Think Patronus Instead of Spirit Animal, and Other Actions for Allies

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

Painting of a white dog with swirls around it.
Painting of a white dog with swirls around it.
Patronus Painting by EmmyMik is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1. Think “patronus” instead of “spirit animal”

Have you been asked to name your “spirit animal” to introduce yourself to a new group? Or at a team-building event? We have. Many times in fact.

While it may seem light-hearted, it’s disrespectful of Native American spiritual practices.

Here’s a nifty alternative we learned from Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity and belonging at Atlassian: Ask people to name their “patronus” instead.

2. Steer clear of other Native American terms, too

Perhaps you’ve heard (or used) the word “powwow” to refer to a conversation that needs to take place. E.g., to make a decision or gain consensus.

However, why not choose a term that would be more inclusive and respectful of Native Americans and their heritage? Many nations still hold powwows to gather and celebrate, and none of them take place in corporate conference rooms. Michelle Glauser — founder of Techtonica and creator of the Bay Area’s 2015 #ILookLikeAnEngineer ad campaign — offers a slew of alternatives, including “meeting,” “check-in,” “talk,” “huddle,” and “one-on-one.” Right on.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of other sayings that diminish or disparage the culture of Indigenous and Native American people. Examples include “going off the reservation,” “lowest person on the totem pole,” “too many chiefs, not enough Indians,” and “Indian giver.”

Allies, let’s stay away from all of them.

3. Say “I think it’s my turn now” to disrupt office housework

This week, former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens passed away, and we learned of a simple way he disrupted office housework. As Michael Barbaro (host of The Daily podcast) tweeted:

“at a party for new clerks: Before Justice Stevens arrived, an older male justice had instructed one of the few female clerks present to serve coffee. When Justice Stevens entered, he quickly grasped the situation, walked up to the young woman and said: ‘Thank you for taking your turn with the coffee. I think it’s my turn now.’ He took over the job.”

What a role model.

4. Support coworkers through a miscarriage

In the article Miscarriage leave, a benefit no one wants to use, on the rise, we learned that as many as 1 in 5 pregnancies result in a loss. And that, while anyone can experience it, “a key group is women who focus on their careers before having children, because the risk of miscarriage rises sharply after age 35.”

Maybe your company has fantastic benefits for miscarriage leave. Maybe not. Regardless, think about how you can best support a coworker who has experienced a miscarriage. And who needs to take time to heal and grieve.

5. Push back if you hear “Go back to where you came from”

As US Representative Ilhan Omar said at a press conference this week, “You might have noticed when he said, ‘Go back to where you came from,’ there was an uproar…because every single person who’s brown and black, at some point in their life in this country, [has] heard that.” Watch

While we sincerely hope that our coworkers of color never hear those words in the office, it’s our job as allies to push back if it happens. Perhaps with a simple, “What makes you say that?” or “We don’t do that here.”

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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