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By Elizabeth ScutchfieldAugust 16, 2017

The Significance of Allies

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” –Nelson Mandela

Last month, we joined with IncludeSeattle to host a discussion on how individuals can actively support underrepresented groups in tech. As we contemplate our role in elevating and empowering the voices of people who are underrepresented in this industry, let’s take a look at the experiences and perspective of five unique business leaders who are working to shed light on this issue and make a difference for themselves and others.

The panelists at the IncludeSeattle event

Katie Mooney, Corporate Diversity & Inclusion Learning & Development Manager @ Capital One

As the child of a parent who came out to her family in the 80s. Katie experienced discrimination growing up due to the discomfort among other parents with her non-traditional family structure. In adulthood, she is determined to take a thoughtful and intentional approach to allyship.

In the discussion, she acknowledged that her own comfort zone was stretched when she witnessed a coworker who decided to pursue a gender transition from male to female. Through this experience she noticed her own bias, as this individual did not demonstrate the definition of femininity that she had embraced for herself. Through this process of rigorous self-honesty, she worked to move past her bias and advocate for her company to lobby against legislation that would allow discrimination against the transgender community.

Their Advice: We need to actively look for areas where we can push through our own discomfort with underrepresented individuals that we may not relate to, using that as an opportunity to better understand our own resistance and bias.

Brian Reyes, Sr. UX and Inclusion Designer @ Splunk

Brian’s passion for design has influenced his role as an evangelist for diversity and inclusion, where he understands that the only way to understand the end user is to have a range of voices at the table. He has empowered his female mentees to step out of their comfort zone, including asking an introverted individual to take on the challenge of public speaking. He additionally challenged allies to ensure that they embrace diversity of thought in the hiring process and the day-to-day office activities by asking those who might not be as vocal to share their perspectives with others.

Their Advice: As allies, we have a responsibility to make sure the contributions of minorities are valued and heard. We can watch for ways in meetings where certain people are being overlooked and create space where they can voice their opinions.

Noah Prince, Senior Consultant & Director of Diversity

Noah’s extensive experience in educational administration has taught him a lot about ways unconscious bias comes into play for allies, given the diversity of individuals that he worked with every day. He demonstrated great humility in sharing a few experiences where he had failed to serve as a strong ally—at one point having a black colleague point out that some comments he made in front of peers, which were meant to come from a place of trust and shared humor, had the potential to erode her credibility. Noah walked away feeling grateful that there was enough mutual respect that this colleague offered her perspective and allowed him the chance to make it right.

Their Advice: There is tremendous value of establishing a foundation of trust as an ally, so that when we misstep, others will be comfortable approaching and resolving the issue.

Marisa Afzali, Diversity & Inclusion Talent Consultant @ Progressive Insurance

Marissa’s definition of allyship has evolved with time, moving from empathizing to taking action. As part of a Women’s Employee Resource Group at Progressive Insurance, she identified with other women who were trying to gain respect within the workplace among their male counterparts. As she looked around, she realized that there was much to learn about intersectional feminism and wondered how overlapping identities—including race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation—impact the way individuals experience discrimination. As a result, she has intentionally broadened her lens and created intentional conversations that allow for these to be taken into consideration in the workplace.

Their Advice: We should spend dedicated time creating a platform for the voices of others to be heard within our organizations.

Varisha Khan, Freelance Journalist, National Delegate to the DNC & Presidential Elector for Washington State in the Electoral College

A recent graduate of the University of Washington, Varisha explored allyship within a university setting and in the broader national political arena as a National Delegate to the DNC. She serves as an ally for her own Muslim community as a freelance journalist, and discussed the shared responsibility that allies and underrepresented minorities have to bridge the divide. She engages with other underrepresented communities by asking how she can help them educate and advocate for their own communities. She also challenged allies to take time to better understand what different populations need to be successful in the workplace. As a practicing Muslim, she will need to take two prayer times throughout the workday, and yet this conversation is often challenging to have because employers are uninformed about various religious traditions.

Their Advice: We are all allies in the industry—whether or not we belong to a group that is underrepresented in tech—and should start with the question, “How can I best support you?” to create a shared understanding.

So what are the key takeaways that can be embraced on campus and beyond?

Kimmer O’Reilly, a current student at Code Fellows, shared that after participating in the event, he realized that “being an ally means having the privilege to be in good company with people of diverse backgrounds and creative minds, while having the courage to stand with them and behind their ideas.”

As a female moving into a male-dominated industry, another student, Stephanie Dover, shared that the event helped her to “remember to have empathy when someone has a slip-up and shows their bias. It’s more effective to talk to them and explain why what they said or did was offensive. It gives them an opportunity to see the situation in a new light.”

Here at Code Fellows, we are grateful for the opportunity to serve as allies for our students and empower them to continue to lead the market as allies themselves. Thank you IncludeSeattle for this wonderful opportunity to join you in this meaningful discussion and to celebrate Mandela Day!


Want to get involved? See upcoming events »