Suppose someone asked you to fill in the following sentence:

“I want a diverse and inclusive workplace because _____________________.”

How would you respond?

Whatever your reasoning, the answer probably comes pretty easily. From diverse perspectives to improved engagement, better business outcomes, increased innovation, increased profitability and even the simple joy of showing up as your true self, diversity offers many different benefits.

But achieving those end goals—putting the plan in place—is a little trickier. Try this one:

“I will create a diverse and inclusive workplace by _____________________.”

Tough, right? It can be difficult to know what to do, or where to start. And this is where many of us get stuck. But looking to others for inspiration, and learning from their success stories and potential missteps, we can each get a little better, whatever that may be on our own journey.

Allyship & Becoming a Better Ally for All

One effective way to cultivate diversity and inclusion is through allyship, by becoming a better ally to members of underrepresented groups. Karen Catlin, a leadership coach and diversity advocate, offers everyday actions we can take to sponsor, champion, amplify and advocate for all people.

A Silicon Valley veteran, Karen spent 25 years building software, serving in roles including vice president of engineering at Macromedia and Adobe. During her career, she saw a sharp decline in the number of women working in tech, so she decided to do something about it. Shifting her focus to diversity and inclusion, she created @betterallies and authored Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces and Present! A Techie’s Guide to Public Speaking.


Examining Our Networks, Meetings, Feedback & Office Housework

Gearing up for Digital Diversity Days at Sparkbox and Karen’s Better Allies workshop, Karen shared 13 simple actions we can take to improve diversity and inclusion. These everyday actions fall into four areas: diversifying our networks, amplifying and advocating for others, giving effective and equitable feedback and disrupting office housework.

Diversify Your Network

As Karen says, most of our networks consist of people just like us. Which means that sometimes, when we encounter people who don’t quite fit our presumption of what an engineer, CEO, VP or so on looks like, we may make embarrassing assumptions—unconscious demotions—that leave people feeling like they just don’t belong. But there are easy ways to avoid this while also changing up our networks.

Everyday Actions to Diversify Your Network

  1. Introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t look like you

  2. Don’t give unconscious demotions (when meeting someone at a tech event, assume they’re technical)

  3. Attend events for underrepresented groups, to listen, learn and network

Amplify & Advocate for Others

We’ve all been in a meeting where someone stumbles a bit, shares a great idea that isn’t well received or doesn’t get the credit for things he or she is responsible for. How can we help these people show up as their best selves? Here are some ideas Karen offers:

Everyday Actions to Amplify & Advocate for Others

  1. Stop interruptions (“I’d like to hear Emma finish her thought.”)

  2. Cultivate a culture of credit (“I see you agree with the point Willie made earlier.” or “Here’s what I learned from Anna about AWS.”)

  3. Redirect misdirected questions (“Mei’s the expert. Let’s ask her.”)

Give Effective & Equitable Feedback

Data shows that feedback is not always given equally or equitably, leaving many underrepresented colleagues unclear about how they are doing, what they should keep doing and where they need to improve. As Karen says, there are a number of reasons we may hesitate to give direct and difficult feedback, but ultimately, we need to help everyone do their best.

Everyday Actions to Give Equal Feedback

  1. Focus on business impact, what to keep doing and how to improve

  2. Give direct feedback (don’t ease up to avoid hurt feelings)

  3. Share the expertise you see in them, and suggest new skills to learn

  4. Write reviews of the same length

Disrupt Office Housework

Making coffee, taking minutes, writing unit tests, training interns…these things need to be done, but they don’t often lead to business impact or career growth. When they’re not someone’s job, these undervalued tasks can take a toll on company culture and personal growth:

  • Puts colleagues in a subservient role

  • Takes time away from important work

  • Interrupts “flow”

  • Prevents colleagues from making killer points during meetings

Ready to shake things up? Here are some ways to even the playing field:

Everyday Actions to Disrupt Office Housework

  1. Set up rotations for administrative tasks

  2. Share the load (“Deepa’s great at mentoring, but it’s the perfect stretch assignment for Nick.”)

  3. Volunteer yourself (“I’ll bring the left-overs to the kitchen.”)

We all can make our workplaces a little better. From diversifying our networks to improving meeting culture, giving equitable feedback and disrupting office housework, there are so many simple actions you can take. For more ideas, follow @betterallies or subscribe for Karen’s weekly tips. You can also join us at Digital Diversity Days at Sparkbox, November 13–14. Connect with others who share your same goals, discuss challenges openly and go back to work with a real plan to create change.