I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to share my story as a disabled Latina in the workforce with the amazing Minda Harts and women at The Memo. I got to rep The Melanin Collective as we discussed Working with a Disability: Disabilities 101 and Self-Advocacy. After our fireside chat, I wanted to make sure I shared concrete ways we can be allies to people with disabilities in the workplace.
By: The Memo Staff
We often discuss what it’s like to advocate for ourselves, but what would it look like if we advocated for others? What would it look like if we stood in the gap for others when they aren’t able to stand in the gap for themselves? The happiness that we feel when we stand up for ourselves during those times that require us to -- think how good it might make another colleague feel when that is done for them unsolicited. If we want folks to advocate for us, sometimes we have to signal to others that we would advocate for them, too.
Here are four ways you can be an advocate for someone else:
- Listen & Learn: Actively listen to what your colleagues are telling you about their experiences at work. Take the time to learn about another marginalized group. Don't count on others to do all the work teaching you how to advocate for them. Find books, articles, films, etc. Learn what it's like to be in someone else's shoes. The more you understand about what your colleagues are going through, the better you can be at advocating for them when appropriate.
- Raise Your Hand On Their Behalf: Speaking of listening and learning...some of our greatest opportunities come from other people speaking our names when we aren’t in the room. Listen when your colleagues share what they want out of certain roles and their careers. That way, when you see an opportunity arise that would be great for them, you can speak up. Maybe you heard about a new committee opening up, and you remember that one of your colleagues mentioned being interested in getting more involved in the company in that way -- if you are in a position of power in the company, or you happen to know someone on the selection committee -- consider mentioning them for the role. Even if you aren’t a decision maker, consider mentioning the opportunity to your colleague. Maybe they hadn’t heard about it, and you can be their eyes and ears.
- Recognize Others’ Authenticity: Just as we’ve discussed self-advocacy, there are certain identity points that resonate with us that allow us to bring those authentic parts of ourselves to the workplace. How does your colleague identify? If no one else in the office acknowledges their authenticity, and you know it would mean the world to them if someone in the office “sees” them---be the one to help foster that visibility. For example, if one of your colleagues identifies with the pronouns “they” or “them,” help facilitate inclusion by addressing them in the way they have requested. As Lauryn Hill told us, “Respect is just a minimum.”
- Step Up: Have you ever been in a situation when someone at work said an off-color joke and no one said anything? Perhaps that joke was said, and you were the only woman or person of color, and it left you feeling awkward while everyone else pretended like it was not a big deal? How powerful would it have been if one of your colleagues vocalized that the joke was inappropriate and we don’t use that type of language? Or they approached you to see if you were okay, and apologized for not stepping up at that moment. These types of activities go on daily. Be the person that steps up when your colleague is feeling isolated and alone. Don’t be the person that normalizes bad workplace behavior.
A huge part of building a strong network is relationship building, and I don’t know any better way to start building stronger relationships with your colleagues than advocating and speaking up on their behalf. Again the great Lauryn Hill said, “Tell me, who I have to be to get some reciprocity.” Even though she was talking about an ex, I think if we flex our ability to advocate for others, hopefully, they will reciprocate when given the opportunity. You might be surprised by who steps up for you next time.