Anthony Kennedy, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and You and Me (The Allies)

Here is what I believe should be our response to the unsettling month of June, 2018.

We should never fall for this myth again: Our personal, professional, organizational and societal worlds are completely separate entities.

Instead, we should all believe and act on this truth: It is essential that the growth of economic, social and racial justice be a core value of our 21st century workplace.

June, 2018 was quite a month for all sorts of reasons. I’m focusing on two polar events. Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court. We can pretty much be sure that the growth of economic, social and racial justice will take a big hit. But just the day before Kennedy’s announcement, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28 year old Latina, unseated a 10-term white congressman, Joe Crowley, in New York’s 14th Congressional district. Crowley hadn’t faced a primary opponent in 14 years.

Here’s another June, 2018 takeaway for me as a white, cisgender, heterosexual male: Being a strong, relentless, effective ally for diversity and inclusion (D&I) has never been more important!

Representing The Tech Connection I recently presented a workshop entitled, “Being a Better Ally to Diversity & Inclusion” for Hack.Diversity. This also happened in June. It was my pleasure to work with the good people who chose to be part of this important conversation.

Google the word, “allyship.” You will find hundreds of discussions of the concept. Here’s the language we used in the workshop: Allyship is an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people.

We also looked at scenarios that had lots of challenges related to issues of D&I in the workplace. We then discussed how we would apply some of the following strategies to not be a bystander, but to be a better ally and actually part of the solution for a more inclusive workplace:

As an ally…

  • I continually ask the question, “Who am I when I walk into the room?” I continually rethink how my identity and life experiences shape “the lens” through which I see and interact with others in the workplace.
  • I recognize and accept that there are different life and workplace experiences based on identity.
  • ​I know I need to build my capacity to grapple with the discomfort, even tension that may arise from a range of feelings, including feeling blamed for, or not knowing what to do to address issues of inequity in the workplace.
  • I act – I seek to be a resource and become part of the solution for a more inclusive workplace by using my power to affect change at the point(s) of decision making in my sphere of influence.
  • In the bigger picture outside the workplace, I do what it takes to be a resource to advance the personal, interpersonal, professional, organizational and societal health, vibrancy, and success for all of us!

The key issue here is redistribution of power and influence. As a white, cisgender, heterosexual male, I need to keep this goal smack dab in the center of my effort to be a better ally.

What’s this all got to do with the month of June, 2018 and Justice Anthony Kennedy and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? The work of building equal access everywhere including the workplace is far from over.

Allies need to play a lead role.

Case in point: The number of African-Americans in Corporate America leading companies remains pitifully low, and not because they are under qualified. Research shows that “Even among graduates of Harvard Business School …only 13% of black female Harvard MBAs over the past 40 years have reached the senior-most executive ranks.” Additional obstacles? Checkout these quotes:

“Much of the advice that minorities are often given around advancing and succeeding emphasizes the ways in which they may need to conform or assimilate.”

“I’m forever exhausted by people thinking the reason I have the senior role I’m in is that I’m black, not that I’m excellent.”

Another case in point: This report on the new wave of female political activism “finds that most young people see a double standard in the employment market: 68% believe that women must be more qualified than men to compete successfully for the same job.” All this while we have fewer women CEOs in 2018 than 2017 and only 21% of board seats at S&P 500 companies are held by women.

Allies – how will we step up?

Truth is I’m a very big fan of affecting the growth of economic, social and racial justice by being a whole lot more inclusive of those who have been underrepresented, marginalized and formerly unheard. I used to say we need 1000 more Obamas and 1000 more Sotomayors. I still do! Now, I’m totally inspired by what’s happening with people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But being inspired is certainly not enough.

There is no doubt our personal, professional, organizational and societal worlds are intrinsically interwoven.

Here we go allies – lean into the discomfort, refuse to be dormant and act. We are on!

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