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Talking Politics at Work, and Why We Should Use the Mic, Every Time

5 Ally Actions | Oct 5, 2018

Photo of someone handing over a mic

Each week, we share five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and become a better ally.

1. Acknowledge current events

Here in America, we’ve had a heavy two weeks due to Supreme Court nomination hearings. As we wrote last previously, our co-workers may need our support as they deal with what’s happening on both sides of the political aisle. As more unfolds in the coming days, they may need even more support.

Be sure to check out How to talk about politics at work by Michelle Kim. In it, she wrote,

“If you are wondering whether your team is distracted or feeling less engaged at work because of current events, stop wondering. They are.”

Michelle goes on to provide guidance on how to broach the topic and help boost psychological safety. Her tips are perfect for people managers and allies everywhere. Give it a read. You might need it on Monday.

2. Use the mic, every time

We’ve all been at Q&A sessions when someone in the audience shouts out their question, impatient for the mic to make its way to them. When this happens, it can create a less inclusive event for others in the audience who might have trouble hearing them.

Many thanks to accessibility and inclusive design expert Matt May, who tweeted the following PSA: “If someone hands you a microphone at a conference Q&A: DO NOT say something like ‘I’m loud enough’ or ‘I don’t need a mic.’ Hard of hearing attendees may be using an assistive listening device. Captioners may be working remotely. Just take the freaking mic.”

Let’s all follow Matt’s advice. Use the mic, every time.

3. Shut down off-topic, inappropriate questions

We were taken aback when reading about Google engineer Julia Ferraioli‏’s experience: “One of the most disturbing incidents happened when I was the speaker. During Q&A an attendee demanded to know if I was single. I didn’t answer. He refused to leave the event because I ‘owed’ him an answer. He then tracked me down with my personal email.”

Allies, if we ever see an audience member asking the speaker an off-topic, inappropriate question, like “Are you single?”, let’s stand up. And use our loud outside voice to let him know, “Dude, we don’t do that here.”

4. Choose photos of underrepresented genders and minorities

Think about the subtle, or not so subtle, messages we send when we use photos in our slide decks. If we show only white, male, able-bodied people, what stereotypes are we reinforcing?

We love that systems engineer Alice Goldfuss used historic photos of women and people of color in her slides for her talk at this week’s Velocity Conference. Well done.

5. Find alternatives for industry terms with racist roots

For those of us working in tech, we’ve probably used terms like “whitelist/blacklist” to filter items in algorithms, and “master/slave” to describe a system having control over another. Despite their racist undertones, these terms are almost universally accepted.

As allies, we can step up and use more inclusive language. Similar to how you might use “dev-hours” or “person-hours” instead of “man-hours.” Looking for some alternatives for the phrases above? Try “primary/replica” and “safelist/blocklist.”

We’re curious to know if other industries also have standard terms that are racist or otherwise not inclusive. Do you know of any? Please reply to this email. We’d appreciate hearing from you.

One last thing

One of our subscribers wrote,

“Thank you so much for this newsletter — I read it in its entirety every time, and for the items I find relevant and valuable I immediately share them to my network.”

What music to our ears! And given the influx of new subscribers we see after sending out each edition, we know many of you share our newsletter with your networks. We’re grateful, my friends. Please keep it up.

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

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