Diversity and inclusion language: How to be a better ally (Part 2)

Diversity and inclusion language: How to be a better ally (Part 2)

Business, Human Resources, Skills Development

Author: David King, learning and development activist

People often ask me what they can do to help in the diversity and inclusion arena, or clients request advice as to where to start as an organisation. The answer is simple: you are a human being, so tap into your fundamental qualities of tolerance and acceptance. Be an ally. Diving into or creating a complex DEI strategy is not going to work if you don’t listen, suspend judgement and be curious and kind. And these qualities take practice.

So, to assist us all on our journey, here are three practical tools or actions to implement at work and in your personal life:

  1. Frame differences as a source of value 

Imagine being on an interview team and hearing someone say, “I don’t think they would be a culture fit” when discussing a candidate from an under-represented demographic. Underlying this phrase is bias – that the candidate is different, doesn’t seem like others on the team, and maybe even would be hard work to integrate.

At this point, you have a choice to make: Let the comment go unchallenged or say something.

I bet you know what I recommend – speak up. Ask some open-ended questions like “Why do you say that?” or, “What makes you feel that way?” Or, to make a more pointed remark, try something along the lines of, “Hang on, I think they could be a culture add. They would be bringing something to our culture that we don’t have today, which will help us better achieve our organisation’s goals.”

We can also strive to frame differences as a source of value in the meetings we attend. Consider starting decision-making meetings with the mindset recommended by Henrik Bresman and Amy Edmondson in Research: To excel, diverse teams need psychological safety: “We are likely to have different perspectives going into this meeting, which will help us arrive at a fuller understanding of the issues in this decision (or project).”

As the authors point out, we are prone to be frustrated by differences in opinion or perspective. However, being explicit in framing differences as a source of value can help.

  1. Recognise the privilege of feeling safe 

Many men do not realise that feeling safe is a source of privilege. For example,

  • You feel physically safe at work and at professional events.
  • You feel safe leaving work late at night and going home after evening events.

To explore how an ally can take action once they recognise they have this privilege, here is a story.

Charles was boarding a flight to attend a conference when he saw a woman colleague. After suggesting they share a ride from the airport to the conference hotel, Charles learned that she was staying a few miles away because the main hotel was overbooked. He then said sympathetically, “Oh, that’s too bad; you spend more time on your expense report with all those additional taxi receipts.”

Extra paperwork? That was the least of her worries.

She went on to explain that every time she gets in a taxi, uber or rideshare with a stranger, she worries she might be harassed. In the past, she had had some scary experiences. Over the next few days, she would have to run this risk every morning to get to the conference and every night to return to her hotel. For the next few days, she would be concerned about her personal safety in ways he would never have imagined.

As a result, Charles offered to swap hotels with her. He also committed to advocating for shuttle services and prioritising rooms for women at the conference hotel in the future.

Now it’s your turn. Think about your workplace. What activities or situations might cause someone to be concerned about their personal safety? Reach out to a colleague and ask if they have ever felt unsafe at work and what would make them feel safe. Then take action.

  1. Help build reputations 

I love the mindset of increasing access to opportunities to build a reputation or assist a marginalised colleague to build their credibility. Perhaps it is by citing a colleague’s work or recommending them to speak about their project, or something else entirely. You have a voice, use it.

So, it starts with you. To better understand, we need to explore and be curious, which may be uncomfortable. Beware…it may be messy and life changing to have to unlearn and relearn, but it is a necessity!

Contact David on [email protected] for more.

And if you have an HR query, particularly in the diversity and inclusion space, then we would love to help. Email our HR department today on [email protected].