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Unconscious Demotions, Intersectionality, and a Theme of Respect

5 Ally Actions | Aug 17, 2018

Photo by Martin Abegglen via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

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

As we did the final editing pass on this week’s newsletter, we realized a theme had emerged. Respect. With all due respect to Aretha Franklin, read on to find out what it means to us.

1. Respect (and appropriately pay) the person who runs the show

Have you ever introduced a co-worker with, “She does all the work”, “She runs everything”, “She keeps us all sane”, or “We’d be lost without her”?

As Michelle Glauser points out in this viral tweet, simply talking about her contributions isn’t enough. Instead, ask yourself if you’re paying her appropriately for the critical impact she has on the business. And if you’ve given her the title she deserves, along with the support staff to make it all happen.

Right on. And speaking of respect…

2. Don’t give an unconscious demotion

Earlier this week, Marisa Franco tweeted, “Tip: Instead of asking unfamiliar faces in your department ‘are you a student?’ ask ‘what is your role, here?’ This helps folks who haven’t traditionally been the face of academia — young professors, professors of color, female professors in mostly male departments — belong.”

In tech, this might look like someone asking “are you an intern?” Or, “do you work in marketing or HR?” (While there’s nothing wrong with those disciplines, this kind of assumption can be another signal to marginalized engineers that they don’t belong.) To be more inclusive, follow Dr. Suzanne Wertheim’s advice: Don’t give an “unconscious demotion” by articulating that you think someone is in a position lower or less technical than their real position. Instead, ask an open-ended question.

3. Assume attendees at professional events are qualified to be there

Once again, we were reminded of how bias can show up at professional events. Tasha Stanton‏ tweeted, “Here’s the sad thing about being a female in research. I cannot take my husband to events without people assuming he is the reason we are attending. Today I was referred to as the ‘less significant’ other. No. I am the invited speaker. #womenInSTEM”

When meeting someone at a professional event, we should assume they’re qualified to be there. Consider following the advice from #2 and ask an open-ended question, such as “What do you do professionally?” or “What are your goals for this event?” You may even discover you just had the privilege of meeting the keynote speaker.

4. Learn how to write (and speak) about transgender people

To be respectful and inclusive of all gender identities, let’s ensure we’re using the right language for transgender people. Need some help? Alex Kapitan breaks it down for us in this style guide for writing about transgender people. Consider reading it and then bookmarking it, so you can refer to it as needed.

5. Understand the pressure of intersectionality

Intersectionality refers to the “the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and yes, intersect — especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups.” (Mirriam-Webster) Many thanks to Kimberlé Crenshaw for coining this term and creating a new field of academic research to better understand it.

One example of intersectionality is women of color who work in tech. And here’s insight into the additional pressures they face to prove they belong, in this post by Jada Washington.

After reading it, think about how you can help ensure a sense of belonging and inclusion for everyone in your group, especially those who face additional pressures due to multiple forms of discrimination.

Hero of the week

Our hero of the week is Rogier Kievit, who tweeted,

Thank you, Roger, for taking a stand and making room for more diversity on this editorial board.

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

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