How often have you read or heard about inequality, marginalization, or hate crimes against an identity group of which you are not a part, and been left wondering “but what can I do?” If your own life experiences are different than those experiencing these acts, it can be easy to miss the full context and scope; to take actions that, though well-intentioned, end up being counter-productive (last year’s Instagram trend of posting black squares in an attempt to support of Black Lives Matter and Black Out Tuesday comes to mind). Alternatively, you might choose not to engage in another identity group’s struggle because it feels like you have nothing of value to offer, or that it feels like cultural appropriation. Or you might venture in nervously, say something that draws criticism, and vow never to engage again. In any of these situations, a common consequence is choosing to do nothing; to engage in your own personal reflections but to remain disengaged from the wider discourse.
My home has patchy Wi-Fi. For the most part, this isn’t a problem. I know that if I want to look at something on my phone while cooking, I need to switch to cellular service (it’s just out of reach for Wi-Fi but close enough that it tries – and fails – to use Wi-Fi rather than making the switch automatically). But if you’ve ever used a laptop to work somewhere with spotty Wi-Fi service, you know how frustrating it can be. The Wi-Fi signal is there, but it’s just not reaching where it needs to go to be effective and keep things moving forward. Wi-Fi signal boosters are designed to use their own power to amplify the existing Wi-Fi signal; to make it more powerful and allow it to reach the intended destination and fulfil its purpose. Recently, I wondered if there’s a connection here that might be useful when considering how to engage in issues affecting identity groups beyond our own.
Amplifying voices of those within the affected identity group – acting as a signal booster for them – centers their experiences instead of your own. It allows others to hear directly from those who are marginalized; to hear their story and see them as real and unique people rather than an abstract group. As we consider how to engage as a signal booster to amplify others’ voices, let’s consider also how to amplify other’s voices in the workplace.
This Week’s Tip:
Take on being a signal booster and using your power to amplify other’s voices:
1) Start by reading, viewing, and listening widely to people of different identity groups than your own, beyond what’s familiar and comfortable to you. Tap into the many insightful artists, performers, writers, bloggers, podcasters sharing tips, insights, and strategies – as well as their personal experiences. But also listen closely to your colleagues and those around you to hear their own unique experiences. Train yourself to hear when someone shares a different life experience than your own, and to follow up one-on-one with “Would you be willing to tell me more about that experience?” Use that as a chance to practice active listening and ask other open-ended questions.
2) Share the work – the blogs, podcasts, articles, creative art etc. that speaks to the creators’ personal experiences: If appropriate, you may choose to do this in your workplace (if you’re unsure if it’s appropriate, seek some guidance). You may also choose to share on your personal social media platforms, or as personal recommendations to friends, family, and colleagues. Be mindful not to add too much of your own voice; it can be useful to say briefly about why you are sharing this, but let the work speak for itself rather than centering your own voice. Similarly, if a colleague shares something that has been minimized or pushed aside, use your power to revisit what they shared and bring attention back to it.
3) Reach out to thank the creators or support their work. Being a creator can be lonely, and sharing one’s personal experiences and marginalization can leave someone feeling raw and exposed. Consider supporting them or follow their lead in actions they would suggest taking.
4) If you have the means to do so, consider more systemic ways you can include their voices. If you bring in speakers for your staff, consider using that opportunity to boost others’ voices. If you host a podcast, write articles, design curriculum, have a large Twitter following, or have other means of reaching people, consider bringing these voices in to speak further.