When we strip away the negativity of the term unconscious bias, people open up. They start to see all the assumptions we make every day. Many of those assumptions are incredibly helpful and timesaving. But some of them put others in a box and hold them back. Using the term “unconscious bias” shuts the door for many people before they even see what’s in the room. And we want them to see what’s in the room!
I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about allyship. One of the main things an ally should do is advocate for others. An ally is your voice when you’re not in the room. When I do a training and I’m talking about allyship, one of the tools are used to provide a framework for speaking up, is Follow the ARC.
If you happen to overhear a comment that you feel is harassing, potentially harassing, borderline offensive, or any other form of micro-aggression, it’s important to speak up as an ally. That is one of the key elements of inclusive leadership. But how do you speak up when you witness such a thing? Follow the ARC.
ARC. ARC stands for Ask — Respect — Connect, and provides a tool for difficult conversations. We created the ARC here at Equality Institute to help others approach these conversations from a place of curiosity, not confrontation, reducing the risk of defensiveness from the other party.
Let’s use a real world example of micro-aggression that you may overhear at work: “LGBTQ? What’s the Q? And what’s next, X, Y, and Z?”
Start with the A: Ask. Again, ask from a place of curiosity.
Allies ask good questions when they follow the ARC. And context matters. The place you approach the conversation may depend on your relationship with the person - perhaps you may choose to pull the person aside to follow the ARC privately. Perhaps, if it’s someone who is half-joking or says, “I’m just joking!”, then approach them with a joking-back tone. To be successful with ARC, the place matters and your tone matters.
Here are some conversation starters for the Ask using the example above.:
“The Q means Queer, which used to be hurtful but is now an umbrella term - but
“can you explain what you meant by X, Y, and Z? I’m super confused!”
“did I hear you correctly when you said X, Y, and Z? That would be weird!?”
“do you mind if we talk about your LGBTQ X, Y, Z comment? I don’t get it.”
“did you mean to say LGBTQ XYZ? I may have misunderstood.”
Again, stay in the space of curiosity, not confrontation.
These questions challenge the person to explain themselves, and possibly realize how silly and/or offensive they may have been. As they explain themselves, follow up with the R - Respect. Simply put, respecting means being an active listener. Don’t cross your arms, nod your head, and use verbal cues to indicate that you’re paying attention. Don’t dismiss what the other person is saying. Respectfully listen without interruption. Paraphrase and validate.
After you’ve listened and respected the other person, close the arc with the C - Connect. In the ARC, Connecting means to paraphrase and validate. Here are some ways to connect using the example above:
“Ah yes, you’re saying that the letters are confusing. That’s what I used to think, too…”
“OK, just so I’m clear, you don’t really think there’s an XYZ, just that there are so many letters? I get why you would say that but…”
“So I understand you correctly, you think the letters are over-kill? I remember thinking that, but…”
Now, the other person may still get defensive or begin debating, so go back to the start of the ARC. This can be a cycle and you can’t expect to change “hearts and minds” with every person, but it does have a powerful ability to “call someone out” and gently challenge them to reflect on their word choice.
Allyship is a key component of inclusive leadership and we all have the ability to use our words.
The Radical Copyeditors produced an excellent "Transgender Style Guide" for writers. It truly does an outstanding job of illustrating appropriate use of terminology as well as excellent recommendations around the use of names and pronouns.
The Style Guide answers questions such as:
- How do I describe someone who is transgender?
- What does gender nonconforming mean?
- What pronoun should I use when describing someone who is transgender?
and also digs into explanations of relationships to body, anatomy, birth sex and more.
This is an outstanding resource for all of us, writers or not, to better understand how to communicate the diversity of our team members and guests.
We've all heard it and most of us probably use it. And while "guys" generally doesn't literally mean "men", it's still important to consider language when greeting groups of people.
The greetings that follow are much more "gendered" than "guys" - and can be risky if one or more of the people in the group is transgender or gender nonconforming.
- "Hey Girls!"
- "What can I get for you ladies?"
- "How are you doing tonight, gentlemen?"
Imagine a situation where a group approaches a host stand at a restaurant and the host opens with, "Good evening, ladies!" - yet one of the group is a trans man or non-binary. That guest will probably feel quite uncomfortable. In fact, one of our survey respondents shared, "As a trans man, I've been called "ma'am" or included in a greeting of 'ladies' when with my wife, and it makes me want to never return to that establishment. Using gender-neutral terms can be more comfortable for everybody."
What's a more successful approach?
The best approach is to keep language neutral. Here are some better greetings in that same scenario where a group approaches a host stand:
- "Hi everybody!"
- "What can I get for you folks?"
- "How can I help you?"
Language matters, and offending guests - even accidentally - can be a costly mistake. Training employees to make a simple change to use non-gendered language can immediately create an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome - and minimize the risk to your brand.
When our team leads a training, one of the things we address early on is language and terminology. Many people now know the very basic definition of what "transgender" means and thanks to Caitlyn Jenner, can name one trans person. However, a relatively new term that many are surprised to learn is "cisgender," a word now defined in most major dictionaries.
In short, cisgender is defined as someone whose gender identity matches the body they are born with. Most of the world is cisgender. Cisgender is used instead of simply saying "not transgender" because that implies that being transgender is abnormal.
Cisgender originated with biologist Dana Leland Defosse who first used it back in 1994. Etymologically speaking, "cisgender" is a direct antonym of "transgender. " Since both terms share Latin roots, they are quite clearly descriptive:
- Cis (Latin for 'on this side of') gender
- Trans (Latin for 'on the other side of') gender
Sometimes cisgender is shortened to "cis", so if you hear someone self-identify as a "cis female" you now know what that means. You might also hear someone referred to, or identify, as "cis het" which means cisgender and heterosexual.