Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces

Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces

Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces

Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces

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The highly-acclaimed, practical guide for how to be an ally in the workplace, now in its 2nd edition.

Do you want to build a workplace culture that has a certain buzz? Where employees thrive and engagement survey scores soar? Where people from different backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations/identities, ages, and abilities are hired and set up for success?

To create this kind of vibrant and supportive workplace, learn to practice active allyship. With the Better Allies(R) approach, it's something anyone can do.

Since originally publishing Better Allies in 2019, Karen Catlin has amassed dozens of new scenarios and insights through her talks, workshops, and community interactions. In this fully revised second edition, you'll learn to spot situations where you can create a more inclusive culture, along with straightforward steps to take and changes to make. Catlin, a highly-sought after expert on allyship, will show you how to:

- Attract and hire a diverse workforce

- Amplify and advocate for others

- Give effective and equitable performance feedback

- Use more inclusive language

- Run inclusive conferences and events

Read this book to learn the Better Allies(R) approach, level-up your ally skills, and create a culture where everyone can do their best work and thrive.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781732723351
Publisher: Better Allies Press
Publication date: 01/11/2021
Edition description: 2nd ed.
Pages: 284
Sales rank: 530,101
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt


The Ally Journey

Allyship is a process. Even seasoned allies with wide open minds are constantly learning and absorbing new information about how to leverage their privilege to support people who are different from them. We all have perspectives that are shaped by our own experiences, so we can't possibly imagine or understand all of the other viewpoints that exist in the world. We must learn about them as we encounter them, and adjust our mindsets accordingly. So your first tip for being an ally is to be open to learning, improving, and changing your opinion. And recognize that being an ally is a journey.

This may seem frustrating at first, because it's tempting to want to earn an ally badge and consider oneself to be a lifetime member of the Genuinely Good Human Beings Club. I get it. If this sounds like you, I wrote this book to help you move forward, and I guarantee you'll pick up actionable ideas to be a better ally.

Instead of feeling frustrated that you'll never reach some mythical, fully fledged ally status, remember that we're all learning together. The ally journey is an enlightening and worthwhile one, even though it's a perpetually ongoing one. And people with privilege who are truly dedicated to the empowerment of all embrace the fact that doing so means being in a constant state of learning.

Speaking of which, the time has come to discuss privilege in both abstract and concrete terms. I promise to keep it nonjudgmental and encouragement focused!

Let's Talk about the "P-Word"

Understanding privilege is key to becoming a better ally. At its core, privilege is a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group. Due to our race, class, gender, sexual orientation, language, geographical location, ability, religion, and more, all of us have greater or lesser access to resources and social power.

People who are marginalized in multiple ways experience amplified marginalization and drastically reduced privilege. This is due to intersectionality, the fact that the intersection of someone's identities creates an intersection of overlapping and compounded oppressions. I appreciate this example by Kittu Pannu, who wrote about intersectionality in the LGBT community for Impakter:

One could assume that a black, queer woman would, in essence, have a more difficult life experience than a heterosexual white male just by virtue of her experiences as a woman, compounded with her experience as a black person, and topping it off with her queer identity. Her life will be just a little harsher, her earning potential just short of the people around her, her ability to say with certainty that she gets everything she deserves not as strong as a white male's ability. She would have to work that much harder to be taken seriously in today's heteronormative, white, male-dominated world.

The term intersectionality was originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in her 1989 essay "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color," and she explores it further in her excellent TED talk, "The Urgency of Intersectionality." In nearly all cases, being marginalized in multiple ways leads to diminished privilege and increased risk of discrimination and violence.

Now, here's where it gets tricky: Privilege is often invisible to those who have it. This means that many people get defensive when someone points out their privilege. It's tempting to think of privilege as being associated with extreme unearned advantages like having a massive family trust fund or being related to some influential person. Having one's privilege pointed out might feel like the equivalent of being told that one is lazy, lucky, or undeserving of good things — or that one's life has been easy. Many people are quick to respond that they've had their fair share of difficulties and faced down prejudices, too.

But doing this means forgetting that privilege is simply a system of advantages granted to all people in a given group. It's a social structure that has become endemic to human cultures. It's not about who you are as an individual as much as it is about which groups you belong to, and how those groups are viewed and treated by society. A person isn't privileged because of being a rotten, freeloading bum, they're privileged because they're white or middle-class or cisgender.

Being privileged doesn't mean you've never worked hard, and it doesn't necessarily mean that your life has been easy. Here's a fabulous analogy from Sian Ferguson via the website Everyday Feminism:

Let's say both you and your friend decide to go cycling. You decide to cycle for the same distance, but you take different routes. You take a route that is a bit bumpy. More often than not, you go down roads that are at a slight decline. It's very hot, but the wind is at [sic] usually at your back. You eventually get to your destination, but you're sunburnt, your legs are aching, you're out of breath, and you have a cramp.

When you eventually meet up with your friend, she says that the ride was awful for her. It was also bumpy. The road she took was at an incline the entire time. She was even more sunburnt than you because she had no sunscreen. At one point, a strong gust of wind blew her over and she hurt her foot. She ran out of water halfway through. When she hears about your route, she remarks that your experience seemed easier than hers.

Does that mean that you didn't cycle to the best of your ability? Does it mean that you didn't face obstacles? Does it mean that you didn't work hard? No. What it means is that you didn't face the obstacles she faced.

Privilege doesn't mean your life is easy or that you didn't work hard. It simply means that you don't have to face the obstacles others have to endure. It means that life is more difficult for those who don't have the systemic privilege you have.

Look at any business segment, and you'll find people who have more privilege than others. In today's tech industry, they tend to be straight white men. Perhaps they attended highly selective universities such as Stanford, MIT, or an Ivy League school. They may have strong networks of people in similar positions of privilege. They are the majority.

Yet privilege is not limited to straight white guys.

I'm fortunate to have a lot of privilege. I'm white, straight, able-bodied, and a U.S. citizen. I hold a degree in computer science from an Ivy League school. I'm a published author and a TEDx speaker. Formerly, I was a vice president of engineering at a well-known tech company. Yup. That's a lot of privilege. And my experience is a great reminder that people who are members of systematically oppressed groups (such as women) can still have privilege due to their membership in other groups (such as being white, straight, etc.).

Fifty Potential Privileges in the Workplace

Now for the hard part: Take a moment to examine your own privilege, and reflect on the benefits or obstacles you face at work. Using the list below, quiz yourself by measuring how your privilege compares to your coworkers.

As you review this list, keep a tally. Note any items that surprise you and make you wonder, "Does anyone actually face this challenge?"

1. You are white.

2. You are male.

3. You are straight.

4. You are cisgender (you identify as the gender you were assigned at birth).

5. You're not significantly younger or older than your coworkers.

6. You don't have any disabilities, visible or otherwise.

7. You have a college degree.

8. You attended an elite university.

9. You were born in the United States or you're a citizen of the United States.

10. English is your first language.

11. You don't receive comments about your accent or the way you pronounce certain words.

12. You've never been passed over for a job (or fired from one) based on your gender, race or ethnicity, religion, age, body shape or size, disability, or sexual orientation.

13. You are partnered and feel comfortable speaking openly about your significant other.

14. You're not the primary caregiver for anyone else.

15. You feel welcome at networking opportunities.

16. You aren't asked to do menial tasks that colleagues of another gender or race are asked to do.

17. Others don't routinely assume you're a lower seniority level than you are.

18. You feel comfortable actively and effectively contributing to meetings you attend.

19. You're rarely interrupted or ignored in meetings.

20. You are confident that if you raise an idea in a meeting, you'll be credited for that idea.

21. Your manager maintains eye contact when speaking to you.

22. You recently received feedback about a technical skill you need to learn.

23. You have spare time to spend on open source projects or learning new technologies.

24. You haven't been told to wait your turn for a promotion or plum project assignment behind an equally qualified peer.

25. You have gotten a job or a promotion with the help of a social, family, or school-related connection.

26. You can talk about politically or identity-oriented extracurricular activities without fear of judgment or bias from colleagues.

27. You can observe the holy days in your religious tradition without having to use vacation days.

28. You feel welcome and valued on group projects.

29. You've never been called a "diversity hire."

30. When meeting people at technical events, they assume you're attending in a technical role (versus being the partner of an attendee or that you work in a non-technical role).

31. At events, people don't mistake you for a member of the catering staff.

32. You don't receive unwanted sexual advances at work.

33. You haven't had to change teams or companies because of harassment.

34. You feel physically safe at work and at professional events.

35. You feel safe leaving work late at night and going home after evening events.

36. You have stable housing.

37. You're confident that if you were to lose your job, you'd be able to land another one without worrying about paying bills.

38. You can afford to join out-of-office lunches or after-work social activities.

39. You can manage monthly payments on any debt you have.

40. You never have to decide which bills to pay or go without meals because of not being able to afford food.

41. You're not financially supporting a parent, grandparent, sibling, or other extended family member(s).

42. You have a partner who takes on a large share of household and family responsibilities.

43. You're rarely, if ever, late to work or miss work because of a child's illness or family emergency.

44. You don't have a long career gap on your resume.

45. You've never been arrested, incarcerated, or charged with a criminal offense.

46. People never touch you or your hair without consent.

47. You're comfortable speaking in meetings, without worrying someone will find a flaw in your logic and prove you're not qualified to be there.

48. You don't receive abusive comments on social media.

49. You don't remember the last time someone was condescending or overly pedantic when explaining a topic to you.

50. You don't depend on a sponsor, mentor, or any other ally to be respected and taken seriously.

Even if you happen to have all fifty of the above privileges, the intent here is not to make you feel guilty or ashamed. By contrast, the invitation is simply to be aware of your advantages and leverage them empathetically; beating yourself up about them is totally counterproductive.

That said, privilege is often a key ingredient in cultivating professional confidence: Confidence that you can leverage your network to get a new job, raise capital for a start-up, find a publisher for your book, or score a speaking engagement. Confidence that when you make a killer point at the meeting, others will pay attention. Confidence that people will direct questions to you if you're the expert in the room. Confidence that you're getting paid equitably. Confidence that other attendees at a networking social event will assume you're qualified to be there, and not part of the waitstaff. Confidence that people believe you landed your current role because of experience and potential, not solely because you're a woman or a person of color. The list goes on.

Because of my privilege, I know I've received many benefits over my career, and those benefits have empowered me with confidence. I feel ready to use my standing to help foster confidence in others now, and if you are also in a position to do so, I hope you'll join me.

Roles Allies Can Play

It's up to people who hold positions of privilege to be active allies to those with less access, and take responsibility for making changes that will help others be successful. Active allies utilize their credibility to create a more inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive, and they find ways to make their privilege work for others.

And wielding privilege as an ally doesn't have to be hard. I've seen allies at all levels take action with simple, everyday efforts that made a difference. Often a big difference! Here are a few roles that allies can choose to play to support colleagues from underrepresented groups in beneficial ways.

I once worked for a software company that was acquired by a larger company. In the first few months following the acquisition, I noticed something interesting. My new manager, Digby Horner — who had been at the larger company for many years — said things in meetings along the lines of: "What I learned from Karen is the following ..."

By doing this, Digby helped me build credibility with my new colleagues. He took action as an ally, using his position of privilege to sponsor me. His shout-outs made a difference, and definitely made me feel great.

When an ally takes on the role of the Sponsor, they vocally support the work of colleagues from underrepresented groups in all contexts, but specifically in situations that will help boost those colleagues' standing and reputations.

Other ways to act as a Sponsor:

• Talk about the expertise you see in others, especially during performance calibrations and promotion discussions.

• Recommend people for stretch assignments and learning opportunities.

• Share colleagues' career goals with influencers.

In May 2015, Andrew Grill was a Global Managing Partner at IBM and a speaker at the Online Influence Conference. He was on a panel along with five other men when a female member of the audience posed the obvious question to the all-male lineup: "Where are the women?"

The moderator then asked the panelists to address the topic of gender diversity, and Andrew, after sharing some of his thoughts, quickly realized he wasn't the best person to respond. In fact, none of the panelists were. He instead asked the woman who asked the question, Miranda Bishop, to take his place on the panel. By stepping aside, Andrew made a bold statement in support of gender diversity on stage and championed Miranda at the same time.

Since then, the nonprofit organization GenderAvenger has created a pledge to reduce the frequency all-male panels at conferences and events. It reads, "I will not serve as a panelist at a public conference when there are no women on the panel." Anyone can sign the pledge on their website,

When an ally takes on the role of the Champion, that ally acts similarly to the Sponsor, but does so in more public venues. Champions willingly defer to colleagues from underrepresented groups in meetings and in visible, industry-wide events and conferences, sending meaningful messages to large audiences.

Other ways to act as a Champion:

• Direct questions about specific or technical topics to employees with subject-matter expertise instead of answering them yourself.

• Advocate for more women, people of color, and members of other underrepresented groups as keynote speakers and panelists.

• If you are asked to keynote or serve in a similar public role and know someone from an underrepresented group who'd be an equally good fit (or better), recommend that person (after asking them first if they'd like to be put forward).

In a Slack channel for female technical leaders, I met a data engineer who was working at a sixty-person start-up. One team inside the company had an unproductive meeting culture that was starting to feel truly toxic. Yelling and interrupting frequently took place at the team's meetings, and women, in particular, felt they couldn't voice their opinions without being shouted over.

One of this engineer's colleagues decided to take action to ensure that the voices of those who weren't shouting would be heard. She introduced communication guidelines for a weekly meeting, and saw an immediate improvement. The guidelines included assigning a meeting mediator (team members would take turns in this role), setting clear objectives and an agenda for every meeting, conducting a meeting evaluation by every participant at the end of every meeting, and reminding the members to be respectful and practice active listening.


Excerpted from "Better Allies"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Karen Catlin.
Excerpted by permission of Better Allies Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: The Ally Journey

Chapter 2: Knights versus Allies

Chapter 3: Listening and Learning


Chapter 4: Your Network

Chapter 5: Organizing and Attending Events

Chapter 6: Meetings in the Workplace

Chapter 7: Office Housework

Chapter 8: Everyday Language


Chapter 9: On Stage

Chapter 10: Hiring Practices

Chapter 11: Giving Feedback

Chapter 12: Opening Career Doors

Chapter 13: A Call to Action

Bonus Chapter: Interviewing While White and Male

Epilogue: The Bingo Card That Started It All

Recap: Actions for Better Allies

Discussion Guide


Additional Resources

About the Author


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