As someone that identifies as a black, lesbian, trans nonbinary, female, I’m no stranger to allies. But for every great example of allyship I’ve witnessed, it’s safe to say I’ve seen just as many (if not more) bad examples of allyship or as I like to call it, being an “ally for show” a.k.a. performative allyship.
But first, let’s define allyship. In a nutshell, allyship is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. It’s important to note that this isn’t self-defined work or efforts, but rather the kind of work and efforts that are recognized by those that you’re seeking to ally with. On the flip side, performative allyship is when an individual from a majority or privileged group professes their support with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people for showmanship and credit without actually doing anything to provide value or support. In other words, it’s the difference between someone actually standing up for the LGBTQ community during a heated discussion or taking part in a protest vs. keeping quiet in the moments that matter, but tweeting out “love is love” during LGBTQ Month in October for more likes.
So if you want to take part in allyship that actually makes a difference for marginalized individuals and/or groups of people, here are 5 ways to ensure you go about it the right way:
- Take time to really listen – no genuine understanding or true allyship can occur without the act of listening to the diverse voices you’re an ally for. So do yourself a favor and simply listen without the need to comment, ask questions or get credit for the act of listening itself.
- Remember it’s not about you – if at any point you find yourself seeking praise or justifying that you’re an ally, what you’re really doing is putting the spotlight on yourself and away from the real issues, actions and needs of the individuals and groups at hand. After all, allyship is not an identity, but an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group. So don’t make the mistake of making it about you instead.
- Do the work – whether it’s attending protests, donating money to relevant organizations or simply speaking up when and where it matters most, you’ve got to be willing to DO THE WORK. That also means not only doing the work when it’s convenient for you but when you are needed most.
- Stay in your lane – whatever you do, don’t take advantage of your privilege by not giving credit where credit is due. What I mean by this is when you’re discussing social injustices that you didn’t experience firsthand, remember to remain objective and tell the story that needs to be told without making it your story.
- Embrace constructive criticism – if someone from a group you’re aligned with tries to give you feedback on what could be better, don’t take it as an attack. Instead, allow yourself to be educated and look at their constructive criticism as an opportunity to help you simply become a better ally.
Have some examples of your own to help others be a better ally? Share them in the comments below.
For more, I recently gave a talk on allyship that can be found here.
In the late 90s, I was a teenager in middle school. One day I told my mom, I needed my social security card to register for a summer program.
When looking at the card (pictured above), I immediately wondered why the middle name on the card was different than the name I had spelled my entire life. I asked my mom, and she explained to me that the nurse, when I was born, decided that my mom must have been mistaken in the spelling of my middle name and wrote Michelle instead of the intended Michel. My mom then explained the hoops that she had to jump through to change my birth certificate but that she never got around to changing my social security card, because there was a cost associated to the change.
Many years later, I found out that this narrative is actually pervasive in the Black and Native American communities, where outside medical professionals often made a judgment call as to what they felt was best for the infant under their care.
Stories like this is actually why I feel compelled to share the fact that as another step in my journey as a trans nonbinary individual that I’ve decided to be called B. moving forward. This won’t be my legal name. I will continue to be legally to government and institutions as a tribute to the fight my mom had to even name me as she wished. However, I know that the name B. fully represents the person that I have been in my home, work, and in every other space for the last 6 years of this journey. I also have to personally thank one of my best friends, Alex, for encouraging me by telling me one night that I just felt like a “B.”
Some may struggle with this change but one must remember a line from Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” I like many of my trans family realize that this is our season and we choose being whole versus continually operating within the bounds of systems that would not recognize us anyway.
If you’ve managed to convince yourself that you’re a lost cause when it comes to working in tech, I’ve got news for you: there’s a job in tech with one of those fancy reserved signs literally waiting just for you. And the only reason you haven’t landed that dream job yet is because you haven’t properly assessed your skillset and what is truly needed to get you there.
When I look back on my own journey, I can tell you that I didn’t get to where I am overnight. In fact, who I am and where I’ve gone both professionally and personally happened because I took the time to assess and reassess my own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats on a consistent basis over the years. Whether it was to gain more confidence in my technical and professional skills or just get more comfortable with my sexuality/gender, it’s all part of what shaped who I am in tech and in life today.
But what really helped me solidify my place in tech is CLASS. Sure, I’m plenty classy and dapper in my suit, but what I’m talking about is:
Leading with Authority
Not only did I repeatedly spot the five traits mentioned above in folks who were able to successfully navigate the tech space, but these are the same traits that were critical for propelling my career in tech-forward.
And the best part is that you can easily move your own career in tech forward in just 4 steps today:
List out skills and traits you want to develop – you don’t have to go big or go home. Instead start small with key areas you’d like to learn more about all while embodying a bit of CLASS with curiosity. Develop a squad of accountability partners – having a friend, coworker or even a family member hold you accountable can make all the difference. So don’t hesitate to ask around or swap and hold each other accountable on whatever skillset or trait you’re both working on. Find a teacher to help develop your desired skills/traits – finding a teacher in the area you’d like to grow in is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of whatever skillset you’re looking to improve. Just remember to pay it forward when a student comes to you down the road. Set specific benchmarks for success and stick to them – knowing what success looks like is sometimes half the battle to getting to where you want to go. The key is to define it for yourself before somebody else does.
If you don’t have a lot of experience under your belt to evaluate your skills or traits yet, then focus on staying curious and learning as much as you can by following prominent people in tech or reading some of my favorite books below:
- Start with Why by Simon Sinek
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink
- Radical Candor by Kim Scott
- The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table by Minda Harts
- Think and Grow Rich: The Landmark Bestseller Now Revised and Updated for the 21st Century by Napoleon Hill
- Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg
- The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life by Steve Zaffron
- You are a Badass (Deluxe Edition): How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
- Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio and Jeremy Bobb
- Entreleadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey
- The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Rich by Thomas J. Stanley Ph.D., William D. Danko Ph.D.
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
So if there’s anything you choose to walk away with after reading this, just remember this: there is plenty of room for you in tech (yes, you!) As long as you continue to develop your skillset, stay CLASS-Y, round up accountability partners and teachers to help you grow, and set those benchmarks for success, you can find a career in tech that’s exactly the right fit for you.
It’s funny how much time we spend preparing ourselves for how to best answer why we are the right fit for the job, without ever really taking the time to pause and ask an equally important question — why is the job and company we’re about to work for truly the right fit for us?
Before we know it, we’ve managed to sell the company on saying yes to us only to realize that we can’t say the same thing about the job or company for which we’re now working.
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. After all, it can be exciting to land a job with the money or title you’ve always dreamed of. But trust me when I say this: the money or fancy title won’t matter once the honeymoon phase is over and you’re stuck working for a company that doesn’t respect your values or what you bring to the table.
How can I be so sure? Because I just recently left my job at a trillion-dollar company to pursue another opportunity. Don’t get me wrong; I was fortunate enough to find a vocation I love and work for a company I’ve been a fan of since I first knew anything about technology. However, I also learned that finding a job I love is only half the battle. The second part is finding a company that shares the same love and respect for my work, values, and future growth.
So here are two big questions you should consider before making your next big career move:
1. Is the company culture a good fit? When you think about the culture of a company, it’s no different than thinking about the personality of a person with which you will spend a lot of time. And since you and this company are about to be spending 40+ hours a week together, you must take the time to investigate the company values, ethics, working agreement, and goals before you commit to anything. For example, if integrity, inclusion, diversity, and transparency are important values to you, then you better make sure you know they are essential to your future employer too. Not only will you enjoy your time at work more when your needs and values are consistent with those in the workplace, but you’ll be happier and more productive at work as a result. Win-win, right?
2. Is there an opportunity for future growth? As exciting as your job may be in the beginning, it’s also vital to understand what your opportunity for training, development, and growth (or lack of) can look like down the road. According to a report carried out by Bayt.com with YouGov in April 2015, 43% of 5,774 respondents left their jobs within two years. Although the number one reason for leaving was salary, the second was a lack of career growth opportunities. Surprise, surprise, right?
Most importantly, no matter how appealing the job or pay or even title sound at the moment, remember not to overlook the criteria that will keep you happily employed long-term. If at any point, you uncover even the smallest thing about a company’s culture or lack of opportunities for growth that doesn’t sit right with you, the job will most likely not be a good fit moving forward. And if you’ve already started a position with the company, remember there’s no shame in walking away. Sometimes quitting is the *best* thing you can do for you and your career.
“If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” ~ Maya Angelou
Let’s be real, with all the black female leaders alone that have successfully paved the road to success; Black History Month should be a year-long celebration. Whether you’re talking about Maya Angelou, Oprah, or Luvvie Ajayi, it’s pretty apparent that black culture wouldn’t be what it is without the strong black women genuinely embracing and celebrating their authenticity. Speaking of embracing authenticity, I recently dedicated a whole blog post about how unleashing my authenticity as a black, lesbian, trans nonbinary, and cisgender female has not only helped shape my path to success – but has the power to empower other black women to do the very same thing.
Now I’m excited to take it a step further and talk about the impact that bringing YOUR whole authentic self to work as a black female can have on improving creativity, connection, and performance. And nobody chalks it up quite like award-winning author and speaker, Luvvie Ajayi, when she refers to “being the first domino” in her famous TED Talk, “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.” For her, being the first domino is about speaking up and showing up as your true authentic self no matter how afraid or uncomfortable you might be with the hope that it inspires others to be the next domino in line that’s willing to take a risk and impact real change. If you know anything about Luvvie Ajayi, she’s not just talking about owning your opinion…she’s also talking about owning your authenticity as a black woman and everything you have to contribute as a result. Pretty inspiring, right?
“Being quiet is comfortable. Keeping things the way they’ve been is comfortable. And all comfort has done is maintain the status quo.” ~ Luvvie Ajayi
Not only has the domino approach worked wonders for Luvvie’s professional career, but it can also have a positive impact on yours when you start to bring your whole self to work and own a diverse set of ideas, opinions, and values you have to offer as a black woman. There was recently an article published in the Harvard Business Review, stating that “diversity not only improved team performance but also improved decision making and innovation.” You know what that means, right? Every time you permit yourself to show up as your real authentic black female self, your team and company actually work smarter, faster, and overall better.
Of course, don’t get me wrong this is no easy change to make. There will always be someone in the room trying to mute you, hold you back, and keep your power as a black female from shining. When that happens, remember you also can cut ties with your job or anybody that’s not accepting of you. After all, it’s better that you see the true colors of the job or people that no longer serve you sooner than later.
So, next time you feel yourself or your ideas being muted, glossed over, or pushed out, don’t spend your energy trying to fit in. Instead, be that first domino to fall and let your whole authentic black female self genuinely shine through.