At Keen IO, we value introspection, continuous learning, honesty and empathy. In the spirit of those values, we are eager to learn how we can leverage our individual and collective privilege to work towards a more tolerant and inclusive world. As such, we teamed up with Trello to host a leading expert in diversity and inclusion, Valerie Aurora, to share how we can all become better allies.

Most diversity and inclusion initiatives focus on changing the behavior of targets of oppression, rather than allies. This talk helped to explain why we should focus on changing the behavior of allies instead. It described about a dozen specific ally skills and talk about effective ways to develop your own ally skills, including attending the Ally Skills Workshop.

At a glance, here are the 13 skills Valerie explored in her talk:

  1. An ally self-educates
  2. An ally listens
  3. An ally gives credit
  4. An ally asks for consent from the target, if they’re doing something that might possibly harm them.
  5. An ally keeps the focus on helping targets.
  6. An ally speaks up and draws fire.
  7. An ally uses their energy wisely.
  8. An ally spends money.
  9. An ally uses their social capital.
  10. An ally acts even when it’s uncomfortable.
  11. Sometimes an ally sacrifices personal gain.
  12. An ally follows leaders from marginalized groups.
  13. An ally makes mistakes and apologizes.

We’re happy to share the recording and transcript with you.

We’re hopeful the skills Valerie covered will help to inspire our community members to use their specific constellation of privilege to identify opportunities to support, protect and amplify the voices of targets of oppression. We’ve already had several conversations internally about how we can do that, and have been thrilled to hear event attendees have been having similar conversations at their companies.

Valerie’s slides can be accessed here.



I’m here tonight to talk about Focusing on Allies, which is what I think we should do for diversity and inclusion in technology in 2016. I’ve already got a bit of an introduction, so I’ll just quickly go through the stuff that Sarah-Jane didn’t mention. I am the founder of Frameshift Consulting, which is a consultancy for diversity and inclusion in technology. That will shock you. I actually was also the lead author of that code of conduct that they just read to you. It was fantastic to hear the code of conduct implemented well with the reporting information, thank you. I also, prior to doing this work, I spent a number of years, over ten years, as a volunteer doing work for women in open source in particular. I’ve taught the Ally Skills workshop and given this talk around the world, including a number of places in Europe as well as Mexico, Australia, and our neighbors to the north.

I just have been having a bit of branding confusion so I now have a slide explaining the difference between this talk and the Ally Skills Workshop. This is about a 30 minute long talk with hopefully 20 minutes of Q&A (please!), explaining why we should teach people Ally Skills and going over some Ally Skills. The workshop is actually a three-hour workshop where you spend most of it speaking to each other and discussing real world scenarios. You can find out more about it at this link, and all of these slides and a number of other resources are available on my website as well, the Frameshift website. About the questions again, I love questions, questions are my favorite part; I hate just talking, the thing I’ve already said a million times. Writing them down on index cards gives us much higher quality questions. I’m really looking forward to that. Alright, so let’s go into some terminology.

We’re talking about Ally Skills; what is an Ally? The first thing we need to do is define a few other terms. The term privilege means an unearned advantage that’s given by society to some people but not all, so emphasis on the unearned. Oppression — systemic, pervasive inequality that is present throughout society, that benefits people with more privilege in harms those with fewer privileges. I’ll get into an example in a moment. A target is someone who suffers from oppression, also called a member of a marginalized group. Now we can define Ally. An Ally is a member of a social group that enjoys some privilege, that is taking to actions. They’re working to end oppression and to understand their own privilege. The thing about being an Ally is that that’s not an identity, it’s not a thing that you are, it’s about the actions that you take.

We’ll do an example. Here’s a privilege you may have and not be aware that you have. This is the ability to walk into a convenience store and have the owner assume you are there to buy things and not to steal them. Oppression in this case is the self-reinforcing system of stories, TV, news coverage, and the entire legal system, hooray, that stereotypes black people as criminals, that benefits non-Black people and harms black people. It’s important to remember this is benefiting someone, that’s why it exists. The target in this case is any black person who wants to enter a convenience store. It could be a nontrivial number of people. An Ally in this situation is a non-Black person who does things like donate to legal system reform organisations, actively objects when people tell racist stories or make racist comments in their presence, votes in and anti-racist ways, and reads news articles about this privilege. Those are some of the ways that you could act as an Ally in this situation. I like to hold most questions to the end but if something’s not clear, I’m happy to answer the question during the talk.

I want to talk more about what diversity and inclusion mean. A lot of people will use these words and not be quite short what they mean by them. Diversity is the state of having people in a group who differ along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, age, disability, religion, class, or caregiver status. That includes things like being a mother, or caring for your parents, things like that. Inclusion is when you have a diverse group, run in that group is valued, included and respected without unfair discrimination or bias. That’s why we say both diversity and inclusion. It doesn’t help if you have a diverse group but you’re not treating people equally and fairly within that group. Here’s a couple of common misunderstandings. An individual can’t be diverse, so please don’t say diverse hire. Diversity exists in the context of a group. One of these yellow balls with a smiley face increases the diversity if it’s added to this group of balls, but it’s not having any effect on diversity in this group. Many efforts in this area focus on increasing diversity and don’t follow through on inclusion.

Alright, so here’s some examples of diversity and inclusion efforts: volunteer-run affinity groups for people to support each other within particular groups; travel scholarships from members of marginalized groups; coding boot camps; advice books aimed at targets; volunteer-run mentoring programs; recruiting outreach to places like historically that colleges and universities; conferences for marginalized groups… this is a photo from AdaCamp which is one of the conferences I have drawn for women in open technology and culture. What’s wrong with diversity and inclusion today? I think that the problem is that most work is aimed at changing the behavior of targets of oppression. Less work is aimed at changing the behavior of allies. Let’s talk about some of the reasons why we do this in the first place.

Some of the reasons we focus on changing behavior targets are targets directly benefit from change and tend to be more self-motivated. It’s easy to get someone to take action if it’s going to personally benefit them than if it’s going to take away one of their privileges. Targets are often but not always more aware of oppression. One of the ways you can cope with being a member of a marginalized group is to be unaware of it for whatever reason. That worked for me until about age 21. Usually you get to skip the part where you raise awareness if you’re trying to convince targets to change their behavior. Targets are often lower status and easier to tell what to do. It is much easier to tell your intern that they need to speak up more often in meetings than it is to tell your CEO to stop interrupting the intern. It’s just an easier thing to do.

Targets are often seen as the cause of the problem. You’ll see this when people propose solutions to sexual harassment in the workplace or the military, by saying, why do we remove women from the workplace or the military? This ignores the fact that the majority of sexual harassment is committed by men, but people don’t suggest removing men from the workplace because they’re not seen as the cause of the problem. Finally, really focus on targets and telling targets had to change the behavior, it helps you avoid confronting the feelings of guilt that you might have from any part of your privilege. If the target is at fault because they’re not behaving properly, then there’s nothing that you have to acknowledge about your own advantages that weren’t earned.

Let’s talk about what’s wrong with focusing on targets. In the first place targets tend to be overworked. You may have heard the old phrase, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.” I finally found a fair use photo of them. This is maybe not technically true but it’s a very popular thing because it really accurately reflects the feelings of many people who are targets, that they’re working twice as hard to get half as much credit. The truth is is that that’s actually what is happening. One aspect of this is discussed in the book “What Works for Women at Work”? This is the only book of advice will targets that I recommend for two reasons; the first one is that it really presents sexism in the workplace as structural oppression… it says, you’re not going to solve it as a woman by acting in these ways, but you can make life a little bit easier for yourself.

The other thing I like about it is that more than half of the women that they interviewed for this book were women of color, and that they went into details about what the different experiences were and coping strategies for women of different races and ethnicities. In a way that was very detailed and granular. It’s a great book, I highly recommend it, but yeah, it just talks about in particular the prove-it-again bias. This is a pattern that they see, which is where, the way that our brains work is that it’s easier for us to forget things that go against our stereotypes, and it’s easier to remember things that confirm our stereotypes. If you had two co-workers, one of them is stereotyped in your head as the perfect manager and the other one is stereotyped as, you can’t be a manager at all. You’re going to remember all of the good management decisions that the person who fits the stereotype did. It’s going to take you forever to remember all of the examples of the person who doesn’t fit your stereotype. Prove it again, you have to do it over and over again.

Targets are under more stress. Stereotype threat is the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about a group that you are part of. This causes a measurable overhead when you’re working and when you’re thinking that affects your performance. You have to work harder because at the same time you have a voice in your head saying, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t screw it up. Discrimination is a very miserable experience to be treated unfairly, and to know it. It as a lot to your stress. Harassment, abuse and assault, happen way more often than rethinking the workplace and elsewhere. People often don’t speak about it, because they don’t want to be retaliated against, but this stuff is all happening and it would obviously cause you a lot of stress and overhead. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the result of living through this level of stress for years upon years. Targets are under more stress in general.

Targets have less money. This is very small font. Each of these numbers varies each year. These are mostly 2015 numbers but there’s a few from 2013, so don’t get too worried, but you should get the general idea. Asian women and paid 87% of what white men are paid, and these are all US numbers obviously. Lesbian couples are paid 79% of what men married to women are paid, the individual in that couple. White women are paid 70% of what white men are paid. Black men 73% versus white men. Mothers 73% versus fathers, and fathers often get a small raise after becoming fathers. Trans women, 66% of their pre-transition income. Black women, 65% versus white men again. People with disabilities, 63% versus those without. Latinos, 58% versus white men. There’s more stats obviously but I think you get the message.

You’re also more likely to have unpaid caregiver responsibilities if you’re a member of a marginalized group. Targets are more likely to suffer retaliation. I mentioned this briefly before. There’s actual studies done on this. I’ll just with a quote from the study here. “Ethnic minority of female leaders who engage in diversity-valuing behavior are penalized with worse performance ratings; whereas ethnic majority or male leaders who engage in diversity-valuing behavior are not penalized for doing so.” You can probably think of some experience in your own life where someone who was male or ethnic majority did something related to diversity and got a benefit from, but this really showed that yes, it depends on who’s doing it and whether you’re seen as advocating for a group that you’re part of, or a group that you’re not part of, and the status that you’re part of.

Targets are often but not always in the minority. Here’s two communities I’ve been part of: this one on the left here is for open source software, the only study we have of gender distribution is from 2006. It’s a very small slice men make up 98.5% of the community, women make up 1.5%. I’m an operating systems developer and one of the things we learn is when you’re optimizing a program, you aim for the part that takes up most time. You work on that part first. You do not work on the 1.5% first. It was very clear to me that we couldn’t make any progress if we only tried to change the behavior of women in this community. By the way, I disagree with the categories they used to survey gender in these two studies. If you’d like advice on that I’d be happy to give it offline. Gender of Wikipedia editors came out as 90% men. It’s very clear that you can be more effective if you’re working on the people who are in the majority as well.

Targets have less power and influence. Fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are people of color. Ursula Burns is two of those people, for the purposes of statistics, so when she steps down this is going to drop significantly, I think 20%. The Smurfette Principle was coined by a TV writer named Katha Pollitt. She pointed out that there are a lot of TV shows that had an all-male ensemble cast with the exception of one female character. The message here is that being a woman is strange, and it’s unusual, and it’s rare, when actually it’s one of the two most popular options. Of course, after Smurfette the village of male smurfs with only one female smurf.

This works out in the leadership teams of companies as well. Leadership team is the Board of Directors and the C suite, CFOs, CEO, COO, things like that. Here’s a study that looked at the SMP 1500, and here’s what they found. The probability that a woman occupies a top management team position is 51% lower if another woman holds a position on the same team. The Smurfette Principle lives and tokenism is real. The important thing to remember here is not just that you need to educate your top management team and get them to be making better decisions, but that if you ever see members of the same marginalized group who seem strangely competitive with each other, or even members of different marginalized groups, it’s not because they are terrible people who are competitive. It’s because they are working in a system in which only one of them can win, if they’re both aiming for a promotion higher up.

Finally, targets are seen as whiny, complaining and jealous when they advocate for themselves. I took this one from my personal experience. When I published the example conference code of conduct on the Geek Feminism blog, someone wrote this comment. There’s a little bit of mild profanity and vulgarness, I’m sorry: “Do you actually code anything or contribute to the open source software/hardware community in any tangible way or do you just bitch and moan about having a period and write conference conduct policies?” This was my favorite part. “It is a legitimate inquiry.” My friends had a lot of fun explaining to this person my ten year history of leadership in file systems and development of operating systems. That was enjoyable for them, but it just goes to show that you cannot get to a place where you are successful enough that you are not open to this criticism as a member of a group advocating for your own group.

Those are all the reasons why allies should take action more than targets, and yet when we look at groups and books that are aimed at improving diversity and inclusion in technology, you’ll see they’re still all aimed at targets. I’m not criticizing any of these groups except for the book, I don’t like the book, but these groups are doing great work. Black Girls Code aimed at black girls, Callback Women aimed at women speakers, Natives Who Code, Lesbians Who Tech, TransH4CK, The Pregnant Scholar, Code2040 is for (Black) and Hispanic Latina and Latino coders, and Mother Coders. Those are all explanatory. Lean In of course is the book that says, hey, if women just worked twice as hard, magically sexism will go away. Here’s the complete list of books, nonprofits and organizations for allies in technology that I could find, and yes, it’s blank on purpose.

This is my proposal: that 2016 is the year that we focus on allies and changing the behavior of allies, and whoah, we’re already three quarters of the way through. I wasn’t thinking when I put the year in this. I just want to summarize why we should focus on allies, and then I will talk about ally skills. Allies have more time and energy. Allies have more money. Allies aren’t harmed for diversity valuing behavior. Allies are often in the majority. Allies have more power and influence. They are seen as altruistic, giving and kind when they’re speaking up for members of groups they aren’t part of. What do ally skills look like?

1) An ally self educates. Often people will learn a little bit about a new word or something they don’t understand, and then insist that someone who’s a member of a marginalized group explain it to them, like suddenly they forgot how to Google.

This is a really important, crucial first step to take in your work as an ally, is to really accept the responsibility for teaching yourself, and going out there and making the best effort to learn what you need to learn. If you’ve exhausted the online resources, watched the videos, read the blog posts and you still don’t have an answer to your question, that’s a pretty good question. You can feel free to ask someone that one, but it’s really important to take responsibility for educating yourself in the first place, as the default.

2) An ally listens. I had a hard time deciding whether to put self-education or listening first. They’re parts of the same coin, but yes, a really important thing is as someone who has more privilege, you’re used to talking and other people listening to you. That’s an easy pattern to fall into. Pay attention next time you go to dinner with your friends. There might be a pattern that you see.

An important part of being a good ally is listening to members of marginalized groups and believing what they say, and taking it seriously. Here’s a great example that happened at the 2014 Grace Hopper celebration. They had a panel of all men, about male allies, in front of an audience of about 7,000 women. Multiple people warned them that this might go badly. It went badly and there were multiple press releases and PR disasters, and a cleanup that they needed to do, as well as the people in the audience having a miserable time. One of the people who was on that panel is Alan Eustace, who was at that time a senior vice president at Google. He used his Twitter account to send this one Tweet, “Let’s reverse the male allies panel. You talk, I listen.” Then he gives the room information. He and two of the other panel members spent an hour in this room sitting and listening, while women came to the mic and said what they experienced at work and how the words they had said on stage had hurt them. That was a great example of an ally listening.

3) An ally gives credit. Again, as someone with more privilege, people will assume that you did the thing that you’re talking about. This has only happened to me a few times when somebody thought I wrote a file system I didn’t write, but that was very sweet. It must be wonderful to happen all the time. As an example, there’s a link down here about this. Women get less credit for co-authoring papers. In fact, it has zero effect on their careers according to a study of economics professors, people with PhDs. That’s just one example of how that happens. Here’s another example of how to give credit. In social justice circles there’s a norm that whenever you use the word intersectionality, that you credit the inventor of that term by name, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Briefly, the term intersectionality describes the concept that people can be subject to multiple overlapping forms of oppression that intersect and interact with each other in different ways.

Kimberlé Crenshaw is herself a black woman, so she gets a form of oppression based on being black, she gets a form of oppression based on being a woman, and she gets a whole special form of oppression based on being a black woman together, but it’s really important to give credit frequently and copiously and whenever you’re not sure. The one exception to this is if giving credit will put someone in a position where they might be attacked. If you’re not sure about that, ask whether or not somebody wants credit in that situation.

4) An ally asks for consent from the target, if they’re doing something that might possibly harm them. We all understand that the fight for improving equality and bringing rights to people often involves harmed individual people who are members of that group. Think of anything, really. The important thing is that if you as an ally are taking an action that’s going to put someone in that position, you have to ask them first. An example of this situation is the fight for marriage equality here in the United States. That involved individual same-sex couples going to court and having their personal lives examined with a fine tooth comb and being a symbol and an example and being harassed by people. The important thing is that they volunteered to do that. If you as a straight person walked out there, picked a couple and said, you’re going to be the people that we’re fighting for in this court case, that would not be asking for consent.

5) An ally keeps the focus on helping targets. A common problem is called derailing. If somebody’s trying to talk about the problems facing targets, that other people will try to recenter the discussion on the feelings of people with more privilege. Here’s an example of someone pushing back on that, from Twitter. Jenn Schiffer is an excellent programmer, artist and humorist. You should check out her blog if you have a chance. She says on Twitter, “A shoutout to my girls out there who want to be visible in the tech community but also want a family, but have to choose because Earth is terrible.” Some rando replies and says, “Well, it’s a problem for fathers too. Balancing networking and family isn’t easy for anyone. Then Moishe joins in and says, “As a dad,” so invoking his privilege, he says “I’m going to go ahead and say it’s objectively harder for moms.” He’s getting the discussion right back on track from where it started, so yeah, keeping the focus on helping targets avoiding derailing.

6) An ally speaks up and draws fire. The converse of this is that when being the focus of the discussion is bad, it’s going to get people attacking you, that’s the time to speak up and draw fire as an ally. I got another example of that here, again from Twitter. It’s my friend who goes by @hashoctothorpe. She says, and she’s a straight white cis woman, “In one joke, (elided) and (elited) managed racism, misogyny and transmisogyny. Total (elided) weasel territory,” and also says “The talk from (blank) and (blank) was offensive in every way and violated the code of conduct, please expel them.” There’s a great resolution to this story, the conference did expel these two folks for the remainder of the conference. They both apologized on Twitter and they came back the following year and were not making offensive jokes anymore. This is a great example of when it’s okay to be the center of attention when you’re acting as an ally, because obviously my friend risked being the center of a trollstorm by taking this action.

7) An ally uses their energy wisely. Some of you may have seen this. This is Anita Sarkeesian, who did the tropes about Women in Video Games series for Feminist Frequency. One of her critics said, “My biggest problem with Anita is that if I used her logic, I could see sexism everywhere.” Yes… so close. (laughter) Seriously though, you can’t go to the grocery store without some form of oppression. It’s around you all of the time. It’s systemic, it’s pervasive. What’s important is to be able to see, hey, where do I have the most power and influence? Where can I use my energy in a way that’s going to have the biggest impact? Do I just need to take action, even though it doesn’t make sense, because it’s important to my values? You don’t have to address everything you see, but really you’re starting to pay attention, and say hey, when can I take an action and make a big effect. That’s a great thing to keep in mind.

7a) Charles’ Rules of Argument: This is one of the things I teach in the Ally Skills Workshop, Charles’ Rules of Argument. This is Charles Miller. He had a blog on the internet in 2004. He currently works for Wikia just up the street. He spent a lot of time arguing on the internet, and then decided that was not how he wanted to spend his time, so he made Charles’ Rules of Argument. Rules are, the first one is, don’t go looking for an argument. Somebody’s wrong on your part of the internet that you normally read. Trust me, it’s true. If you do choose to have an argument, state your position once speaking to the audience. This is important because you’re unlikely to change the mind of the rando or the troll or whatever it is that you’re addressing, but the people who are watching haven’t made up their minds, and they want to emulate the person who seems to be the most admirable.

Wait for absurd replies is the next step. On a mailing list this will take two or three days, on Twitter it will take two or three minutes. Once you get a few absurd replies accusing you of saying things you didn’t say, you reply one time to correct any misunderstandings of that first statement. This is the most important part, do not reply again. Spend time doing something you enjoy like going outside or drinking a beer or petting a dog. It’s very important.

8) An ally spends money. An ally has more money. A great thing to do with it is give it to support groups that are fighting to end oppression. If you’re not sure which groups to give it to, this is one time that you’re allowed to ask a member of a marginalized group, “Hey, where should I put my money?” and expect some good suggestions.

As a former executive director of a nonprofit and the fundraising lead, I would like to say please don’t offer to donate your time unless it’s an organization that’s set up specifically to do that, like Black Girls Code has a very efficient system for doing that. If you’re not sure why one or two hours of your time, of your expertise and web design is not helpful, imagine you walked into work tomorrow and somebody said that you have 500 interns, and each have one hour available. Just give people money.

9) An ally uses their social capital. One of the things you can do is give people money, and then tell other people that you gave money. This is not to make you look good, this is to set an example for other people — “I believe in this cause enough and I believe in this group’s effectiveness well enough that I gave them x dollars.” That is a wonderful thing to do, please do it. You can also use your social capital to help people get talks, to make introductions to people who are useful to someone’s career, not just people who are like them in the way that they are marginalized, and to amplify other people’s voices, amplify the voices of targets. One of the things I try to do is I relatively rarely tweet myself, I usually retweet somebody who has a lot of knowledge about a particular subject.

10) An ally acts even when it’s uncomfortable. Poor dog, I always feel sad when I get to this slide. It may be really uncomfortable for you to speak up if your coworkers are using the words “crazy” or “lame” in conversation, because most people don’t know that that’s not okay and it just feels so extreme, but it really helps to remember, hey, if you feel uncomfortable, how does the person who has undisclosed mental illness feel? Or the person who uses a wheelchair, When you’re talking about your product being lame? Being aware that whatever you’re feeling is probably an order of magnitude less will really help you act in a lot of these situations.

11) Sometimes an ally sacrifices personal gain. That’s how privilege works. You don’t have to sign up for it. You don’t have to say, I accept this unearned advantage that you are giving to me. People just hand it to you constantly all of the time, and sometimes you have to turn around and say, no, I don’t accept that. An example of this happening is you may have seen a panel at a tech conference that looks like this before (picture of tech panel with 5 white men). You may be invited to a panel in which you round out a panel that’s all white or all men or something like that. That’s a great time especially if you are already fairly far along in your career, to say,” hey, I no longer serve on panels that are all white, or, I no longer serve on panels that are all men. Here’s my list of suggestions of people to replace me with that are more qualified than I am.” This is obviously better to do once you have more influence and power in the first place, but you can do it at any point.

12) An ally follows leaders from marginalized groups. Again, as someone with privilege you’re used to people following you and doing what you say. The thing is that if you’re trying to support the marginalized group and you’re not part of it, you often don’t know what they need or what would help them. People who are a member of that group do know that and you can instead support them, give them your money, amplify their voices, encourage other people to follow them. There’s a phrase from disability activism; “Nothing about us without us”. There’s a great Wikipedia page on that you’d like to check it out more. That’s a good thing to remember.

13) An ally makes mistakes and apologizes. If you never make a mistake, you’re not doing anything risky or worthwhile. It’s also impossible not to make a mistake. What’s important as an ally is not that you are perfect and you never make a mistake; what’s important is that when you make mistakes, you immediately apologize, correct yourself, make amends if necessary, and then move on. It’s not about you, it’s not about your mistakes, it’s not about feelings about your mistakes. It’s about trying to support this group, this is the best way that you can do it. It’s also a good way to set an example for other people were wondering how to behave, if you can graciously admit your mistake, apologize, correct yourself, move on.

We are almost to the end. That’s just a very high level hand-wavey summary of I think thirteen ally skills, and it’s going to take a little bit more than that to learn them and just to use them. You can learn ally skills but it’s actually sort of difficult right now. Most of the information is spread out, you noticed the number of links to research papers I had in these slides. I’ve collected those over multiple years. There’s not a good set of books right now. There are books that will cover one aspect of being an ally but have maybe a chapter on ally skills, but there’s not a theory of being an ally out there yet.

I’m working on a book about ally skills, you can follow my twitter account @frameshiftllc for more news on that. In the meantime, I and many other people teach an ally skills workshop. It’s interesting that the San Francisco Bay Area has the largest number of people teaching these kind of workshops. We might be the area of the world that needs it least, but that’s how it is. That’s why I’m working on the book.

The ally skills workshop I teach, the materials are all freely usable under the Creative Commons share alike by attribution licence, and there are many ally skills workshops that are derived from the same set of materials you can get from other people as well. There’s a “train-the-trainers” also available. I think I’ve taught about fifty people to do it and there’s a number of people who are self-taught as well. All the materials for that are freely available. Currently this workshop is being taught internally by internal trainers at Google, Square, Slack, and Spotify, and I have some other companies that will hopefully be joining them soon. You can go to my website and find out more about that.

Conclusion, this is what I’d like you to take away from this talk. Most diversity and inclusion efforts focus on targets. Targets have less time, energy, power and influence. Allies have more ability to make change, and ally skills can be learned. Let’s focus on allies for 2016. All right, thank you so much.


I would love to do questions at this point. If you haven’t written your question on an index card, please do and pass it up front. Are there any coming up to the front? Great. I can also answer questions that people ask with voice. I wrote a blog post about how to have better questions — you know, the “this is more of a comment than a question.” If somebody has to write it down on an index card, you can just skip that one!

Wow, this is big picture…

What is your ideal vision of an ally organisation?

Yeah, so the interesting thing about …This is tough, people have always asked me, hey can you start a mailing list or Slack community or something like that for people who want to act as allies? It’s never felt right and I think it’s because there hasn’t been a focus yet on specific ally skills that can be written down. If you’re a member of a group that’s a marginalized group, you have a shared identity. That’s an identity, you have shared experiences. Being an ally is about actions, and there’s not …It’s not the same sort of way that you have this shared experience and this need for the same support group. An ideal vision of an ally organisation I think would be something that’s really focused on supporting people who are doing this kind of work, who are members of marginalized groups. A fantastic form of an ally skills organisation would be a giving club. This is a group of people who get together and share information about what organisations they want to donate to with a focus on diversity and inclusion in technology. That’s an extremely powerful thing to do. You can bring together ten people and perhaps you had a bonus this year for $5000, that’s $50,000 that you can agree on and share your information about how to use. I really think ally organisations would be focused around those specific ally skills in supporting each other, but it would have to have that goal rather than, I’m an ally, you’re an ally, yay, let’s ally together.

Oh wow, good set of questions…

Can you please get Linus (I assume Linus Torvalds) to attend one of your workshops?

No. It doesn’t work that way, I wish it did. That was a hilarious question, thank you whoever wrote it, but that actually is part of a class of questions I often get asked which is, how do I convince people to want to be allies? The answer is you can’t. If you could convince someone to want to be an ally, they could conversely convince you to not want to be an ally. I can tell you how I’ve seen people make this decision, and it is often someone very close to them has a miserable experience. Someone they’re married to gets fired for one of their kids gets attacked or something like that. That can often be an experience that make someone go, “whoa, I just opened my eyes.” A slightly different version of that is if multiple people who are somewhat close to several of your co-workers all tell you about a similar experience they’ve had, and that completely changes your view of the world because you didn’t know that was happening… that’s another way that I see people wanting to be allies. Another way I see it is people who care about studies in science and things like that. There’s just this point where they’re like, “I’ve read the fiftieth study saying the same thing about bias and discrimination. I think it’s true!” It’s often really somebody who has a value, a value of being fair. Most people have a value of being fair and inclusive, and then their eyes are open to the reality that that’s not true. That usually helps people in my experience, become allies. If you don’t have that value in the first place, meh. Linus is pretty clear about what his values are.

Amplifying voices; should we ask for consent?

This is a great question. Sometimes amplifying someone’s voice will help them, sometimes it will harm them. If you’re not sure, if there’s a question in your mind, yes, you should ask for consent. This is a thing I normally do, I’m part of a private discussion group and we have the system of, someone says something really funny that we want to share publicly. It’s, “may I share that and do you want credit for not?” We never assume either of those two things. Once you normalize it, it just becomes part of the usual.

Wow, so many questions, this is great.

How can allies work against unconscious bias?

Yeah, becoming aware of it and setting up structures and checks. Often, one of the great examples I like is that I hear that at Google promotion meetings, where they decide who gets promoted, the beginning of the meeting they read a prepared statement that says, “hey, here’s what unconscious bias is. This is what it looks like. If you think you see it in this meeting, here are the words to say.” That’s a fantastic way of creating a structure to go back against this. Oppression is part of …It’s a systemic structure. It’s got lots of form and ritual around it, so creating new structures is part of how you do that.

Yeah, so this is asking about when do you want separate groups where it’s allies and targets and when you want to be in the same group and giving examples like, white women versus groups of black women and sometimes working across purposes. Oh yes, and that often it seems patronizing, when people are telling people what to do.

Yeah, that’s why I emphasize so much on the ally skills, starting with listening, self educating, and then following and supporting. I believe that this is something that has become clear of the last ten years of doing this sort of work, is that I believe you do need separate groups for members of a marginalized group to support each other, then you need an integrated group of people who are both allies and targets for doing work to change the system. The reason is that it’s just, you need support groups where you can say things without being questioned, when you don’t need to educate people. A group where you can just say, “hey, blah-de-blah happened at work today,” people will just be like, “oh yeah, that really sucks when that happens,” instead of being like, “that doesn’t happen. Could you explain to me why that bad?” All that sort of thing. I really encourage people to have both of those things at work, at school, and in all sorts of things. To be very clear, when you have an event, whether this is a thing for members of the group only, or for members of the group and allies. If you leave it unsaid people will usually assume that the good people, the actual allies, will assume it’s for members of the marginalized group only. The annoying people who want to tell you what to do will assume that they’re welcome and show up. I have this happen a lot with Women in Linux events. (from audience) So an example is the East Bay Meditation Center which has events for specific groups and then they have events for teaching people about inclusivity.

Sometimes a co-worker say something disrespectful and I’m not sure whether to say something to them. What if the result is that they just stop saying those things round me or if I end up blacklisted as a result?

Yes, so first of all if you are in danger for speaking up, you should maybe rethink whether you are an ally in that situation. You may be a target, if speaking up is going to get you in trouble. You may not have the advantage and the privilege and the power and influence that you need in that situation, and it’s fine not to speak up in that case. The concern about people just going underground and just not doing it in front of you…? Sometimes the only thing you can accomplish is to say,”hey, this is not socially acceptable in this situation.” You can’t control what someone’s doing away from you. You can just make clear that it’s not welcome and that it will have consequences if it’s around you. I view that as a win. You’re setting a standard and there’s a lot of other people who are going to see what’s happened and act differently.

Ah, self-education. What’s a good website or Google search to start at?

The way that I like to recommend people with self-education is, you find a starting point and you fan out from there. I’ll give you a specific concrete starting point. I use Twitter a lot. I will follow someone on Twitter, I will pay attention to what they’re saying in their own Tweets, but I’ll also pay attention to who else they are amplifying, who else they are retweeting, and then I will follow them. Often using that you can find your way to extremely knowledgeable people who are sharing for they know for free. You can do the same thing with blogs or Tumblr or mailing lists and things like that. The thing I usually suggest is to start with the Ally Skills Workshop handout on my website, which has a number of different websites and wikis and things like that. Wikis are another good place where you can fan out and begin to learn things, but mainly, find people who are knowledgeable on the subject you’re interested in and who write things in some form that’s distributed on the Internet, and start there.

Let’s see what else. Are consultants the best way for an aspirationally diverse and inclusive company to make concrete progress? If so, can you recommend any?

Yeah, so this is diversity and inclusion, I like for people to think about it like any other aspect of doing business. What would you do if you needed to improve the security of your project? What would you do if you need to improve your HR practices? What would you do if you need it to do more stress testing then you could do with the computers you have in your office? Often you, as you’re growing, you have to outsource these to consultants at various levels and eventually you can bring them in-house once you’re large enough. I don’t think Google is renting botnets to stress test anything at this point, and they are also doing all their internal diversity and inclusion stuff.

A place to start for consultants is, I would say beginning looking at Project Include’s resources to get an idea of what’s the structure, what are you missing, what other things you might do? Personally I often recommend The Ready Set, which is ostensibly a recruiting assistant organisation, but they also do diversity and inclusion training. That’s run by Y-Vonne Hutchinson. Another one I really like is Paradigm IQ, founded by Joelle Emerson and a number of other women, and it’s like they’ve got so many partners now I can’t say all their names. Another good one, shoot …Look to see where Caroline Simard is working right now. I don’t remember the exact name right now.

Those are some good places to start. I do some consulting but I’m fairly specialised. I usually do ally skills workshops or ally skills related things, and I do code of conduct consulting, but I can definitely direct you to other folks. Oh, textio is another good resource. As a company that does large-scale analysis of text corpus to look for bias in language. That can include things like your job descriptions or your performance reports. Again, talk to people who are experts in that area and ask them for advice.

Alright, so this is a tough question but I’ll read it anyway. How do we incorporate cultural competencies in the education of an organisation around diversity and inclusion?

I think what this is saying is how do you use what a company is already good at in terms of its culture and the way works, and use that as a tool to make diversity and inclusion more effective, whatever work you’re doing there. Yeah, I think it’s helpful to have people who have experience in the field that your company is in, be the people that you’re working with as consultants or getting advice. So, really matching up the style of training and information with the cultural biases of your group. One of the things I did with the Ally Skills Workshop is my target audience tended to be introverted, tended to be not interested in standing up in front of other people, tended to be easily bored. It took a while to develop a workshop that worked for that group of people. If I was doing a workshop for a group that was not mostly software engineers like say, people who were sales engineers, that would be a very different format of the workshop, because they would be very excited about speaking in front of other people. That’s what I would look to say in that case.

How do you be an ally to someone who is a target who reports to you? (Given that there’s this other power dynamic which is that you are their manager and they report to you.)

First, kudos for understanding that there is a power dynamic. That’s not a popular thing to talk about or admit in Silicon Valley, that these things exist. Being aware of that power dynamic and being aware that it will cause things like, this person’s less likely to tell you what’s actually going on, they’re less likely to complain to you, they’re less likely to share with you about things, so being aware that you’re limited as a manager in that way. However, then you also have power and influence that’s greater, because you are manager, so if someone does come to you with a problem, you can then go talk to their manager. It’s actually your job to resolve people issues and that sort of thing. I would just say be aware of both the disadvantage and the advantage that that gives you. This is an example of choosing your battles and figuring out where you have the most power and influence.

We have three more minutes, are there any more cards?

Every conversation about diversity and inclusion at work ends up with me trying to educate people. How many *expletive* links do we need to send?

Yes, I know. This is an interesting dynamic. I started to do this, whether or not it’s intentional as an actual strategy to exhaust people who are trying to change the world, who are trying to make the world a better place. It may come unconsciously from this entitlement, this being used to being able to ask for other people to do work for you. Being used to just getting what you want, being used to having people being afraid of you and all that kind of stuff, but I think also people do do it intentionally at some level or another. One of the things I have learned to do is to figure out whether someone is truly open to changing their mind, and is willing to do the work, or if they just want to argue with me, or if they just want to have some excuse to say no and not do a thing. One of the ways I would do that is upfront, I will ask, “hey, why don’t you do this Google search?” If they don’t do that Google search I know that they’re not open to actually learning and I’m wasting my time on them. Setting up a series of small tests to use to figure out whether to spend your time on people. A thing that totally confuses me and just makes me really unhappy is when I see people explaining their block policies on Twitter. You don’t have to justify why you’re blocking someone. I’ve seen people who have come through the other side of that, and have been like, “I don’t explain any more because you know what? None of these people deserve my time. They don’t have any sort of entitlement to it.” I realize that and I realize I don’t have to give them a fair hearing. One of the ways to do this is to compare the amount of time that they spend asking you a question to the amount of time you spend answering the question. A great place to start people, both for feminism and for a number of other things is the intersectional feminism Geek Feminism Wiki. That’s in the slides, or it should be. Oh my gosh, it’s not in the slides, wow. Geek Feminism wiki is a great resource because it has a lot of cross-linked articles about a number of topics. Yeah, really getting that sense of whether someone is open to that level of self-education, and then just not spending your time on those people if they aren’t. I think that’s it. Thank you so much for coming, and does anyone want to say anything before we end? Yes, all right, great.