Tech Doesn’t Need No Knights In Shining Armor

Last week, opensource.org published my article about why I started The Male Allies Project. Given their large reader base and boatload of followers on Twitter, I knew it would be a solid approach to increasing awareness of my initiative.

I also had a feeling it might generate some criticism. As Jason van Gumster wrote to the open source community recently, “Haters are an inevitable part of sharing your work.” (Read his post about how to handle haters here.)

So, on publication day, I was mentally prepared. Hoping for support, yet ready to handle the hate.

When I checked Twitter early in the morning, I saw lots of great comments and retweets of the article. Phew.

Then came some vents, like “I’m here to earn my paycheck, not take care of other people.” (Expletives removed.) And some pointed jabs calling me a creep and to F off. Nothing I couldn’t handle.

But then…a pleasant surprise. A handful of critical tweets that made me think deeply about my work on The Male Allies Project. I’d expected to hear from some haters, but to learn from them? That caught me off guard.

These tweets were from women who dismissed the need for allies. Women who didn’t want to be placed in a homogeneous group that couldn’t speak for themselves. Women who bristled at the implied need for knights to ride in and save them from toxic workplace cultures.

Which got me thinking. I don’t want to be a knight riding in to save the day. I don’t want to view underrepresented folks as virtual damsels in distress. I don’t want to serve as anyone’s protector. No. No. No.

By contrast, I want to change the culture to one where everyone can thrive. I want to question the norms that have allowed folks like me to get ahead, and take everyday actions to support members of marginalized groups. And I want to bring my peers along on this journey.

I found myself wondering, “So, what’s the difference between ally actions and knight actions?” Perhaps it comes down to whether they ultimately create systemic change or not. Here are some examples:

Scenario 1 
I realize a hiring committee is measuring candidates inconsistently, using subjective criteria which treats the one underrepresented person less favorably than the rest of the pool.

Knight: I push back to give the underrepresented person a better chance, trying to save that person from being eliminated from the hiring process.

Ally: I push back AND recommend defining objective criteria before each candidate search.

Scenario 2
I notice Ana, an underrepresented person, being interrupted in a meeting.

Knight: I step in to save Ana by saying, “I think Ana was making a good point. Let me summarize.”

Ally: I redirect the conversation back to Ana’s capable hands with, “I’d like to get back to what Ana was saying.” I also institute a no-interruption rule for meetings.

Moving forward, I’ll be taking a good hard look at my actions to make sure I’m acting as an ally, not a knight. And I thank the women who said they didn’t need anyone to come to their rescue. I learned from you, and I’m grateful.

In tech, we don’t need no knights in shining armor. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need men to take action, to be ambassadors for change. And over here at The Male Allies Project, we’re going to push on, sharing everyday actions to take to create more inclusive workplace cultures. Not just for a marginalized individual or two, but for all.

Please join us. Follow us on Twitter @betterallies. Introduce us to underrepresented people we should follow. Subscribe to our newsletter. Like a post or two on our Medium channel. Tell someone about the work we’re doing. We can, and will, make a difference to the tech industry.