Posted on: August 2, 2018 at 2:02 PM    

Blog written by Kyle Turnbull, Graduate Spatial Adviser, Abley

In recent years, many companies have taken it upon themselves to set diversity quotas, or to restructure their recruitment process, to facilitate a more diverse workplace. Businesses are becoming acutely aware of the commercial and financial impact of diversity in the workplace.

In my short time at Abley, I have had the distinct pleasure of working in an environment that at its core, values diversity and inclusiveness. The framework already exists to support and facilitate positive change with regard to organisational diversity. 

This blog will not seek to identify ways in which to recruit a more diverse workforce, since most employees have little to no impact in this process. The intention of this blog is to offer meaningful actions we can all be doing to break down inherently micro-aggressive workplace cultures, and move toward a more inclusive one.

The Oxford Dictionary defines microaggressions as “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group”.

In the past I have found myself implicitly condoning the behaviour of friends or colleagues, by offering nothing but deafening silence. Too often as a society, these statements are attributed to humour, and any objection to them is ridiculed as another attempt by social justice warriors to drive us headfirst into a politically correct dystopia.  They are quickly swept under the rug, where they are promptly left to fester.

Appreciating diversity requires you to understand it. As we move forward as a society, we see just how diverse our populations are. Whilst there is a long road ahead, people are now finding the courage to speak out and stand up for their identity. Understanding race, sexuality, and gender identities is a critical element of working alongside these marginalised communities.

Here are some actions we can take, to work towards being better allies to those who still struggle through micro-aggressive work environments:

Stop talking and listen.

This can be the hardest part when it comes to being an ally. It often involves dealing with the uncomfortable but inescapable fact that privilege exists. You may feel that your privilege is being challenged, and it probably is. However, this isn’t a personal attack on your character, and should not be taken as such. Think of it as a call-to-arms. Your story is and always will be valid. It’s just not a constructive addition to the conversation at that time. Understand you do not know everything. Recognise this is not about what being an ally can do for you, but what you can do for others. Being an ally requires empathy and a willingness to accept that you may never completely understand someone else’s struggle.

Leverage your privilege.

When challenged about a social justice issue, it is integral to decenter yourself. Understand that the conversation is not about you and very rarely is it a direct attack on your character. Understand that your privilege is an asset to you, and that it can be used to help aid those with less. Although it is an important step, it is not enough to simply understand your privilege, but rather understand the weight it carries and utilise it effectively.

Understand where injustice manifests.

This can be difficult when you do not experience micro-aggressive behaviour. However, if you listen honestly, leverage your privilege and decentre yourself from situations, you will come to understand what constitutes injustice, and be better prepared to engage with it as or before it occurs. Acknowledge that whilst someone may not necessarily be ill-intentioned, their impact can still be hurtful. Small comments, even those made in jest, can still be incredibly harmful, especially to those who are struggling with their identity, and can lead to significant discomfort in their place of work.

Be willing and ready to be uncomfortable.

Part of being a good ally requires you to sacrifice for others. One of these sacrifices is engaging in uncomfortable discourse with people you share a space with. For many different communities, interacting with discriminatory behaviour is not a choice, it’s a part of life. Recognising that your ability to turn a blind eye to social injustice because it is uncomfortable, indicates privilege. Those most directly impacted do not have this ability.

Do what you can to create opportunity.

There are two ways to be an ally. For the most part this blog has covered the ways in which you react to microaggressions. Proactive allies are just as important to the movement. Small acts of obvious or subtle encouragement are a great place to start. Embrace the diversity in your workplace and set about to break down institutional barriers that limit the success of those marginalised around you. Offer what opportunities you can to those who have historically had opportunity stripped from them.

Do not expect to be taught or educated.

It is not the job of the oppressed to educate. It is your responsibility to seek out resources and material. The fact that you have not been forced to understand oppression is usually evidence of your relative privilege. There is a wealth of resources out there that are worth your time. You are of course entitled to discuss these issues with people and seek clarification. Discourse is healthy.

Do not trivialise someone's experience.

This is an integral part of listening genuinely. If a person from a marginalised group is telling you of a negative experience of theirs, caused by you or someone else, you are not helping by offering excuses for the accused. Comments along the lines of “they probably didn’t mean it that way’’ undermine that person’s experience and having the effect of belittlement. Do your best to listen and understand the situation that they are in and try to work in solidarity toward a positive outcome.

The devil has enough advocates.

Devil's advocacy has a very important place in honest, constructive debate. It is a method used to form robust arguments and decisions. However, in the case of social justice, the argument inherently operates from a position of privilege. The result is a conversation entangled with highly specific hypothetical situations used to invalidate someone's lived experience or maintain the status quo. At the end of the day, a person external to the conflict is free to walk away from the very messy situation they have exacerbated, whilst those most greatly affected are left to pick up the pieces.

If society does not remain vigilant about how we interact with those from social or cultural minorities, we risk the continuation of a micro-aggressive culture. Taking a step back and understanding how our own implicit biases and comments affect the daily lives of those around us is the first step. As society continues to explore and understand an increasingly global world, businesses are beginning to truly understand the intrinsic value of diversity. We see organisations that are more flexible, more agile in nature. That offer unique solutions and perspectives, and better navigate changing market conditions.

Our tech and STEM industries are no different. Offering opportunities to those who have, for too long, been overlooked, is part of embracing this change.  It is vital that in addition to these structures, we create workplace cultures that not only sustain increased diversity, but also seek to encourage and elevate.

There are lots of ways organisation can better understand and demonstrate inclusive behaviours in the workplace. Our leadership team will continue to encourage courageous conversations and keep diversity at the forefront of our culture - what is your organisation doing to facilitate positive change in this area?


Resources for those wishing to learn more:

Gender identity: