How to Support Diversity Advocates within Your Company

April 15, 2015 | 3 Minute Read

Most people agree that tech needs to be less of a monoculture. So if you want to help fix that, great! More power to you. But I’ve heard a lot of frustrating stories lately from people in tech who are part of an underrepresented group, such as women or people of color. Once they speak up and become a vocal minority, they get pigeonholed into being That Diverse Person With An Opinion About Diversity In Tech. It’s great that these diversity advocates exist, and that they care, and are invested in their jobs and workplaces and industry enough to devote extra time and energy into making tech a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. But too often wanting to help turns into being obliged to help. As soon as a member of an underrepresented group voices an opinion, it’s seen as establishing a precedent. From then on, they are repeatedly leaned on every time input is needed. After all, they were so willing to help the first time.

You know what I love about my job? My job. I love what I do. I chose this job for the work itself, not because I wanted to spend all of my time at work thinking about diversity. I’m lucky; my company is filled with wonderful, thoughtful people who create a welcoming and nurturing environment. I am thrilled that I don’t have to spend a large portion of my energy at work constantly (because it is constant) struggling to be heard and effect change. At some point in the future, I will probably become a more vocal advocate for workplace diversity. My company is super awesome, but it is still overwhelmingly white dudes. I often feel like the onus is on me to be the consistent nagging reminder that it needs to do better at actively seeking and welcoming underrepresented groups, because diversity matters so much to me. You know what, though? It’s my responsibility, but no more than it is anyone else’s.

It’s a hard balance, since you also don’t want to speak for other people. So how can you get current employees from underrepresented groups to participate in diversity discussions without draining their energy?

  • Be aware of what you’re asking for. A little awareness of hidden costs and a thank-you can go a long way.
  • Don’t make it homework. Diversity advocates should be given time during work to take care of their outreach responsibilities. As a culture, we often have an unhealthy habit of glorifying using non-work hours to do extra work. Don’t add to this pressure.
  • Offer compensation. This doesn’t have to be monetary compensation, although it wouldn’t hurt. Time off, training or other professional development opportunities, or visible/significant policy changes can all be motivators.
  • Appreciate their successes publicly. You may or may not want to publicly recognize your advocates themselves (some people are uncomfortable in the spotlight! that’s okay!). But if your company achieves something new as a result of your advocates’ work, advertise the progress! Your advocates will feel supported, and the rest of your employees will see that this is a priority for you.
  • Listen. There is no one-size-fits-all-solution to anything. Some people may not want compensation at all, or may only want monetary compensation. Some people may not want public recognition. Some people may not be willing to spend the extra energy diversity work requires. That is their choice, and you have no right to shame them for it. Don’t dismiss what they have to say, especially when they’re the only person saying it. Dismissing them sends a message that their opinion isn’t valued.

Don’t just hand all of the diversity work to your underrepresented groups and expect that to be enough. They’ll need support from you and your company in so many ways. Communicate with your advocates. Find out what they want and need from you.

Further Reading: