On Handling Demeaning Comments, and Other Actions for Allies

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

1. Say something when hearing “Yes, dear”

Over on Twitter, @Emmastace shared,

“This week I experienced a senior professional man gently putting me down with the classic phrase ‘yes dear’. It strikes me today that I still don’t know how to handle this situation whilst I’m in the moment of it.”

Ideally, an ally within earshot would say something. They’d push back. They’d stop the patronizing language in its tracks. Here’s one suggestion for doing so: “Instead of terms of endearment, we tend to stick with first names around here.” Followed by, “I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about you” for some additional punch. 🤛 🤛

2. Also say something when hearing “You don’t look like a ____”

Last week, Dr./Prof. Sarah Hörst tweeted,

“Welp I made it zero minutes into the conference before an attendee told me I don’t look like a scientist.”

While many folks offered up colorful responses, our favorite was from Greg Rienzi,

“Welcome to 2019. How was your time machine flight?”

We can’t wait to pull out that phrase the next time we hear this kind of “compliment.”

3. Capitalize the first letter of each word in a hashtag

If you post on social media, you probably use hashtags to help others find your posts. (We certainly do.) And, as we learned from UX and Accessibility designer Deborah Edwards-Onoro, we should capitalize the first letter of each word in a hashtag. Here’s why: Screen readers will announce each word separately.

Such a simple thing to do to make social media posts more understandable and accessible to everyone. #CapitalizeTheFirstLetterOfEachWord #AccessibilityMatters

4. Don’t offer condolences to transgender colleagues

Professor Amy Ko penned a beautiful essay that starts with,

“It took me a lifetime, but I’ve recently accepted that I’m trans. Surprised? Read on for my story.”

While we recommend reading the full post, we want to highlight just one takeaway for allies: Don’t offer condolences to colleagues who come out as transgender. Steer clear of “That must be hard” or “I’m so sorry.” As Amy wrote, “it is hard [to come out as trans], but not having to hide my identity out of shame is a good thing.”

Instead, express support with “Congratulations!” Or, “I’m here for you!”

Looking for more information on how to support employees who are transitioning their gender at work? Check out these guidelines from Mozilla.

5. Provide “need to have” products in restrooms

The New York Times recently published I Buy Kegs for the Office. Do I Have to Buy Tampons, Too?. The author explored the difference between “nice to have” and “need to have” products at work. And provided this excellent insight: “the realization that you don’t have a quarter and your period has come a day early is among the worst feelings in the world.”

So, if you’ve got budget for free snacks, beer, and other “nice to have” perks, make sure you also provide free sanitary products.

P.S. Put them in all restrooms, not just the women’s. After all, transgender people might need them in the restroom they’re choosing to use.

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

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✉️ This content originally appeared in our newsletter, 5 Ally Actions. Subscribe to get it delivered to your inbox every Friday.

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Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces. Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies® approach.

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