On Two Things (About Allyship with Beverly Lau)
Silicon Valley extends many miles, yet the geek and startup networks within it is extremely dense, with meetups and instructional events on a variety of subjects being held day and night. Girl Geek X is one of those meetups, where different tech companies take turns hosting “girl geeks” for weeknight evening events with inspiring talks, panels and networking. I met Beverly Lau there, who followed up with me about a question I asked the panelists about the secret sauce behind Tableau‘s ability to form gender inclusive technical teams. As we asked about each other’s background (“oh you studied physics, too?”) and commented on each other’s style of inquiry (direct), we ended up deducing that we went to the same college (Reed), though years apart. As Reedies have a special bond (heck, I married one), we became fast friends.
Beverly is driven by a strong sense of fairness. It’s the main reason why she is vegan (animals need someone to speak up for them, too!). Her attraction to board games might have something to do with it, too: everyone follows a set of rules that’s declared, and we do the best we can with the “cards” that we got dealt. She listened to my tales of reverse culture shock with curiosity, as I had just returned to the US from Denmark, because the sense of fairness also depends on cultural assumptions made within that community. She was fascinated by different rules that came out of these assumptions: She said, “My friend who lived abroad told me that in parts of Continental Europe, passing a car from the right lane was illegal! I remember thinking, ‘huh, that’s different’. A small thing, but it reminds you that what is the norm here can’t be assumed as the norm elsewhere. That stuck with me.” She decided she wanted to have more of those “aha” moments, and got herself a job in Sweden! Her lens now includes being an expat.
As a woman in tech, and being a game-enthusiast, she had both a hot domain and a game mindset to play the “Two Things Game“. She couldn’t help but give me several “Two Things”.
Her Three Two Things
TWO THINGS ABOUT ALLYSHIP
1. Notice that something is happening that is unfair
2. Do something about it, no matter how small
TWO THINGS ABOUT BEING A WOMAN IN TECH
1. Don’t just have problems; have solutions
2. Don’t be the glue person if you want to get promoted
TWO THINGS ABOUT BEING VEGAN
1. A non-human animal values its life just as much as you value yours.
2. It’s not necessary to eat animals to be healthy.
Beverly gave a talk on how to be an ally (and why it’s important). You can watch it here
I appreciate the term allyship because it is not founded in reaction to a specific -ism: racism, sexism, ageism, ableism. I’m calling it “powerism” for short because 1) we need a term to cover all that (and I couldn’t find any on the Internet), and 2) the discriminatory -isms are based in systemically embedded power gradients.
Allies are not just anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc. We create a safe space for diversity to be included. Allyship is a deep and important responsibility for everyone because the powerisms are everywhere, and because regardless of how impoverished you might feel or how society sees you, we do have privilege we can use to see powerisms at work, say (object) it, and do something about it, however small it might be.
It wasn’t surprising to me that she included a “two things” for veganism, because I understood and appreciated that Beverly’s allyship extended to standing up for animals as well as other humans. I was, however, surprised that one of the two things focused on addressing the concerns people might have around health (i.e., if being vegan meant giving up on nutrients). I would have thought she would select #2 to be “you don’t have to compromise taste to be a vegan”, as demonstrated by the numerous photos of food on her Facebook feed. It’s pretty impressive to find fancy meals and treats in countries where their culture is to serve you a block of lard with bread. She relies on the knowledge of others who have paved the way before her, and apps like Happy Cow. It might mean going out of your way to get to the eatery. But that leads to more adventure: a chance to be a traveler instead of a tourist.
Starting with allyship mindset and a little research, Beverly reminded me that the journey of diversity and inclusion, in or out of the office, can yield delightful surprises and benefits beyond what you hoped to get.