Allies > Biases
We all know biases suck. That’s obvious. Allies can help prevent biases from taking control of your community.
I feel that I hear depressing stories of experiences from women in technology on an almost daily basis for the past year. I never intentionally set out to read these stories. I don’t go to meetups asking around, “What shitty thing has happened to you recently?” They just come out. I may hear these more often than others because I have taken up a bit more leadership in the community through my hackathon and other involvements, and frankly I'm sick of it. Even if I do live in a bubble of women in tech, these aren’t rare occurrences across the board. I don't really want to dive into the stories because a) why feed the trolls and b) I’d rather not tell someone else’s story.
No one telling these stories are expecting a pity party. Sharing our experiences is just a natural human instinct. Occasionally when someone is alone in a situation they want to tell the first person who will have empathy. That’s understandable, right?
I have recently become even more frustrated with these stories when they are in my own communities. I have become more upset with the fact that this happens because of the difference of gender identity. We are all human beings and deserve to be treated equally despite what biases we may hold.
I've had my fair share of guys telling me that inclusivity was not that important. I've been mansplained on topics I knew plenty about. I’ve been separated out because I was a female and I’ve been looked past as a mentor because I don't resemble the status quo. My favorite question was being asked, “Why do we need more females in Computer Science?” He wasn't trying to strike up an intellectual conversation , but it was rather a loaded question that was only meant to put me down.
However I have also had great allies of all gender identities who have my back when faced with opposition. I want this for everyone. We need allies to be louder than a community’s biases.
So what can anyone do to improve the situation on either side of problem?
An ally is a member of the “majority” group who works to end oppression in [their] personal life through support of and as an advocate for the oppressed population. - Intro to Power, Privilege, Oppression, and Allyship from NASCO
Looking for an ally
This is not about sides, but if you are the one which the bias is against I really encourage you to search for allies. You don't have to deal with this on your own. I’d like to call who you are looking for an “active ally.”
These allies are people you can count on. They do not just support diversity because it is the hip thing to do. Look for those who highly value equality and fairness. Look for those who have minorities in their lives that they care for. Occasionally they have had some sort of minority experiences before, like going to a conference dedicated to a specific group or are an active part of a minority organization. An active ally would not just be a lurker in a community; although, a lurker may have the potential to become one. An active ally also rarely refers to themselves an ally. However, you will know these people when you see them.
An ally will be a good listener. They won’t tell you what to think. An ally will work with you through an unpleasant situation. They are the people you can go to when shit hits the fan. Occasionally a toxic situation can be easily extinguished by allies. Other times it will take a bit more work, but it is great to have someone on your side to step up with you.
Being an ally
Active allies are critical to any community, especially ones experiencing growing pains. Becoming an ally can be intimidating. It is really about personal growth. You don’t do it in one day. Here’s some tips to start out with:
Tip #1: Educate yourself through listening to those in minority groups, reading resources from those same groups, and introspective thinking on the topics raised. When educating yourself, it is not really time to take a public opinion just yet.
Tip #2: Listen, and then listen some more. As I said before, listening will help someone as well as help you grow to become an active ally. I really hope that from listening empathy will grow. (Empathy is an extremely critical piece to this giant puzzle. I really should do a whole post on it.)
Tip #3: You are going to make mistakes. It is alright. A good ally will accept their mistake, apologize, and work to move past it.
Tip #4: Make sure to ask questions to better understand. Once you have listened and tried educating yourself, it’s important to ask questions that are on your mind. Those who want allies will be happy to answer questions that help you become a better ally. It’s all for the sake of education.
Tip #5: The critical part of being an ally is the active portion. You have to stand up. It’s not easy putting yourself out there, but there would be no point of having active allies if they did not stand up for those who need them.
Julie Pagano’s “So You Want to Be an Ally?” post has some great examples of standing up:
Asking someone not to use inappropriate language (e.g. “Hey, using the word ‘lame’ as a negative isn’t cool. I’d appreciate it if you use a different word.”, “Please don’t use that word.”)
Calling out inappropriate behavior (e.g. “I noticed you keep cutting off <female coworker> in meetings. Let’s make sure she gets a chance to talk in the future.”, “Stop staring.”, “This blog post is inappropriate. Please revise it or take it down.”).
Holding people accountable for their inappropriate behavior (e.g. not putting them in positions of power, “We can’t be friends if you keep behaving this way.”, “You need to apologize.”).
Make sure the needs of people are considered (e.g. “Our event needs to be at a location that is accessible.”, “Yes, we need a code of conduct.”).
I have been on the search for more comprehensive posts on being a better ally for awhile. Julie Pagano’s “So You Want to Be an Ally?” is one of the best I’ve seen out there. It’s very comprehensive as a starting point and goes into areas such as education more in depth. She has really influenced some of my tips. I *highly* recommend you check it out.
Also, you definitely don't have to be a male to read on the topic and try to become a better “active ally.” We all can! I know I am not the best active ally that I could be.
Allies can have a lasting effect on a community. I do not want fellow females, friends, and community members to question whether they want to be a part of a community due to an incident. Let’s not create toxic communities where biases grab ahold of the reins. Let’s all become better active allies. Together let’s have our allies be greater in strength than our biases and help eliminate them.
Please recommend and share with your community to increase active ally awareness and fight toxic environments. If you have more ally resources or tips you would like to share, feel free to tweet at me at @taylor_atx.