By Ellen McGirt
Updated: October 10, 2018 4:16 PM ET

Since we’re on the subject of allyship these days, here’s a helpful and shareable short video from Melinda Epler, a self-identified white, cisgender woman who does a fine job both acknowledging her privilege, and sharing the slow-motion derailment she experienced when she hit the glass ceiling at her dream job as an executive at an international engineering firm in San Francisco.

“While there were bigger issues, most of what happened were little behaviors and patterns that slowly chipped away at my ability to do my work well. They ate away at my confidence, my leadership, my capacity to innovate,” she says.

She describes a culture that will be familiar to many – ignored or interrupted in meetings, ideas dismissed then claimed by someone else, and the everyday slights that come when you’re not seen by the culture as valuable. “I started to realize that I wasn’t failing. The culture around me was failing me. And I wasn’t alone.”

What follows is a simple but powerful explainer of how privilege, meritocracy, entitlement, and toxic power dynamics keep already disadvantaged people back at work. “Allyship is about understanding that imbalance in opportunity and working to correct it,” she says, a series of noticing and intervening behaviors that help people feel seen, included, and valued.

She cites simple things like learning people’s names and pronouns, speaking up for people if they’re belittled or the butt of a joke and saying no to conference panels that don’t feature a diverse array of perspectives. (I would extend this to teams and committees, too.)

But since inclusion lives in daily conversation, just learning to signal that you’re listening and understanding means so much. “Don’t interrupt. Underrepresented people are more likely to be interrupted, so just take a step back and listen,” she says. It’s a simple technique: Echo and attribute. “If I have a great idea, echo my idea and then attribute it to me, and we thrive together.”


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