In Tech Being Allies Is Not Always Comfortable – Don’t Let That Stop You!
It is Black History Month and as tech companies invest in great marketing that highlights Black American sports and entertainment personalities, artists, scientists, one might forget that inside these organizations, Black employees might not feel as empowered.
The fact that there is still more work to be done in the tech industry is not new. I have been watching the numbers for years, as they have been moving up slowly in some areas and even more slowly in others. Usually, at this point, I would quote all those diversity reports that tech companies in Silicon Valley have been publishing but not this time.
I thought I’d like to take my eyes off the CEOs and Chief Diversity Officers for a moment and look at what we all can do. Don’t get me wrong; I am not trying to cut anybody any slack. The most positive impact on the diversity numbers we see in tech companies today will only come if every CEO makes diversity a business imperative. There is no question about that. Yet, when I look at inclusion, I sincerely believe that there is a lot that is down to every employee with privilege. Of course, organizations can provide training on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. They can also make managers accountable for reaching better diversity targets and create a more inclusive workplace. And yet, if you, like me, read some of the recent stories of abuse coming out of Facebook, I hope you would agree that we all could be a much better job at being allies.
What Does It Mean To Be An Ally
When I was a Girls on the Run coach, there was a great slogan we taught our girls: Don’t be a bystander, stand by her! It is such a simple but effective way to think about how to be an ally and of course, it does not only apply to women.
Being a diversity and inclusion ally means to be willing to take action in support of another person so that any external barrier that could limit their opportunities in the workplace is removed.
I am not asking you to fake it. I am asking you to find a reason why you should be an ally.
For me, it was personal at first.
My husband is Black and we have a lovely daughter who is growing up in Silicon Valley, struggling to see anyone, let alone leaders in tech companies who look like her. As I started to pay more attention to the tech industry I was working in, I noticed how few people of color were around me and how they were treated differently when they were there.
In tech, as a woman, I am a minority, but as a white woman, I have privilege. This is why understanding intersectionality, a term coined in 1989 by Kimberle Crenshaw, a Black woman lawyer and law school professor, is so important when thinking through diversity and inclusion. My experience and that of a woman of color will not be the same, which is why I realized I could use that privilege to become an ally. I want to think that even without my personal connection, I would have become an ally, but I know it would have taken longer not because I don’t care, but because privilege makes you shortsighted.
Once you have found your drive, there are simple things you can do to make your workplace more inclusive.
Listen and Learn
Listen to what underrepresented people in your organization are saying. Don’t try and rationalize it, excuse it, defend it. Listen so you can understand. Understand so you can learn. Learn so you can change and drive change.
Amplify and Credit
Often people of color are not heard, which makes it harder to find a voice, so when you hear a great idea, amplify it and give credit to the person so they can be noticed. Please do so, making sure it is about them, not you.
Your work as an ally does not have to start and end within your workplace. You can help drive diversity in different ways, like volunteering with organizations such as Black Girls Code, who help young girls discover STEM and help improve the pipeline.
There Is No Uncomfortable Privilege
As an ally, I am always insecure. I feel that my intentions are judged, so I hide behind my husband and my daughter like they were a shield. I am not looking for a pat on the back, but I am looking for some reassurance that I am doing the right thing. How absurd is that? I, the privileged white woman, is asking someone in a weaker position than I am to make me feel better?!?
I also understand that people have the right to judge me or, at the very least, question my intentions. It is up to me to build trust. The way I go about building that trust might not always be perfect and I will apologize when I hurt or offend someone because I know it will happen despite my good intentions. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and good intentions are not enough to make a better world. Results do that and to deliver, I cannot be held back by guilt and shame.
I do not work in a large organization where I can be an inside ally. So I looked at the tech industry as my workplace and that is where I can affect change by using the platform I have to raise awareness and help brands be more inclusive within their organizations as well as how they think and message their products.
During February and March, as we celebrate Black History Month and Women History Month, I will be publishing a series of interviews with Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers from top tech companies. As fellow agents of change, I will ask them to share what they are working on, what personal perspective they offer to D&I, how they foster allies in their organizations and why we are still moving so slowly. As leaders of companies with a global reach and trillion dollars market caps, I will also ask some of the tough questions that need to be both asked and attempted to be answered to further the conversation and affect the change we both seek.
I am not a D&I activist or a coach. I am not even a published author on the topic. What I know I am is a technology analyst who is not happy with the state of the industry and wants to try and make a difference.
We cannot underestimate the power of change that one person at the time, one action at the time, even one word at the time can bring about. So as I end this article, I want to leave you by paraphrasing a Mahatma Gandhi’s quote: “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of the tech industry.”
This article first appeared on Forbes.com