1. Be okay making mistakes
I firmly believe that you don’t have to have the words “Diversity,” “Inclusion,” or “Belonging” on your business card to make a difference. There are myriad everyday actions we all can take to create more inclusive workplaces. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to focus on them.
Yet, as a white person, I have to admit it can be hard to have conversations about race. I haven’t experienced the racial inequity and systemic oppression so many people face, and I’m concerned I’ll make a mistake. That I might say the wrong thing. Or act in a way that’s not helpful and possibly even hurtful.
Maybe you feel the same way?
Let’s face it. It can be a lot easier to pull back from these conversations and become simply a bystander.
But here’s the thing. The world needs more upstanders, especially now with the growing concern about the treatment of Black people in America. We need more people who see wrongdoing and take action. People who push for change. People who aren’t comfortable with the status quo, even though they may have benefited from it.
We also need people who are okay making mistakes along the way. Being an ally is a journey, and one that I am on myself. With each mistake I make, I have an opportunity to learn and do things differently. I have the opportunity to have a greater impact. But this happens only if I put in the effort.
In Get it wrong for me: What I need from allies, Megan Carpenter of Microsoft wrote,
“I want a bunch of people who are interested in becoming allies to me to get it wrong. Because I promise, you will get it wrong, likely more than once. But please get it wrong, for me. Be wrong on my behalf. Try stuff, learn stuff, make attempts, and fail. Embrace the discomfort of not knowing, of not being certain, of not understanding and then be motivated enough to learn and get better. I will give you grace if you give me effort.”
Let’s all put in the effort and be okay with making mistakes.
Looking for specific advice for talking about race? Check out this resource from the National Museum of African American History.
2. Acknowledge Black pain
A few days ago, I watched a LinkedIn Business Unusual broadcast on What it takes to be an active ally. One of the guests, bestselling author Minda Harts, discussed her experience going into the office after Treyvon Martin’s death. “Nobody said anything. My manager didn’t acknowledge that this had happened…I think it’s really tough when we’re asked to bring our authentic selves to work and nobody recognizes our Black pain.” That was a turning point for her: She decided to leave her corporate job to focus on advocacy for Black women.
If you haven’t already recognized Black pain with your coworkers, it’s not too late. Let people know how you’re feeling about the current events. Acknowledge that this is a difficult time. Make yourself available if anyone wants to talk.
3. Believe people when they share their experience
We all have perspectives that are shaped by our own life, which can make it difficult to imagine or understand all of the other viewpoints that exist in the world. Viewpoints that were formed by someone else’s lived experiences. Viewpoints that come from people who are different from us.
As you make yourself available to anyone who wants to talk about racial inequality, police brutality, or anything that’s top of mind for them, here’s a tip. Believe someone when they share their experience, even though you’ve never experienced it yourself.
I also appreciate what Michael Thomas, Shareholder at Ogletree Deakins, shared on this week’s Change Catalyst Leading with Empathy and Allyship webinar: When people share their stories of a traumatic experience, don’t ask or expect them to tell you the details just because you’re curious.
4. Look out for masking language
Dr. Suzanne Wertheim, a linguistic anthropologist and Better Allies supporter, has a knack for isolating and naming pieces of a larger problem. As she shared with me, “Once you name it, people can see it better. And hopefully, it can move us forward.”
In her most recent article, she explores the behavior of masking language. In a nutshell, it’s when people shut down discussions of racism or other systemic bias by claiming, “let’s keep things professional” or “politics shouldn’t be part of the workplace” or “let’s keep it neutral.” Chances are they do so because they’re uncomfortable with the topic. Or because they believe things are just fine the way they are.
Yet, as Suzanne writes, “in reality, things are just fine for only some of the people.”
If you witness masking language, push back. Point out that these conversations are critical to moving forward and creating a more inclusive workplace.
5. Demand the plan
This week, my social media feeds have been filled with corporate statements about standing with the Black community against racism. I bet you’ve seen loads of them as well.
But statements of solidarity aren’t enough. They alone won’t make a difference to Black employees, customers, or partners. They won’t counter racism in organizations or society at large. They won’t move the needle on inclusion.
The best companies are the ones that are also sharing the plan. They’re identifying the actions they’ll take to support Black people and disrupt racism. Here are just four examples: DoorDash, Pinterest, Upwork, and The Lead Developer. I’m sure there are more.
Has your organization come up with a plan? If not, ask for one. In fact, demand one.
Looking for ideas of actions your company can take? Or that you can take yourself? Dr. Erin L Thomas of Upwork shared thirteen of them to get you started.
That’s all for this week. I wish you strength and safety as we all move forward,
— Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies
Being an ally is a journey. Want to join us?
📖 Read the Better Allies books
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Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies™ approach.