At Humu, our mission is to make work better for everyone. That means helping leaders, managers, and team members take action to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organizations.
Sadly, the vast majority of workplaces are still far from equitable. Just 8% of managers and 3.8% of CEOs are Black. Women of color are far more likely than white women to feel that being authentic would hurt their chances of being considered for leadership positions; compared to 44% of white women, 72% of Black women, 53% of Latinas, and 52% of Asian women say their organization equates “executive presence” to traditional white male standards and behaviors. Researchers found that 46% of Black women feel their suggestions are not heard or recognized on the job; they are also less likely than straight white men to have their ideas endorsed.
These are not issues that can be fixed by one-time training sessions, a compelling mission statement, or a series of town halls (though these are all certainly steps in the right direction). Meaningful and long-lasting change happens when every employee, at every level, starts doing things differently.
While it can feel overwhelming for individuals to figure out exactly what they should do next, at Humu we know that the cumulative power of seemingly small steps can be enormous. Here are 5 nudges for how anyone can act as an ally and help ensure that highly qualified people are no longer left behind.
Revisit interview questions
The best way to hire is to ask each candidate the same behavioral questions. Have your team reflect on your existing interview process: Do you have a consistent set of questions, and clear criteria to assess the quality of responses? Are the prompts designed to give you an accurate signal of how well someone can do a specific job? Too often, technical interviews contain a series of complicated (and intimidating) one-off algorithmic questions that assess how well practiced and trained an interviewee is rather than whether or not they would succeed in the role. Irrelevant and inconsistent interview questions leave the door wide open for bias.
Plan for how you’ll take action
Sometimes coworkers do things that give us pause, like interrupting someone during a meeting or making a passing joke that could be hurtful. It’s often tough to speak up on the fly, but planning ahead can make it easier. Take a few moments to think of a behavior or comment you noticed recently that may have made someone else feel less valued. Then clearly outline what you’ll do or say the next time something similar happens (it’s also never too late to send someone a note about their behavior, in the interest of helping them grow). Remind yourself: the responsibility of an ally is to jump in. By doing so, you set the tone for how your team treats each other.
When a peer is doing great work or has a brilliant idea that needs to be heard, consider stepping up as their champion by using time with your boss to say “Sheryl has been doing an amazing job!” The more specific you can be in your praise, the better. Supporting colleagues can get lost in the day-to-day, but great work should not go unnoticed. When you help someone shine, you demonstrate what a good ally looks like—and create an inclusive environment for everyone.
Give useful, equitable feedback
Learning what you need to improve, and how to make positive changes, is critical to getting promoted. Unfortunately, research shows that members of some groups are much more likely to get vague, unhelpful feedback than others. To give useful feedback, make it specific and actionable. Instead of throwing out an anxiety-inducing generalization like “Your comments missed the mark,” outline a clear path forward. For example: “Your third slide repeated most of the content on the second, and should be deleted.”
Pull others up with you
To create equitable and diverse workforces, we all need to lift as we climb. Often, one of the most valuable resources you can offer others—especially those who might not feel comfortable raising their voices—is a connection to an influential expert in your network. If there is someone on your team who is doing great work but seems hesitant to speak up or who might be feeling isolated, connect them with a potential new ally. When you make the introduction, be sure to provide context. Describe why you think these two individuals would enjoy meeting, and what interests they have in common.
We have a long way to go, and rooting out systemic bias and racism in organizations won’t happen overnight. But a first step that anyone, at any level of an organization, can take is to act as an ally. The intentional actions listed above can pave the path for broader changes––and help to create a workforce that is more diverse, inclusive, and equitable.