The Danger of Valuing Meritocracy. Plus Tips for Being a Better Ally for People on the Gender Spectrum and Muslim Women

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

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A transgender woman in business attire in an office standing. From the Gender Spectrum Collection.

1. Don’t promote meritocracy as a value

Aiming for an even playing field, where everyone can rise based on merit, seems like an ideal goal. Yet, we need to tread carefully. Studies show that believing in meritocracy makes people more likely to act in discriminatory ways.

While that may seem counter-intuitive, here’s what happens. By believing you have a meritocracy and promoting it as a value, you tend to feel more morally just. Which means you’re less inclined to examine your own behavior for bias and prejudice. Which means … get this … you can become indifferent to the challenges faced by members of underrepresented groups.

Instead, let’s focus on supporting, advocating, amplifying, and sponsoring people who aren’t part of the elite social hierarchy in our organizations.

2. Give more gender choices than just “male” and “female”

Think about the UX of your product, your new hire on-boarding system, the registration forms for events or communities you sponsor, and questionnaires you send. If you ask about gender, do you give people more choices than just “male” and “female?”

While this may seem obvious to folks working to improve diversity and inclusion, the practice isn’t yet widely followed. Earlier this week, United became the first airline to allow travelers to chose not only male or female, but also U (for undisclosed), X (for unspecified), and Mx.

Wherever you ask about gender, remember that gender is a spectrum. Give choices, to be inclusive of all.

And speaking of the gender spectrum…

3. Use stock photos of trans and non-binary people

Seeing someone who looks like you in the promotion for a meetup or other event is a strong signal that people who look like you will be welcome.

Thanks to Broadly, there’s now a collection of high-res stock photos featuring trans and non-binary models, free to use for non-commercial purposes.

Please review the guidelines to ensure you’re using the photos in a respectful way, and not feeding into stereotypes of transgender people.

By the way, if you’re looking for more stock photography sites featuring underrepresented groups, check out this list on the Better Allies site.

4. Don’t ask Muslim women why they wear (or don’t wear) the hijab

This week, Broadly also published 100 Ways to Better Support Muslim Women by Farha Chowdhury. She wrote the article to convey how being Muslim means so many different things to individual women across the world.

Some of the tips seemed highly relevant to workplace settings, including:

  1. Don’t ask us why we wear the hijab; don’t ask us why we don’t wear the hijab.
  2. In fact, don’t ask us why we are or aren’t wearing anything.
  3. Don’t tell us to cover up; don’t tell us to show more skin.
  4. Understand that freedom includes the right to wear or not wear what we want.
  5. If we do wear hijab, don’t assume it’s not our choice to put it on every day.
  6. You can absolutely compliment our hijabs. It’s not offensive as long as it’s not creepy.
    Read the full list for more insight in how to support Muslim women co-workers.

Read the full list for more insight about supporting Muslim women, at work and in life.

5. Listen to the Better Allies book

Karen Catlin released an Audible narration of Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces. If you’ve been waiting for the audio version to listen to during your commute, workouts, or housework, the time has come.

You can purchase it on Amazon.

Or, get a free copy when you sign up for a 30-day Audible trial membership at no cost. If you’re in the US, click here to get this offer. In another country? Shoot us an email, and we’ll let you know if the free offer is available for your local Amazon store.

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

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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