One Step at a Time

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

Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

1. Ask coworkers about gender inequality

Soon after the death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, my social channels filled with stories of the impact she had on gender equality…for men and women. I bet yours did, too. Here are just a few examples. A woman’s right to secure a mortgage or have a credit card without a man. A widower’s right to receive Social Security benefits from his late wife. A military husband’s right to be his wife’s dependent. The list goes on.

While Justice Ginsberg’s position allowed her to impact the highest level of the US judicial system, I’m wondering how each of us, working for organizations around the world, might have an impact on our ecosystems. What gender inequalities exist in our employee benefits, for men, women, and non-binary people? In our product or content offerings? In our pricing structure for consumer goods? In the investments we make?

Consider starting a conversation with your coworkers. Ask if they can point out examples of gender inequality across your organization and your business.

In an ideal world, they wouldn’t be able to think of a single one. Unfortunately, we’re far from living in an ideal world.

As you identify issues, brainstorm on the next steps to address them. As Justice Ginsberg said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

2. Diversify your pay-it-forward activities

In the latest Living Corporate podcast, Zach Nunn interviewed Aubrey Blanche, director of equitable design and impact at CultureAmp. My favorite part of their engaging, wide-ranging conversation was about equitable design. Specifically, reflecting on the actions we already take in the course of our day and asking, “How can I design this to create a more equitable impact?”

As Aubrey points out, many people mistakenly believe that diversity and inclusion is something separate from what they’re already doing. By contrast, it could consist of a simple edit. For example,

“So maybe you’re giving a career coaching to that friend of a friend’s kid. Why don’t you ask that student to find an underrepresented classmate who you’re also gonna give a career coaching conversation to?”

What a great way to diversify the impact of our pay-it-forward activities.

3. Apologize without making it all about yourself

In I Am Neither, Kathia Ramos writes about their experience of letting people know that their pronouns were now they/them. Their manager at the time was very understanding, yet mistakenly used their old pronouns. The first time wasn’t a big deal. She apologized and moved on. Then it happened again.

As Kathia shared,

“I didn’t expect the apologizing to escalate to an explanation of how she was trying to use the correct pronoun. Time stood still while she apologized, and I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. What appeared to be an effort to make herself feel better, actually made me feel worse.”

Allies, if we use the wrong pronouns for a coworker, let’s briefly apologize and correct ourselves. Without launching into an explanation of how we’re trying to use the right pronouns or making it all about us.

4. Flip “I don’t see color” to “It’s important to see color”

Recently, I signed up for Dr. Akilah Cadet’s Ally Nudge. It’s a month-long program that sends text messages a few times a week with ideas for how to be an anti-racist ally.

Here’s just one example of how this program has helped me on my journey to be a better ally. The Ally Nudge sent this message:

“As children, many are taught to ‘be colorblind.’ These children can become adults who are passive about race, pretending that ‘everything is fine if you don’t see color.’”

But we know everything is not fine.

To understand this concept better, Dr. Cadet recommends listening to this seven-minute NPR podcast with Jennifer Harvey, author of “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children In A Racially Unjust America.”

Now, let’s reflect on how this applies to the workplace. Many of our white coworkers (myself included) were raised to not see color. They may even say “I don’t see color” in interview debrief meetings or promotion calibration discussions for Black and Brown people. Look out for it. When you hear it, consider responding with, “It’s important to see color, to be aware of the bias they may be facing.”

5. Check on your organization’s BLM commitments

Yesterday marked the four-month anniversary of George Floyd’s killing, which led to unprecedented support of the Black Lives Matter movement and many protests against police brutality. Soon afterward, organizations around the world started issuing statements of support for their Black employees, customers, and communities.

As I said at the time, these statements alone won’t make a difference. They won’t counter racism in organizations or society at large. They won’t move the needle on inclusion.

Instead, organizations need to commit to the actions they’ll take to support Black people and disrupt racism. I hope yours did exactly this.

Now it’s been four months. If your organization hasn’t been providing regular updates on their progress, now’s a good time to check on where things stand. Allies, let’s hold our employers accountable.

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

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