Inclusive Virtual Work and Other Actions for Allies

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

1. Pay attention to virtual communication

Given coronavirus concerns, many companies have asked employees to work remotely where possible. This shift is making me think about ways to be inclusive with virtual meetings and communication, and I was happy to read a thread by Dr. Kieran Snyder on how her team is working to further a sense of belonging as they move to more written communication. (This includes e-mail, Slack, and other messaging tools.)

While I recommend reading the entire thread, here are some key takeaways for people who want to be better allies. The common theme is to be intentional with your communication.

  • Solicit input from those on the periphery of the conversation so their voices are heard.
  • Pay attention to who might be missing from a discussion (and has value to add), and bring them in.
  • Notice who has dominated a conversation, and who hasn’t commented at all. Then, use that data to create more balance in the future.

While I’m on the subject of working remotely …

2. Review your remote work expense policy

Let’s face it: not everyone has high-speed internet at home or an unlimited cellular data package. Nor does everyone have the financial means to upgrade their services to work from home effectively.

Take a look at your expense reimbursement policy. At the very least, make sure your coworkers know what work-from-home costs they can expense. If the policy needs to be revised to best serve people, especially those who might be living paycheck-to-paycheck, supporting an extended family, or paying off debt, what steps will you take to advocate for a change?

3. Don’t use stock photos to hide your lack of diversity

Here’s a question I received about my Feb 28, 2020 newsletter, where I shared resources for stock photos that showcase a diversity of models. Mark Littlewood asked,

“It struck me that the notion of using Stock Images of Underrepresented people is quite a can of worms though. A lot of companies with toxically homogenous workforces use these types of images on their websites and marketing materials as a way of D&I washing. Would be curious to hear your thoughts one day on this in another newsletter.”

Thanks so much for asking, Mark. In my latest book, The Better Allies™ Approach to Hiring, I provide this guidance:

If you have a fairly homogeneous workforce, don’t use stock photography of people from underrepresented groups on your careers page. It may be a tempting solution, but candidates can easily do an image search online and find that your “employee” is a model who appears on many job sites. (Here’s one example and another one.)

Now, let’s take a look at a different scenario, one which effectively leverages stock photos to promote diversity and bust stereotypes of what success looks like.

I remember being happily surprised as I watched Joel Spolsky, who was the CEO of Stack Overflow, deliver a keynote at Pluralsight LIVE in 2017. Want to know why? In his slides, when he showed photos of software developers, they were all women of color. (It’s important to note that he wasn’t claiming these women were his employees.) You can check out his talk here.

4. Don’t water down the definition of diversity

Study after study shows that diverse teams create more innovative solutions, they’re more adept at solving difficult problems, and they achieve better financial success.

It’s important to note that these business benefits come from studying race and gender. Not a watered-down definition that might include diversity of opinion, knowledge, skills, or experiences.

As Isaac Sabat, assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University, shared with CNN,

“A board of 12 white men may be diverse in some ways, like in how they think about work or approach problems. But on paper, it’s likely still not representative of society at large. ‘They haven’t achieved diversity,’ he says. ‘They’ve just achieved these differences in thought, and it’s a homogenous group.’”

(Thanks to Ellen McGirt of Fortune’s raceAhead newsletter for the pointer to this research.)

5. Write a Wikipedia bio for a woman colleague

Did you know that only 18 percent of the biographies on Wikipedia’s English language site are of women? To change this dismal ratio, Physicist Jessica Wade has added the biographies of more than 875 women scientists to Wikipedia. She shares tips and advice for others who want to get started on this TED Talks blog post.

Since March is Women’s History Month here in the US, it seems like the perfect time to acknowledge and recognize a colleague for her accomplishments. If she already has a Wikipedia page, you could edit it to reflect her most recent work. If she doesn’t, follow Jessica Wade’s advice on how to create one.

We can all play a role in making sure women are included in historical records like Wikipedia.

Ditto for people of all genders who are members of underrepresented groups.

— Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies

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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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