To be an ally, you have to be seen

I’m not a person who particularly likes talking about himself. Perhaps that’s clear from how infrequently I update this blog. Recently I was reminded that as a CEO my role requires me to not show up and talk about important, sometimes uncomfortable topics, but also to make sure people know I’m doing it.

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Photo Credit Nadezda Zavitaeva

Last Saturday morning I was honored to participate on a panel at a Lean In Seattle meetup, moderated by Jonna Bell of The Riveter. The idea was to talk about “Everyday Allies” — the work allies can do to promote diversity and eliminate sexism across our companies, boardrooms and institutions. While it wasn’t always an easy discussion, everyone spoke honestly and thoughtfully from our experiences trying, and sometimes failing, to support women who have dealt with sexual harassment and discrimination.

Towards the end I concluded my remarks by asking men in the audience who had spoken to someone else about coming to the event? I was excited to see that many of the men in the audience raised their hands to the applause and cheers of the women. It was great to know men weren’t just interested in learning what they could do to be better #everydayallies but to share the ideas with others.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t raise my hand.

While I did speak to a few of my ReachNow teammates about the event, I didn’t blast out an email or Slack message encouraging everyone to attend or explain why I was so excited to spend a Saturday morning talking about uncomfortable topics like sexism, racism and discrimination.

My reluctance wasn’t about the topic. I’ve never been embarrassed to speak up in support of equality. At ReachNow our values help us build diversity and inclusion into our culture. It is a key part of what I want ReachNow to be.

Though I’ve been on panels like this before, I always struggle with promoting my speaking events to our team because it feels awkward. I don’t want to make it about me. At ReachNow we “Share Appreciation” for what we accomplish as a team. It’s never about just one person, and especially not about me as CEO. I certainly didn’t want our team to think I was begging for attention.

But why shouldn’t I be begging for attention when the topic is this urgent? Sexual harassment continues because we aren’t paying attention. Attention for the victims of discrimination. Attention for anyone whose complaints have been discouraged. Attention for our friends and colleagues who have been diminished simply because of who they are.

In that moment on Saturday, seeing all those hands raised, I was instantly reminded that being an ally is not just about what you do, but what you do to influence others. Being an ally means being seen as an ally. As CEO I’m lucky to have a position where I can speak up and speak out. I haven’t always used it when I’ve had the chance, and I intend to start.


To see photos from the event and the recording of the live stream, check out the Lean In Seattle Chapter Facebook Page.

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