Making Space For Guide Dogs, and Other Actions for Allies

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

Yellow labrador Susanna wearing her Guide-Dogs for the blind, Puppy in Training vest
Yellow labrador Susanna wearing her Guide-Dogs for the blind, Puppy in Training vest
Photo by Niall Kennedy, Creative Commons CC BY-NC-NC 2.0

1. Make space for guide dogs

SpokAnimal C.A.R.E., a humane society in Washington, recently posted this notice on their Facebook page:

“I wanted to make people aware… guide dogs haven’t been trained in social distancing and queuing to get in a shop. If you see a guide dog heading straight for the shop door and not joining the queue, that is what they have been trained to do. They’re not being rude or intentionally queue jumping. Also, if you see them walking down the street, remember, they haven’t been trained to social distance, so it is up to us, the sighted people, to give them the space. Hope that helps my many guide dog owner friends in these really difficult and challenging times.”

What a timely PSA. Guide dogs haven’t been trained in social distancing protocols, to join the end of lines outside of stores, to follow new one-way aisle arrows, or to pay attention to 6-foot markers at checkouts.

As a sighted person, I’ll make space for them and their humans. How about you?

(Thanks to Better Allies champion Bobbie Riley for bringing this post to my attention.)

2. Talk slowly and don’t shout

Imagine having a hearing loss and interacting with someone wearing a face mask. The mask prevents you from reading their lips. The mask blocks facial expressions and visual cues that might help you understand what they’re saying. The mask can muffle their words.

If your workplace requires you to wear a mask, consider these tips to make sure your coworkers can hear you:

  • Reduce background noise as much as possible.
  • Talk slowly and don’t shout.
  • Recommend people with hearing loss use an app that translates speech into text in real-time.

(Thanks to my brother-in-law, Peter Murphy, for sharing this article.)

3. Ask your organization to embrace remote work permanently

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey emailed employees this week to let them know they can work from home permanently.

“If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen. If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return.”

As I’ve shared before, remote work can be a critical factor in leveling the playing field for employees from underrepresented groups. Here’s why.

In Working from home is great for diversity. Let’s keep it going, tech analyst and diversity advocate Carolina Milanesi identified three demographics who can benefit from remote, flexible work:

  • Caregivers (who are mostly women),
  • People with disabilities that make it hard to commute or do their best work in an office, and
  • Members of underrepresented groups who don’t live in your region.

Milanesi shared the following,

“When the crisis eventually passes, I hope the companies that rushed to get their employees working from home will not be too quick to fall back into their work-happens-at-work mindsets… They should purposefully use remote work to foster a more diverse workforce, because remote work is good for diversity, and diversity is great for business.”

If your industry has the privilege of being able to work remotely, ask your organization to embrace it permanently. Like Twitter.

4. Share wins and setbacks about work-life balance

In Gender Equity Starts in the Home, long-time Better Allies supporters David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson wrote about the impact the global pandemic is having on households. Based on the research they did for their forthcoming book, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, David and Brad know that gender equality at work needs to start with men becoming equal partners at home. They’re now asking if the pandemic will force more equality at home, and therefore at work. As they wrote,

“Many men teleworking from home for the first time are getting a front row seat to the daily demands of running a home and caring for kids, as well as a crash course in learning to ‘balance’ work and family.”

While they share a handful of ways to be a better ally at home, I especially like this one because it can apply to any gender: Share both your wins and setbacks in achieving work-life integration so that others feel comfortable sharing theirs as well. Doing so can build relationships, emotional connection, and a caring community of coworkers.

5. Hiring? Level up your inclusive practices

While I realize many organizations are dealing with headcount freezes or having to go through agonizing reductions in their workforce, some companies are hiring. In some cases, hiring in record numbers.

I’m pleased to report that many recruiters and hiring managers continue to focus on diversifying their workforce, even with any pandemic-induced stress they’re facing. Earlier this week, many of them joined me at a “What’s Next for Inclusive Hiring” webinar held by Joelle Emerson, CEO of Paradigm, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm.

During the webinar, we brainstormed ways that bias can creep into the virtual interviews that are now commonplace. For example, interviewers can get a peek into a candidate’s life, which often reveals clues about their socio-economic or caregiving status. Do they have strong bandwidth? Do they have a laptop for the video meetings, or do they need to use the camera on their phone? What is the room like in the background? Are small children present? (To help reduce bias, one of the attendees said they updated their interview prep email to recommend that candidates find a plain background for interviews. What a simple idea!)

If you’re doing a hiring push, I encourage you to review your recruiting processes and identify improvements that will help you attract, interview, and hire people from underrepresented groups. To get you started, I’m running a sale on my guidebook, The Better Allies™ Approach to Hiring. Through Friday May 22 2020, you can purchase the Kindle version for just 99 cents. (This deal is available to US customers only; Amazon’s rule, not mine.)

I wrote it to show you HOW to do all the recruiting things you know you SHOULD be doing to diversify your workforce.

Please consider checking it out.

I wish you strength and safety as we all move forward,

— 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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