I’m a white male writing about diversity, and with that demographic in mind I put myself in more the role of an advocate and supporter rather than an activist. My voice and opinions, and those of the people who are in the same demographic as I am, are the ones that should be heard the least. I do feel comfortable talking about the most appropriate ways to advocate and what that role as a supporter looks like. Part of real change is having strong advocacy at a grass-roots level, and in order for that to happen we need to have advocates who aren’t from diverse backgrounds.
So what can you do to be an effective supporter? Almost everyone cares about this issue, but many don’t know how to be effective. There are a ton of things we can do to support people from diverse background, and many of them are subtle. It is important to understand the underlying issue, and to advocate appropriately.
Be Open to the Conversation
One of the things that strikes me the most is how cautious people are about bringing up this topic. I think a lot of times they feel like they will say the wrong thing and somehow offend someone. I’ve also seen a similar pattern with people who are minorities not wanting to talk about it because they don’t want to be singled out. Others want to talk about it, but feel like by saying something they somehow look like they are trying to get attention. It’s important to understand both of these perspectives and always be open to a conversation.
Actively Seek Diversity
Last week I had an incredible interview with Julie Penner, managing director at Techstars Boulder. One of the things she left me with was an ask; find ways to include more women on your teams and in leadership. If there’s anything that sticks with me from this project, I hope it is this ask. By actively seeking more women to be in technical roles and leaders on teams, we are signaling that we want them there.
Social Cues and Body Language
There are tons of social cues that signal bias, and there are things we can do to combat that. Stuff like looking someone in the eye when you shake their hand, avoiding interruption while people are speaking, and giving everyone equal attention in a meeting. These are all really small actions, but they add up.
Mansplaining is fucking everywhere. I never thought I did this, and then the other day my boss, Jaclyn, called me on it. That was a moment of embarrassment for sure, but now I can’t stop noticing when other people are mansplaining. It is one of the most insulting things you can do. Once you become conscious of it, it is easy to notice when it happens. Just stop and think before you start to explain something that is actually trivial.
Mentorship is key in pretty much everyone’s professional life. When it comes to increasing diversity the role of mentorship is even more important. Mentorship builds empathy between two people along with a level of mutual trust. It’s best if mentorship goes both ways. In the case of gender diversity, men should mentor women and women should mentor men. This helps build mutual understanding and empathy.
Above all just respect people. A lot of times people can get caught up in their own egos and don’t realize the effect they are having on others. Whether it is at work, meetups, or any other professional setting it is super important to hold yourself to the highest standard when it comes to respect.