In a world full of increasingly reactionary politics to the mere existence of people that don’t neatly fit outdated stereotypes of How To Be In This World, it feels like a very good time to explore how women in tech can be better allies to other gender identities around us.
If you were ever the weird kid in school, you’ve got a tiny idea about what it’s like when the world treats you like an outsider. And if you weren’t, you saw how the weird kids got treated.
Let’s channel that empathy into better allyship.
The best thing an ally can do is listen to the people they want to support, learning from their lived experiences. No group of people is a monolith and individual preferences and comfort levels should always be considered.
If you’re not sure where to start, this episode of the Work Appropriate podcast with Morgan Givens on gender identity at work is a great place. (There’s a list of more orgs and their resources to check out at the end of this post.)
This is not high school and we are not Mean Girls. Everyone can sit with us!
Just saying “everyone is welcome!” isn’t enough. If you’re not sure if someone wants to be included in a women in tech type of event, err on the side of issuing an invitation and let them make that decision themselves. You might need to invite them several times before they feel comfortable being included in the group, or they might make it clear at the beginning they are not interested.
It might all be very awkward and that is okay!
Extend an open invitation without any pressure and let them know they won’t be on their own if they decide to attend – they already know you and you can introduce them around, or they can bring someone else with them if that will make them more comfortable.
If you mess up someone’s pronouns, for example, don’t profusely apologize. Say you’re sorry briefly and work hard to get it right in the future. Practice on your own if you have to!
The point is to not put the burden on the other person to make you feel better about your slip-up. If it’s someone you’ve known a long time a certain way, it can be hard to shift your perspective and they know that. Give yourself grace.
If someone does get mad at you for messing up when you’re truly trying your best, understand that everyone has bad days and gets snappy. Grant them grace and always operate from the perspective that it’s not about you.
This is a hard thing and it’s not for everyone in every situation – if you ever see an opportunity to speak up but think doing so would escalate the situation and/or make you feel unsafe, you have to carefully weigh that decision. It’s one that only you can make for yourself and will depend a lot on the work environment you’re operating in.
A very open, accepting office environment will make it easier to speak up while one that is hostile – full of “edgy jokes” at the watercooler, for example – will obviously not. Speaking up will also depend on your relationships with your colleagues, especially if someone is senior to you. If you are a senior colleague in a situation, this is a great time to use your position for good. If you’re not sure how, start with this post from Out in Tech on Intl. Pronouns Day: Five Ways to Establish A Safe and Respectful Space for All Employees.
In a lot of situations, you can simply speak up on behalf of someone who is not present, or who is but does not feel comfortable correcting a co-worker who’s intentionally misgendering them again, for example. It doesn’t have to be complicated or involved; simply correct the person and move on: “That’s not how they prefer to be addressed. Now X, didn’t you have something you wanted to show me?” and get out of the situation.
If you do this and the person you’ve spoken up for asks you not to do so again in the future, respect that request. Do not make it about you trying to do a good thing; they may have reasons for asking you to stop that they are not comfortable sharing with you and they do not owe you an explanation.
Related to the last point, if someone has felt comfortable enough with you as a colleague and friend to come out to you but they are not yet out to the rest of the office, do not share that information with anyone else.
Choosing when – or even if – to come out at work is a personal decision and it can be a difficult one. Out in Tech has a fantastic blog post about the considerations people should take before coming out at the office and it offers some great perspective if you’re not someone who has ever had to think about not being able to be your whole self at work.
Want more resources?
The author is a cis woman writing for other cis women who want to be better allies. If we've missed something, we'd love to hear about it! Send your comments, questions, and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Your Identity Is Not A Problem with Morgan Givens, Work Appropriate podcast
Lesbians Who Tech & Allies
Out in Tech
Intl. Pronouns Day: Five Ways to Establish A Safe and Respectful Space for All Employees
Coming Out As LGBTQ+ at Work: 5 Steps to Help You Decide
14 organizations that support LGBTQ+ tech workers
About the Author: Sarah A. Parker is a freelance writer and the founder/owner of Sparker Works LLC. She brings 14 years of experience in the tech industry at B2B SaaS companies (including Bazaarvoice, Union Metrics, TrendKite, Cision, MURAL, Productboard, and more) to her clients and to this blog. She holds a BS and an MA in Communication Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and has guest lectured classes at UT and Texas State University in addition to speaking at Social Media Week Austin and at the Ragan Social Media conference. She's an enthusiast of book clubs, trail running, large dogs, and trivia nights. You can find her work and more on her website.
Austin Women in TechnologyPO Box 367, Austin, TX email@example.com
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