I saw it happening all too often. Men who care about workplace diversity in their tech companies, but inadvertently said the wrong thing. Or they wrote a quick message, using non-inclusive gendered language by mistake. Or they laughed at a joke, without stopping to think about who it would offend.
I heard from men who, wanting to help female colleagues, introduced them to opportunities, but were reprimanded because they didn't ask permission first:
"The other day, I saw a viral tweet seeking to compile 1,000 women in tech who could speak at events. I responded with four women I highly look up to. One of them gently taught me that that is the wrong thing to do—I was putting a potentially unwanted spotlight and burden on her. Even well-intentioned actions have consequences, and consent is always important."
I saw male leaders trying to reassure women that their companies were meritocracies. That women had as much of a chance to get ahead as the men, even though the numbers proved otherwise. Like at Adobe, where women are 29% of the global workforce, yet only 24% filling leadership roles. Or Intel, whose workforce is 28% women, dropping down to 18% in leadership. Or Google, whose employees are 31% women with only 24% filling leadership positions.
I read posts about panels going sideways, with the male speakers being a bit tone deaf about the challenges their female employees faced (for example, "White Male 'Allies' Have Surprisingly Little to Say About Fixing Sexist Tech Culture", by Selena Larson).
Across the tech industry, men were putting a proverbial foot into their mouths over and over again—good men, wanting to show support for workplace diversity, crossing lines they didn't even know existed.
Something needed to change.
In late 2014, I started the Twitter handle (@betterallies) to share everyday actions for guys working in tech. Steps anyone could take to be a better ally for women and underrepresented minorities. Here's a sampling of recent Tweets:
I pledge to introduce people by including their title and area of responsibility. "Please say hello to our Director of Growth, Ana Smith." https://t.co/wUrD4XDc1A
— Better Male Allies (@betterallies) June 6, 2017
In job descriptions for managers, I add "Experience leading diverse teams" as a requirement. Shows our commitment, attracts the right folks.
— Better Male Allies (@betterallies) April 18, 2017
Headed to an end-of-week happy hour at your office? Take the #MaleAllies challenge & say hi to someone who doesn't look like you.
— Better Male Allies (@betterallies) April 7, 2017
In meetings, I try to use a women or minority's name when referring to or building on something they said. "To Jane's point..." #MaleAllies
— Better Male Allies (@betterallies) March 26, 2017
My goal is to help anyone who wants to support women and underrepresented minorities, but may not be sure exactly how to do so. As Nithya Ruff, a member of the Linux Foundation Board of Directors, tweeted recently:
— Nithya Ruff (@nithyaruff) April 3, 2017
To get ideas for Tweets, I review research and news articles for actionable steps. I amplify what I see others doing in online communities and at meetups for Diversity and Inclusion professionals. And I reflect on the missteps I've made over my 25+ years working in tech, with a pledge to do better.
Becoming an ally is a journey, and it's a journey that I'm on myself.