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How to Be a Better Ally

June 26, 2017, 6:24 PM UTC

What do you wish people at work understood about you? How are you invisible to them? What do people get wrong about you?

When Accenture asked these and other important questions of its employees in a series of workshops, they took the answers seriously.

“Frankly, I was blown away,” Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer at Accenture told Fortune.

Some were annoyed at being mistaken for other ethnicities. Some young employees were tired of being dismissed as entitled or unengaged. Others worried that misconceptions about their disabilities would leave them behind at work. And some expressed resentment that their accomplishments, as majority culture white males, weren’t as celebrated as those of others. All the human stuff.

“We’re doing so many things right on paper,” says Shook. “But those can’t work if people can’t be honest about who they are at work.”

Shook decided to turn those insights into a learning moment. “This isn’t just about diversity that you can see,” she told Fortune. “This is about 411,000 people feeling like they have a place to be successful, professionally and personally.”

Accenture partnered with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global to conduct the workshops, which yielded the above insights, and after a lengthy development process created a video using real Accenture employees holding cards describing their authentic feelings. It’s well worth your time. (Bring tissues.)

You can find it here.

I had a chance to see how the video impacted a herd of Accenture employees when it was shown last week at the company’s annual learning conference for executive directors. There was nary a dry eye in the 700 seat auditorium, including mine.

I was in the room to moderate a panel about inclusion at Accenture, which featured Shook, Zahra Bahrololoumi, a managing director for Accenture Technology in the UK, CIO Andrew Wilson, and Nate Boaz, the senior managing director in charge of talent strategy and learning. It began with the five of us showing our own cards describing our own feelings. (Yes, even me.) That as it turned out, was an important first step.

After our discussion, Boaz led the room through one of the most effective exercises I’ve witnessed in ages. “We’re asking you to make a commitment – starting with yourself – to make Accenture the most inclusive organization on the planet,” he said.

Boaz had asked the panel to prepare and share another card with a specific action we would take toward making our lives more inclusive. (Yes, even me.)

Then, Oprah-style, he had each audience member reach under their chairs and pick up a poster board to write their own. “When you finish writing your commitment, please stand up and hold it up so that we know you’ve completed it,” he said. It was an enormously moving sight to wait and watch as 700 people began to rise. “Look around. Look in each other’s eyes. These are commitments that we are making to each other, to our friends, to our colleagues, to our families, human to human,” said Boaz.

Boaz has had an interesting route to leadership. In addition to stints at HBS and McKinsey, he’s also a combat veteran. In 2003, he was part of a group of Marines who rescued seven American POWs being held in Sammara, Iraq. Boaz spoke openly about his combat experiences and his subsequent PTSD. “I will be kind to everyone I meet-for each person is fighting a private battle I know nothing about,” he wrote on his commitment card.

That’s a pretty good commitment if you’re looking for some suggestions.

I asked Boaz for his best advice on how to design an exercise with impact:

  1. Engage the heart before the head. This is not about corporate mandates, it’s about human beings. Therefore, start with how you feel and ask how others how they feel.
  2. Create psychological safety. Give people permission to get whatever they’re holding back out in the open. You do this by having influencers role model their own imperfections and insecurities so others feel comfortable doing the same.
  3. Make the action specific and personal. People change when they understand the reason why, and have a clear step to take. We are often too general and don’t explain “why” we are going to change. With both, we most certainly will.

Shook says this “moment” is really part of a much larger movement. “What happens when we all feel like everyone belongs? Not just at work but in the world?”

But it’s real work, so here’s me doing it. My feeling poster said, “I feel sad when people don’t think of me as a real (step)parent.” Standing in a room full of people who were working hard to understand other people and their complex identities, it felt good to share it.

My commitment was a public declaration of the one I made to myself when I took an unexpected tumble into journalism fifteen years ago. Now I make it to you: “I promise to always speak truth to power.”


On Point

Muslims worldwide are celebrating the end of RamadanPrayer, reflection, mourning, feasting, balloons, and body paint. The celebrations are as varied as the Muslim faithful, and these extraordinary photos offer a quick world tour of reactions, customs, and conditions. Muslims living in refugee camps make due with their faith alone, while the Eid al-Fitr prayer near the Dome of Rock in Jerusalem is a balloon-filled festive moment. Hard to know what to make of what’s happening in Abidjan, Ivory Coast however, but it certainly is heartfelt.NPR

A prominent venture capitalist exits, stage left
The story was getting uglier and uglier. Justin Caldbeck, a co-founding partner at San Francisco-based Binary Capital, resigned last night after multiple accusations of sexual harassment from women entrepreneurs. Three of them, Niniane Wang, who co-created Google Desktop, and Susan Ho and Leiti Hsu, co-founders of Journy, a travel service, went on the record with The Information. (Hsu says Caldwell groped her under a restaurant table.) Caldwell tried to duck and cover, first by denying, then by taking an indefinite leave of absence, and ultimately by issuing a weak tea apology. After you read the news, head to this extraordinary critique of the apology and the industry that almost gave Caldbeck a pass. Brenden Mulligan, a designer at Google, went line by line through Caldwell’s mea culpa and shredded it. “You barely mention the idea that you might have made women feel ‘uncomfortable’ and then you move on to apologize to the tech community?” he seethes. “Guess what? Most of us techies weren’t in the situation where we thought we’d have to go to your hotel room to get your investment. We’ll be fine.” #TeamBrenden

Bernard Coleman talks about taking on diversity at Uber
While the culture may need some serious work, there's no need to call time of death on the company, says Bernard Coleman, the still newish diversity chief at Uber. “I don’t think it’s toxic. I don’t think it could get this big or survive if it were so toxic. It would destroy itself,” he says. Coleman, who held the same post for the Hillary Clinton campaign, brings an almost preternatural balance to the role. He talked to Time about diversity as a goal, but also what it was like walking into an Uber firestorm. He started by doing some real listening. “The assessments basically told us that people wanted to feel supported, safe and committed,” he says. “They wanted to feel respected working here at Uber. That was the main thing. And I think that’s something everyone can get behind.”

Who will raise the dough for the poor?
Lest you think that religious organizations are going to be able to take up the shortfall on compassion, Bread For the World, a Christian anti-hunger advocacy organization, has crunched the Trump Administration’s budget and found the shortfall too big to manage. According to the organization, the country’s congregations would have to add $714,000 a year to their annual budgets over the next decade to fill in the gaps in services for low-income Americans.“There is no way our country’s 350,000 religious congregations can make up for the cuts in the services that help hungry, poor, and other vulnerable people,” said Rev. David Beckmann, Bread For The World president.

A majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage in the U.S.
A new survey from Pew Research Center shows a strong and rapid shift toward support for same-sex marriage. Now, just two years after SCOTUS ruled that same-sex marriage was the law of the land in all fifty states, some two-thirds of Americans support the move. It’s a big shift in a short time: In 2010, more Americans opposed it than were in favor. Click through for the demographic breakdown but here’s one big stand out. For the first time, a majority of people who identify as Republican do not oppose same-sex marriage.

The Woke Leader

Why "Queen Sugar" means so much
Writer Son of Baldwin has emerged as one of the most candid and powerful voices exploring “activism, anger, art, criticism, disturbance, identity, joy, love, outrage, politics, reconciliation, and sexuality from the perspective of a black queer man.” His pop culture dialogs with other artists tend to be fascinating, and this exploration of Queen Sugar with writer Isabelle Masado did not disappoint. “I remember watching the premiere of Queen Sugar last year and thinking, this show feels like it was birthed from our collective consciousness, like a prayer to our ancestors to help us feel seen and validated,” says Masado. If you haven’t seen the two-part Season Two premiere yet, then hold off, because there are spoilers ahead. But their analysis of race, hue, gender dynamics, and the creative process is insightful, and their back-and-forth feels as if you happened to stumble upon them sitting together at the tea house full of love for a world that lets Ava DuVernay make things. Enjoy.

A tech veteran goes to Jordan
Brandee Barker is a veteran of many tech firms, though she’s most famous for her work in communications at Facebook, way back when the fledgling company had fewer than 5 million users and its famous founder couldn’t legally order a cocktail. Now, as an entrepreneur in her own right, she’s one of a growing number of Silicon Valley folks who are becoming increasingly upset by the refugee crisis and are exploring ways to understand, perchance to help. In this post, she gives a thorough breakdown of a recent trip to Jordan. If you want to know what it’s like to be a regular (non-NGO) person visiting a refugee camp, this is your chance. “As we made our way through the camps by van, I was alarmed by the kilometers of chain link, barbed wire and machine guns that kept people in and others out. Make no mistake, the camps are a type of prison.”

Behold: An Afro Sheen commercial starring Frederick Douglass!
Better yet, it was featured on Soul Train, back in the 1970s. I don’t want to give too much away, but Douglass’s tribute to the dignity of natural black hair may not rank among his among his most powerful speeches, but he stayed firmly on message. Even then, he was doing an amazing job. The commercial is also poignant look back at a time of tremendous cultural transformation. It’s a hair product! It’s a revolution! It’s a hair product and a revolution!


I had plans originally to try and tell the world and everybody watching how they can make it a better place. To tell everybody in this government that y’all need to let everybody out of jail for selling weed before y’all start making it legal for people to sell and make capital off it. I was going to tell the Chicago Public School system not to take out a loan from Chase bank when they know that our schools are planning on failing in our district…But my big homie Reese told me that we gotta work on ourselves before we can work on the world. So I want to be a better father.
—Chance The Rapper