An Ally is someone who uses their power to champion those who are discriminated upon. In an industry like tech, it is the need of the hour, asserts Adarsh!

My manager always used to start our work calls with “Good morning, guys!” A couple of months ago, however, he dropped the ‘guys’. He goes with gender-neutral terms now, like ‘folks’ or ‘y’all’ or ‘everyone’.

As it turns out, it all changed when he read an article about inclusivity. It made him realize how little things like gender neutral terms can make a huge impact when it comes to making others feel more welcome. Especially when there are so many women in the team. It might be a very small change but to them, it makes all the difference in the world!

It didn’t stop there. When our chairman left, in all the documents where the vacancy was listed, the word used was ‘chairperson’. Similarly, during our bandwidth discussions, the column titled ‘man hours’ was edited to ‘human hours’.

These little changes have had an incremental effect. It has changed the culture altogether and has fostered an environment that is more welcoming and inclusive where no one feels marginalized anymore.

People who help to spark that change are referred to as ‘Allies’!

Who is an ‘Ally’?

Simply put, anyone who uses their power to support and advocate for people with less power to drive change is an ally. They play a major role in ensuring an inclusive, welcoming and equitable culture for everyone at the workplace.

Allies actively work to change practices, cultures, and policies that negatively impact marginalized groups. And when they see something wrong, whether it is an aggression, some sort of discrimination or a practice, they intervene.

To be an ally, it is very important to understand who an ally is and what it entails. You can’t just anoint yourself as an ally, that reputation is earned through words and actions.

An ally isn’t a hero, an ally is more of a helper.

Image: Shutterstock

Why Tech needs more Allies

How about some numbers to put things into perspective? A recent study revealed that more than 53% of men who major in computer science land jobs in the field of their expertise. But that number plummets to less than 38% when it comes to women.

Another research revealed that only 25% of computer science jobs are held by women. Look at executive positions in Silicon Valley and the number drops further. Only 11% belong to women.

A PEW study revealed that 64% of women feel they don’t have the same rights as men. 40% of them admitted to feeling discriminated at the workplace.

All these stats point to only one thing. That there is unfair discrimination when it comes to hiring women in tech roles, and it steadily gets worse for them as they rise through the ranks. Another study shows that women quit their tech roles at a higher rate than men. The reason cited is that companies are ‘more lenient towards men who fail’ whereas if a woman were to make the same mistake, it results in ‘I told you so’.

Inclusive Culture At Work

A great work culture plays an integral role in the success of a company. It helps in increasing productivity and retaining top talent and also goes a long way in fostering an environment that is positive and collaborative.

Unfortunately, especially in India, the onus falls on the HR department to promote a healthy culture. Everyone looks to them to unite the team and ensure that everyone is doing and saying the right things. Most employees also seem to believe that as long as they are behaving themselves and not guilty of anything that can be construed as inappropriate, they are fulfilling their role.

But that’s not enough. The culture cannot change overnight or by the actions of a few individuals. Everyone has to join hands and ensure they follow official practices and protocol and intervene wherever necessary in a bid to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and empowered.

How to be an Ally in tech?

Despite everyone’s best attempts, women can often feel sidelined at the workplace, especially in an industry like tech where the majority of employees and employers are men. It could be because of the words or actions of others or even existing practices or policies that might feel alienating to them.

Which is why it is important to be empathetic as an ally. The first thing to do is to listen and to understand. There needs to be respect and a willingness to learn. You have to put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine what they go through on an everyday basis. There could be something that seems absolutely normal to you, until you see it from their perspective and realize how this can be unfair or even discriminatory.

One also has to be willing to speak up or take action wherever necessary. When you spot some injustice, you need to intervene. If you can use your position to make a difference and ensure such a situation does not arise again, you most definitely should. Merely listening in and offering your support or sympathy later in private does not qualify as being an ally.

Being an ally also does not mean you only step in when you spot injustice. It can be positive actions as well. For instance, if you know there’s someone in the group who hardly speaks up or never gets an opportunity to present their ideas, creating a stage for them to make their thoughts known can go a long way.

What to watch out for?

There are a couple of things to watch out for here. One is performative allyship. Someone who professes their solidarity in private but hardly performs any of the actions that are required. They may not even feel the need for allyship and only express their solidarity to avoid scrutiny of their own words or actions.

For such people, allyship is limited to hollow gestures and statements and posts on social media. They do this to get the credit without putting in the work. People like this undermine the work done by genuine allies and also maintain the status quo which the allies are looking to disrupt.

The other kind are people who are desperate to play the hero. They are always looking for an opportunity to ‘save someone’. For them, marginalized communities at the workplace are people who are ‘weak and helpless’ and ‘need rescuing’. These are again people who don’t want to bring in any genuine change. They are only doing it for personal gain.

Bridging the Gap

The 2020 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report had some worrying news. It stated that the gender gap is only widening when it comes to health, education, job opportunities and political empowerment. According to the report, it will take at least 99.5 years to bridge that gap.

In other words, gender equality might not even happen in our lifetime. This really is cause for concern. And this is exactly why we need more allies. It is only if more allies join hands and work towards a common cause that we can hope to bridge that gap sooner and then maybe, just maybe, parity will happen in this century.

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Adarsh hates personal bios, Chelsea football club and Oxford commas. When he's not writing, he's busy playing FIFA on his PlayStation.

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