and reject any with unexplained gaps in employment.

As Cornell assistant professor Ifeoma Ajunwa explains, this technology means “you’re going to exclude formerly incarcerated people, possibly veterans, and women who had to take a break for childcare or eldercare.” Add to that list stay-at-home dads returning to work, people with health issues that require an employment break, older workers who have had trouble finding a job after a layoff, and so many more reasons.

Before rolling out an automated tool to scan resumes, let’s make sure it doesn’t reject those with unexplained gaps in employment. Instead, let’s give them a second look.

4. Use honorifics … for all genders

Dr. Nancy Yen-Shipley, an orthopedic surgeon, tweeted a photo of two almost-identical hand-written notes from a medical equipment sales rep. The letter to a woman doctor started with a salutation of “Hi <first name>.” By contrast, the salesperson wrote “Dr. <last name>” to a male doctor.

We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again. Use someone’s hard-earned honorifics such as “Dr.” to show respect. Please remember that everyone, regardless of gender, deserves to be treated this way

5. Turn down business that doesn’t align with your values

Last week at Davos, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon announced that his investment bank will no longer help companies go public without at least one “diverse” board member. Next year, they’ll insist on at least two board members from underrepresented groups.

While that’s a powerful statement from a CEO, it’s good to remember that change starts with each of us as individuals. So we should ask ourselves: How do we want to operate? Treat people? Would we turn down business or investments because of creepy behavior? Would we dismiss our top sales executive after disciplining him for harassment? What are the deals we won’t do because they conflict with our values? When will we walk away from cash?

How allies treat colleagues from marginalized groups in the workplace must stretch beyond the kinds of everyday actions we typically share in our newsletter, and toward activities that impact the bottom line. Allyship becomes meaningless if it’s abandoned in the face of lucrative business deals or strategic partnerships.

Committed allies know their values and live them out.

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

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