This is from me (imperfect but well meaning cis/het White woman) to you (also imperfect but well meaning cis/het White person). I know you’re out there because, well, we’re everywhere. And I know you’ve been noticing and paying attention to this diversity movement at your company and others (ahemGoogle, ahemUber).
The questions is, what can we do? How can we help? Is there a place for imperfect, well-meaning, ‘non-diverse’ identities in the diversity conversation?
The answer is: yes. There is. With asterisks*.
Here are 3 things you can bring to the diversity conversation at work, and some do’s and don’ts on how to bring them:
Bring your ears
My friends, it can be so simple: Listen. To. People. At. Work.
DO: Believe them. Believe someone when they tell you their experience with racism, homophobia, transphobia or any other kind of aggression. Unequivocally and without skepticism.
Believe them the way you would believe your neighbor telling you a story about walking their dog.
DO: Be okay with not being able to fix it. A very uncomfortable part of being an ally is silence and deep listening, without the need to respond or repair.
DO: If appropriate, (and sometimes it isn’t) ask what they need. Not what you can do, but what they need.
DON’T: Try and explain or fix or make excuses. If Jen says that her colleague acted inappropriately, don’t play devil’s advocate (you are literally advocating for the devil, please stop). If Lisa is frustrated by her boss’ microaggression, don’t tell her he didn’t mean it that way.
DON’T: Assume your lived experiences are the same as others. We often forget that our privilege impacts how we experience the world…if you strip away some of that privilege (which you can’t, don’t try) the world is a very different place.
Bring your support
You can get behind diversity initiatives in a way that is helpful and accelerates progress.
DO: Support those who are already leading the charge. Ask your D&I lead at work what the best way is to lend your support.
DO: Explore how you can support your company’s ERGs (employee resource groups). Can you take on the least glamourous tasks – ordering food or cleaning up after the meetings?
DO: Remove burdens where possible from the people doing the work.
DO: Make sure those burdens are ones that the people want removed.
DON’T: Make it about you. Becoming a champion for diversity at work does not mean you need to be at the forefront of diversity at work.
DON’T: Attend ERG meetings to “learn” or “better yourself”. Likely, folks in these groups have spent their entire careers informally educating people at work about their identities. Use the internet to learn (or, join an Understanding Whiteness group) and attend ERG meetings where you can act as a true ally.
Bring your voice (mindfully)
Sometimes, your voice as a cis/het White person can be the most impactful thing you bring to the table – especially if you are talking to other cis/het White people. And sometimes, it can trample over the voices of others who are straining to be heard.
DO: Speak up when you notice something at work that doesn’t align with the diversity mission. There are non-combative ways to raise issues or question behaviors within your office – use your voice to bring these instances to light. When your colleague comments on how “well-spoken” another co-worker is, share your perception of bias in their statement.
DO: Continuously question the processes and policies at work. Ask your boss how diversity was prioritized in the latest round of hiring. Ask your HR department who is on the team that sets new policies. Ask your L&D team who had a voice in designing your most recent training. Be the squeaky diversity wheel!
DO: Name it. If you find yourself in an all cis/het White space (and oh boy, you definitely will) say it out loud. This isn’t about shaming or making people feel bad – it is about making people aware. If you are in a meeting where decisions are being made that affect *literally anything*, say it loud and proud – “I want to point out as we kick off this meeting that this is a pretty homogenous group and we are missing some representation.” And just let it sit there.
DON’T: Ignore the offender and comfort the offended. By turning to your co-worker and saying “wow, I can’t believe she said that! That is so racist!” you are doing the least work possible and trying to get credit for it. Be brave and go speak to the person who said something racist.
DON’T: Speak for. As dominant identities we must be careful of speaking to experiences that are not our own. We can not speak to the experience of Blackness at work, or queerness at work. Finding ways to champion diversity and different identities, while remaining rooted in your own lens can be challenging – it takes mindfulness and discomfort.
DON’T: Tokenize. Because we can’t speak for certain experiences, we may want to ‘find someone who can’. Please don’t do this. If Tim wants to speak to his experience as gay in the workplace, he will do that in his own way.
If you champion your values of diversity and clear some space for these identities, they will have a little bit more room to exist and speak up.
You are not a savior. You are not a hero.
You are a kind, thoughtful, caring person. You are trying to learn and grow. You are someone who believes in equity. You believe that none of us are free until all of us are. You can show up in these diversity conversations and have significant impact.
These conversations need you, your company needs you and your co-workers need you – we’re all counting on you! Bring it.