Like A Girl

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And You Say You’re an Ally? WTF

Imagine witnessing “bad ally” behavior. You know what we mean. The leader who asks the only woman in the room to take notes. Or hires a white man to fill a vacant role…even though there’s a qualified woman or person of color ready for a promotion. Or, at a networking event, hangs out only with people of their same gender and race.

There have been plenty of times when we’ve seen this kind of behavior, and we simply shook our heads. While we found it uncomfortable, we didn’t think it was our responsibility to call it out. In hindsight, we wish we had.

And then there are the times we’ve seen “bad ally” behavior from someone who’s been loud and proud about equality. Talking a good talk about diversity and inclusion (D&I), but not walking the walk.

Seeing someone pay lip service to D&I is pretty infuriating. And now, thanks to the press reporting on Harvey Weinstein, we have a term for it: Performance “Wokeness.”

Harvey Weinstein And The Danger Of Performative 'Wokeness'

Unfortunately, Performance “Wokeness” is not limited to Hollywood movers and shakers. It’s also a thing in tech and other industries.

We’ve been gathering stories from our followers about men who talked a good talk about equality, but didn’t walk the walk. Here are two, one from a creative director and one from a college student. And while their worlds are quite different, their stories are surprisingly similar.

Kat, the creative director

Kat is the founder of the 3% Movement, whose mission is to change the ratio of Creative Directors from 3% to 50%. In June 2015, they hosted an event in London. It included a “Manbassadors” panel where four men from the creative industry spoke about their commitment to diversity.

Sounds pretty good, right? Well…

They showed up, bragged on stage, and immediately left to go to the hotel bar and drink together. They didn’t listen to other speakers. They didn’t take the opportunity to learn about the challenges facing women in their field. They did not diversify their network.

That, my friends, was Performance “Wokeness.”

Kat was busy leading the event and didn’t notice their absence. But if she had, she would have sent one of the good men who stuck around (looking at you, Russ) down to the bar to ask the other guys to embody true manbassadorship and come back to the event.

Mai, the college student

Mai is an undergraduate majoring in computer science. During a recent computer vision lecture, Mai’s professor displayed the Lenna image. It’s a photo of a woman’s face popularized in the early 70’s by graphics researchers. The professor wanted his students to know about the image because they might come across it when doing research. But he asked the class not to use it themselves. Why? Because those researchers back in the 70’s scanned it from a Playboy centerfold.

Our initial reaction? Thumbs up. The professor steered his students away from a magazine that objectifies women. It’s what an ally should do.

Yet, get this. The professor didn’t follow his own advice. During that same lecture, he continued to use Lenna in the rest of his slides.

Yup. Another example of Performance “Wokeness.”

After the lecture, Mai decided to take action. She approached the professor and asked why he continued to use the image after telling them not to. She pointed out that he could have chosen any other image for his slides.

In her words, “It was a scary thing for me to do, but I’m proud I did!”

We were proud of her, too. Not only for taking action, but also for the impact she had. Here’s what happened.

After hearing Mai’s feedback, the professor was a bit miffed at first. But he listened. Then emailed Mai later to tell her that he changed his lecture slides and reposted them on the course’s website.

We have a feeling he’ll think of Mai the next time he’s choosing images for his lectures and his research. And that he’ll walk the walk in addition to talking the talk.

Now, what will you do?

If you’re working in tech, there’s a solid chance you’ll witness bad ally behavior in the field. Or worse, someone who’s doing demonstrating Performance “Wokeness.”

If and when you do, we hope you’re inspired by these stories. And that you’ll call ’em on it.

Becoming an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

Together, we can — and will — make a difference.