Five #ObviousNotObvious Actions To Be More Inclusive At Work

Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

1. Avoid the “they’re too good in their current role” trap

In Where Are All the Women CEOs?, Wall Street Journal reporter Vanessa Fuhrmans looked into the traditional stepping stones to the top role of a company. Fuhrmans found them to be primarily roles with P&L (profit/loss) responsibility and that these roles are overwhelmingly filled with men.

While the article explored many reasons why the CEO pipeline is mostly male, one reason stood out for us. Some women aren’t promoted because they’re so good at their current job. They’ve become mission-critical, and their bosses are reluctant to let them do something else.

Folks, if we hear someone say they’re not willing to promote someone because they’re so good at their current job, let’s call it out. Especially if that someone is a member of an underrepresented demographic in our organization.

2. Got a dress code? Make it gender-neutral

Tech company GitLab asked its employees to step up their usual attire and wear “cocktail casual” to an awards night during its sales kickoff this week. Sounds fine, except that they went on to specify what it meant.

“Men: blazer/sports coat, slacks, suit; Women: short but somewhat formal dress and heels.”

I’ve got a few issues with this approach. What about non-binary individuals? What if a woman doesn’t want to (or can’t) wear heels? Or a short dress due to religious reasons or a personal preference? What if an employee can’t afford the recommended attire?

Better would have been to keep the guidance at “cocktail casual” and let employees decide what to wear.

3. Don’t say “So easy your mom could learn it”

Dr. Kieran Snyder, the CEO of Textio, recently published Getting beyond neutral into inclusive: Some thoughts about age. As she points out, if you heard a coworker say a product is, “So easy even a woman can learn it,” you’d probably immediately recognize it as sexist and call it out. But, would you do the same if you heard, “So easy even your mom can learn it?” Is it more acceptable to assume that a woman old enough to be the mother of a coworker might not be able to use some new piece of technology?

The answer, of course, is no.

To be more inclusive of older coworkers (and customers), we can instead say, “So easy that even people who aren’t tech-savvy can use it.” (This suggestion comes from Mary-Lynne Williams who left it in a comment on the article.)

4. Tell ’em they’re doing a good job

I love the idea of lightweight interventions, which I learned from Dr. Susan Fisk’s sociology research. The concept is simple. Sending a positive email to women computer science students helps them persist in the field.

I bet it also applies to the workplace.

Take a minute to send an email or slack message to a colleague from an underrepresented group. Tell them they’re doing a good job.

5. Keep learning

Being an ally is a journey, one that I’m on myself. Case in point: On Twitter, someone saw my 50 Potential Privileges in the Workplace and asked, “what’s up with 21, seems a bit ableist/anti-neurodivergence?”

Great question.

I replied, “Thanks for pointing that out. The reason it’s on the list is because of managers who look at men when speaking but look elsewhere for other genders, making them feel ignored, dismissed. Would this be better? ‘Your manager gives you their full attention when speaking to you.’”

Their response? “I like that very much more, thanks!”

Me, too.

— Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies

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

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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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