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How to strengthen your “ally action” muscles 🏋🏽‍♀️

In light of International Women’s Day and Women's History Month, I hope you’ll join me in taking action to create a more gender-equal world.

A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.

For each one of us to be an ally to women and #BreakTheBias, we need to recognize in those moments when “something isn’t right,” so we can take action.

There are many inspiring stories about people who took action in moments like these. Here is one of my favorite “ally action” stories:

After Andrew Grill, a Global Managing Partner at IBM, finished his keynote speech at the Online Influence conference in Cardiff, Wales, he returned to the stage to participate in a five-person panel.

As he sat down, in front of 300 or so people, he quickly realized that the panel consisted of five middle-aged men (six including the moderator), clearly not a fair representation of the digital, social or REAL world.

Nevertheless, the panel kicked off. Shortly into it, a 26-year old woman in the audience, Miranda Bishop, raised her hand and asked the group about gender diversity. Grill began talking about it…but realized he was missing the mark.

He then did something that totally changed the moment. Something that no one saw coming.

After asking the woman her name, he offered to give up his seat on the panel and invited Miranda onto the stage.

Miranda came forward to sit on the panel for the rest of the session. And she was so good that Twitter blew up with reactions about how she brought an amazing perspective as a small business owner! This illustration of standing in allyship with women is just one way to stop exclusionary behavior.

Like Grill, you can act when you notice that “something’s not right here.” Here are 3 ways to strengthen your ally skills and stop bias in its tracks:

Quick Confidence Tips to #BreakTheBias:

  • Embodied: Have some ready bias interrupters on the tip of your tongue. So often when we fail to speak up, it’s because we worry we’ll express “it” wrong. Or we might wonder if we are entirely sure something harmful or exclusionary just happened. But the most effective bias interrupters are pretty simple. So, I encourage you to commit them to memory (or write them somewhere handy!) They usually sound like this: “I was concerned and upset when I heard…” They could also sound like this: “It made me uncomfortable to hear that…/when you said…” One more approach is to simply halt the conversation by saying, “I’d like for us to pause here. Something isn’t sitting right with me…” When you know these simple dialogue disruptors, you can draw attention to what matters — without the pressure that you need to get it perfect.

  • Interpersonal: Refuse undeserved benefits. If you have some form of privilege, for example if you’re white, male, or college-educated, you enjoy benefits based on those aspects of your identity. For example, you may get lots of speaking time in meetings – or you may be able to state your opinion without it being questioned. Here’s my challenge to you: how will you politely refuse undeserved benefits? Say you’re in a meeting and you’re asked for your opinion 3 different times. You could tactfully refuse that unfair attention! You could say, “While I appreciate the opportunity to share my work, I wonder if we’d all benefit more from hearing from Neesha or Susan.” This kind of action requires noticing the imbalance and doing something to correct it. See how it helps even out the playing field?

  • Mindset: Realize that non-action isn’t “safer” than action. As you balance the pros and cons of intervening, I encourage you to tip the scales toward action. After all, the regret and pain of failing to do what’s right are pretty terrible. To shift your mindset, ask yourself these questions: “What’s the cost of doing nothing?”, “Will I regret it if I don’t intervene here?” or “If the situation was reversed, would I want someone to intervene and do something to support me?” You can also ask, “Imagine the worst-case scenario. Could I live with the outcome?” And last, here’s my favorite question of all, “What’s a small way I could step up and intervene here?” A small action can help you move out of intimidation mode – and give permission to others to join you. But it starts with you!

Allyship can only shift from being hypothetical or aspirational to something real when we make it personal. I encourage you to make allyship one of your own core leadership principles.

At the same time, I hope you recognize the ways in which having a more inclusive world helps everyone. In the words of Aboriginal elder, activist, and educator Dr. Lilla Watson: “If you have come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.”

Now I definitely want to hear from you: have you witnessed an “ally action” like Andrew Grill's? What about a time someone intervened for you, or you intervened for them? Let’s celebrate the impact of these actions in the comments. There’s a lot of heavy news in the world right now, AND inspiring stories of ordinary people stepping up. Please share your example!

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