Building our allyship muscle at Keysight
2022-06-09 | 9 min read
As the executive sponsor to Keysight's LGBTQA+ employee network group (ENG) and a passionate advocate for women and underrepresented minorities, I've made it a personal mission to understand and practice how to become a better ally. For those of us with some level of privilege, this isn't as easy as it sounds. While the human and business benefits of diversity are well documented, building an environment where everyone in an organization contributes and thrives is a journey that requires leaders to step up in new ways and to build new muscles that require new ways of showing up.
Recently, our Keysight Society of Women Engineers Enterprise Program (KSWEEP) featured David G. Smith, PhD and W. Brad Johnson, PhD, authors of Good Guys and Athena Rising, on the topic of Becoming and Leveraging Allies in the Workplace: The Power of Gender Collaboration. A week later, our LGBTQA+ ENG hosted a keynote with, Carin Taylor, chief diversity officer at Workday, on Effective Allyship: Turning Good Intentions into Systemic Change. Both events gave me, and many of our leaders and employees, a lot to consider on the topic of allyship.Allyship can have many definitions but the one I resonate the most with is offered by Jeannie Gainsburg in The Savvy Ally. She defines an ally as someone who is not a part of a marginalized group but who advocates for the rights of people in that group. As an ally to the LGBTQA+, I see my role as someone who chooses to no longer be a bystander and observe bias happening around me. Instead, I am committed to taking action to disrupt bias, racism, sexism, and hate while actively contributing to a more equitable workplace and world. And equally importantly, to continue to personally grow as an ally. This is what I learned from our guest speakers.
Know your why
Our KSWEEP-hosted speakers described allyship as the foundation for more inclusive leadership. And they encouraged us all to know our why. Do we adhere to the research that greater diversity in organizations is good for the bottom line? Do we have personal connections with people from marginalized groups who motivate our individual purpose and action? Are we spurred to get involved by a sense of justice or fair play? Do we care about cultivating creativity in the workplace, as research shows those organizations with greater diversity are ultimately more innovative?I’m personally motivated by a sense of fair play. I vigorously combat any situation or interaction where fairness is in question. I want to be an ally that creates a level playing field for all. What’s your why? What will motivate you to move from a simple bystander to an active ally for women and people in our black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), and LGBTQA+ communities?
Get good at listening
Good allyship requires deep, active, intentional listening. There are multiple ways to listen. You can read blogs and writings on allyship, and books and tools from members of marginalized communities to better understand their diverse experiences, unique contributions, and historical struggles. You can grab coffee with a neighbor or colleague from one of these communities and get to know them personally. Start the relationship like any other new acquaintance, building on shared experiences and growing to understand your unique differences and backgrounds.But the key is to listen. Our role as allies is not to enter new and unfamiliar spaces with answers and information from our personal experiences, but to listen twice as much as we speak. To ask questions at times but to do our own intentional learning while we are interacting and growing in community with others. Carin Taylor said, “If you are always making the same decisions, you may be on autopilot. We need to turn up our awareness and check our own biases. And listen to others if we are called out on something. We all have blind spots. So, if someone speaks up about a comment or decision we make, go explore it and openly consider the input.”
Be willing to disrupt
Part of being an ally is being willing to be uncomfortable. Learning can be fun and full of exploration, but it can also involve making mistakes. If allyship is a skill, then we may not always get it right. So, it is important to be willing to fail and self-correct when we get it wrong. That’s all about disrupting our own assumptions, language choices, and behaviors.As we learn more and grow our own allyship muscle, we can employ disruption techniques with others, too. Disruption techniques are especially useful with microaggressions or gaslighting. Microaggression is indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. Gaslighting is loosely defined as a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator tries to get someone else to question their own reality or perceptions. These are insidious and damaging behaviors that amplify otherness and create an inhospitable environment for those they are directed to. And when not called out, receive tacit approval.
Dr’s Smith and Johnson encourage allies to disrupt a situation within a couple seconds after we hear or observe an issue. Our guests offered these creative disruption techniques:
1. Carin Taylor suggested using the concept of a microaggression jar. If a microaggression happens, we call it out and have people put a quarter or a dollar in the jar. That way learning occurs in an approachable, less intense way.
2. David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson introduced the quick disruptor of “ouch.” When we hear someone using a microaggression or gaslighting someone else, if we don’t quite know what to say, just say, “ouch.” That provides a bit of space to think and then address the statement or behavior more fully.When disrupting bias, racism, sexism, and hate, we need to ensure that the person impacted feels safe and is OK with us speaking up on their behalf. And we need to show care and empathy to those involved when we employ a disruption technique. Our primary goal in taking action to disrupt is to help build that more equitable society we all want—one where everyone feels they can belong.
Have the courage to take the journey
Building allyship involves new skills, empathy, and courage. It involves being vulnerable and trying new things. At Keysight, we are used to being courageous and taking on ambitious projects in emerging and disruptive technologies where we test, measure, and optimize our learnings to innovate and enable new technologies. We need to apply this same approach to our allyship skillset.Carin Taylor sums it up best, “We are all on different journeys–individually, and organizationally. Take your time on this journey. It takes effort. Be open to learn and expand your perspectives as you travel the allyship road together.”
I’m ready. Are you?