In Episode 69, Scott Hanselman from Microsoft joins us to discuss how we can bring more people in to become allies and what allyship means to Scott. We discuss Scott’s path to allyship, why Scott works to be an ally, and what to do when you make mistakes as an ally.
- Listen to Scott’s Technology Podcast on The Hanselminutes Podcast
- Find out more about Scott’s Microsoft Azure work on Azure Podcast
- Read more about the impact Scott’s fifth-grade teacher had on him on his blog article Mrs. Mayfield-Hill, my fifth-grade teacher
- Learn more about diversity at technical conferences at On Pie Chart Diversity at Technical Conferences
- Find out about Jeremy’s journey: EP 44: “An Allyship Journey As A Straight, White Man With Jeremy Sussman”
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com
- “Luck is a construct, luck is opportunity plus being prepared.”
- “You want to boil a frog you put in cold water, you turn the heat up slowly and the frog doesn’t notice. But if you throw the frog into hot water, it jumps right out and says, ‘I’m not getting boiled today,’ and when we throw people into situations afresh they look around and they go, ‘This is ridiculous, what’s going on with this company.’ That’s why consultants are so wonderful. You bring them into a company, and they go, ‘Look at this boiling water. This is awful. I’m going to jump out.’”
- “If you make a declaration today in 2021 on the internet, on Twitter, in a press release, whatever, it’s going to hold more weight than it did 10 or 15 years ago, and there’s a blast radius to that if you said something big or something controversial, there’s privilege inherent with your position as respected people in your space. So it’s important to be intentional with that dimension of privilege.”
- “Listen, read books, understand, you don’t always need to add your words.”
Scott Hanselman is a programmer, teacher, speaker, technologist, podcaster, writer, inclusion advocate, and more.
Scott Hanselman has been a developer for over 30 years and has been running his own blog www.Hanselman.com for over 20 years. He is also a prolific podcaster and has produced over 800 episodes of The Hanselminutes Podcast and 700 episodes of Azure Friday.
Scott works in Open Source on .NET and the Azure Cloud for Microsoft out of his home office in Portland, Oregon, and has written a number of technical books and spoken in person to over one million developers worldwide.
MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & Allyship, where we have deep real conversations to build empathy for one another and to take action to be more inclusive and to lead the change in our workplaces and communities.
I’m Melinda Briana Epler, founder and CEO of Change Catalyst, and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion speaker, advocate, and advisor. You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
All right, let’s dive in.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone. Today we are talking with Scott Hanselman (he/him), who is a person at Microsoft. He’s also a longtime blogger, podcaster, author, and speaker. One of our most frequently asked questions is how do we bring more people in to become allies? So, we’re discussing Scott’s path to allyship and how he thinks about allyship.
Hey, Scott. Good to see you.
SCOTT: Hi! How are you?
MELINDA: Thanks for being here.
SCOTT: My pleasure.
MELINDA: Yeah. I’m doing okay. I’m doing okay. So, just briefly, our on-screen ASL interpreters for the day are Janet and Jennifer from InterpreterNow, our Accessibility Partners, and you can find out more about them at www.Interpreter-Now.com.
All right. So, let’s jump in. We usually start by having our guests tell a bit about their story. So, could you tell us a bit about your story, where you grew up, how you came to do the work you do today?
SCOTT: Sure. Yeah. So, like you said, my name is Scott Hanselman (he/him). I live in Portland, Oregon. I have always lived in Portland, Oregon, and I grew up in Northeast Portland. Somewhere around 11 or 12, I was starting to get into trouble. My fifth-grade teacher, we just got an Apple II at the school. And this is a time when schools in Portland, which have never really been well funded we’re getting some minor funding. We didn’t have a computer per classroom. We had a computer for the school. So, it would kind of make its way around and around and around.
I got a hold of it one day, and a teacher said, “Maybe Scott would be better served to spend some time inside than on the street causing trouble, fighting on the street behind the school.” She wanted me to kind of butts in seats, is what she said. So, I was very privileged to have the ability to use this one computer, which was, I think it was $2,000, which is just such a huge amount of money, just an immense amount of money. So, I had never seen anything like that before is an Apple II, green screen. So, early exposure.
Early exposure for me was so fundamental because my family—they had never gone to college. My dad is a firefighter. My mom is a zookeeper. My dad, when he wasn’t a firefighter, was driving an oil truck. So it was very kind of blue-collar. We had a television. That was basically my extensive understanding of technology. And then, this thing showed up at the school, this computer, this green screen Apple II. And my teacher, Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Marion Mayfield Hill, who ultimately came to my wedding. And we stayed in touch for 30 years until she passed away. She said, “I think this kid’s got something.” So, there’s a couple of things that happen there. She identified something, she made an opportunity, and she gave me access. Right? And if any one of those things didn’t happen, I mean, you know, I was in all kinds of stuff I shouldn’t have been into.
You know how they always say, “Oh, yeah, I was very lucky.” Luck is a construct. Right? Luck is opportunity plus being prepared. I think I had a little inherent cleverness, but I had no opportunity. She created luck. She invented luck, and that in itself is a privilege. Right? So, when I look back and wonder where were all my other friends from school, did they get out of the neighborhood? I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find anyone. So, I’m feeling very lucky and very privileged to have been able to become one of the first people in my family to go to college and to create the beginnings of generational wealth by getting involved in tech.
I can absolutely identify the moment that happened when Mrs. Hill said, “Maybe don’t go and cause trouble on the street today. Stay in, and let’s talk about this computer.” And if that hadn’t happened, there’s some alternate universe Scott who is most likely to be convicted of a white-collar crime. Probably a money launderer or something, something I shouldn’t have been doing. And so, she created luck for me.
So, now with a little bit of that context, and I apologize if I was rambling, to look back on that and say, “Well, someone created luck for me. I am going to try to do as much as I can to be someone else’s luck.” There are people out there who have the first ingredient, preparedness, but they don’t have that opportunity. And that opportunity can be, “Oh, here, take my business card.” or “Yeah, drop me a note, and I’ll connect you with that other person.” or “Let me put you in a room.” or “Why don’t you speak at my company.” or “Hey, talk to this person. They’re looking for a new hire.” All of those are opportunities to create someone else’s luck. I think that’s where it all started for me. Someone did it for me. And it’s my job to send the ladder back down.
MELINDA: I love that. Yeah. So, she was an ally for you.
SCOTT: And she was actually a Black woman in Portland, Oregon, which is also you know. And she did that for me. She did that for everyone, to be clear. I didn’t get singled out. But I think that I was very blessed that a teacher saw something in me. And, you know, you meet people, and you see something in them. And I think it’s important to blow on that spark and see if it’ll become a flame. And she did that for me. I’ve written about her on my blog, in fact.
MELINDA: Oh, that’s cool. That’s cool. Well, we’ll put a link to that in our follow-up resources for our show notes for this. Awesome. And so, I mean, I guess that kind of gets to the next question I was going to ask you is, why do you work to be an ally?
SCOTT: Before the pandemic, or the Panini, as my kids call it. I like to go to the mall. I find comfort at the mall, not because of the commercialism, but just because it’s where you go to see people. When I travel, I like to go to the town square. Here in Portland, we have a place called Pioneer Courthouse Square, which is Portland’s living room. It is the center of the city, and it’s a big giant brick square. And everyone comes and goes.
If I’m in New York, I go to Penn Station, right? These are these central places. But when I worked in tech, and I’ve been in tech now for 30 years, I sit at tables with a bunch of dudes my age that looked like me. And I worked in banking, and I stood at tables with a bunch of dudes my age that looked like me. But it doesn’t look like the mall. It doesn’t look like the town square. I think five or ten years into tech, I started kind of noticing that. I love going to these central places that are so representative of Earth, like Times Square in New York, or go to Paris and sit underneath the Eiffel Tower and just watch people walk by.
That’s what stuff is supposed to look like. That is what’s called representative diversity because it is true randomization of who is going to walk by. Someone told me once. If you go to Times Square in New York, and you sit for your entire life, everyone that you have ever known at some point will walk by.
MELINDA: It’s true. It’s true. I went to New York. I actually walked home through Times Square from time to time, and I definitely ran into a lot of people in that short amount of time.
SCOTT: Exactly. Exactly. But when I was working in retail online banking, if I sat in the C-suite at the top of a bank and waited for everyone I ever knew, very few people, if any, would ever walk by. So trying to reconcile those public spaces of representative diversity, just this is the world with the spaces that I was fortunate enough to get into. Because once I got out of the neighborhood, and I got a degree, and I put a suit on, and I shaved, I’m a suit person now. Right?
My disguise was complete. No one has ever asked me where my parents went to school. And in the last ten years, no one’s asked me where I went to school. I went to Portland Community College, right. But I have colleagues that are always asked about where they went to school, and they went to Howard, or they went to NYU. They went to schools with names, right? Not Portland Community College.
So, trying to equalize that as maybe a little survivor’s guilt, kind of all combined, gets me trying to equalize the playing field, so I try to lend my privilege as my friend Ewan Simmon has coined that phrase “lending privilege” as much as I possibly can.
MELINDA: Awesome. And maybe we should stop and kind of define allyship for you. I definitely define it for the show, but what does allyship mean to you? What does that mean?
SCOTT: Well, I don’t know. It’s a journey, right? I mean, like Wil Wheaton just said, and forgive me if this is off-color, but Wil Wheaton, a very long time ago, said that the number one rule on the internet is don’t be a dick. Right? So you can translate that to whatever appropriate way it is. But, just patience and kindness and empathy, right? I prefer that word empathy and inclusion more than allyship because people can just stand next to somebody and point, like, “Oh, look, I’m an ally. I’m standing here.” But it’s not a label you get to give yourself. Do you know what I mean? It’s a label that someone gives you for behavior in a moment, as opposed to a badge or a certificate that they hand you that you get to walk around with for the rest of your life. So, one can try to present ally-like behaviors, and maybe you get it right that day, and maybe the next day you don’t get it right.
MELINDA: Yeah. I feel similarly. I think, for me, you can work to be a good ally, but you can’t call yourself a good ally. Other people have to call you a good ally.
SCOTT: It’s not a label for me. At the same time, though, I would rather be a good person than to set one goal and say, I want to be called an ally. Like, I don’t think Mr. Rogers or Bob Ross, or all of our, kind of like, gentle male archetypes that we think of are like, “Oh, Ted Lascaux calls himself an ally.” No, he’s just trying to be a nice human being, of which allyship is in the umbrella of non-jerkish behaviors, if that makes sense.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. So, what does that look like for you in your work? When you go to the office or the virtual office, how does that play out for you? What does that look like for you at work?
SCOTT: Well, the privileges that I have the most off right now at my job are less about identity and more about time in a job. So, I call that level privilege, right? When you’re almost a VP, you know, when you’re more than a mid-level manager, your biggest privilege is less about color or gender. It’s about I’m a partner with Microsoft, which is like a partner in a law firm. There are only so many of us.
So, I can do small behaviors, like in meetings, and you know, say, “Oh, I think so and so had a question. And hey, I don’t think Melinda is getting a chance to talk. And actually, that was Melinda’s idea earlier.” You know, those kinds. That’s the minimum bar. That’s just being human, right, minimum bar. But when you have a certain amount of level privilege, then it’s like, “Well, let’s look at equitable hiring.” And, you know, we’re interviewing three people, and they’re all the same flavor of person, let’s have a wider net. “Have we put the word out that this job was available here?”
Those are things that I can do that are more organizational change. So, at my job, the small ally behaviors, I hope I get right 90% of the time as a minimum bar. The larger ones are trying to work with our vice presidents about equitable hiring and things like that and making sure that people have opportunities for growth and opportunities for promotion.
MELINDA: Awesome. Awesome. We talked mostly about the workplace here, but I also want to just ask. Does allyship continue for you outside of work, too? What does that look like?
SCOTT: Sometimes, with my philosophy and I might be wrong, so if you can give me tips, please don’t hesitate. But like, I was taught to open the door for everyone. I was at the post office yesterday, the day before yesterday. And the person was trying to get into the door, and they had like a stack of boxes, but they were like 20 feet away. But I’m able-bodied, so I just kind of jumped up, and I just kind of ran over there and just grabbed the door. That’s just people-ness. That’s just being a human being.
MELINDA: Being a good human.
SCOTT: You don’t do that and then go, “Ha-ha-ha! Ally.” Do you know what I mean? That’s not how it works. So, I have trouble separating allyship, which is kind of like a buzzword, with the way that my father taught me to be a human on the planet. You know, tipping well, being pleasant to service workers, just general kindness.
I would have trouble parsing what’s an ally behavior and what’s trying to be more like my dad, who was a very gentle and inclusive big construction worker type person, you know what I mean? He doesn’t look like the kind of dude who would be a gentle giant, but he is, if that makes sense. I am now, as I’m getting towards 50, I see myself so much in him more than I did in the last 20 or 30 years. I’ll be walking by, like a big glass wall inside of a building, and I’ll see my dad out of my eye. And it’s me. Does that make sense?
MELINDA: Yeah, yeah.
SCOTT: Or I’ll say something to my kids, and it literally sounds like I recorded my dad from the 80s and then played it back.
SCOTT: Do you know what I mean? He grew up in the 40s and 50s as the son of a single mom, which was not a thing that was de jure in the 50s. And he grew up with a single mom who was a nurse. His father had died. His mom was involved in a number of LGBTQ-type things in the 40s and 50s, as a supportive ally as working in the nursing field in clinics that supported that kind of folks. So, he had uncles that were roommates for 30 years, type people around him. So, he had a single mom, and he grew up very kind of like caring and nurturing, which isn’t how most men that I come in contact with, who grew up in the 50s, grew up. And in doing that, he informed my behavior about what masculinity and being kind and inclusive were. So, that informs my sense of what allyship is. I realize I’m conflating a number of things here in answering your question.
MELINDA: It’s good. It’s good. It’s all good. Yeah. And I think that it does make a difference what we’re taught when we’re younger too. I mean, we’ve learned so many biases, also from our families growing up too. I know I did. As well as, you know, empathy. Empathy is learned, and it’s a skill that is learned. And so, yeah, I think that’s really a key piece.
SCOTT: There’s a thing we’re doing at Microsoft right now. They’re calling model coach care, which I think is part of leadership training. We model behavior. You coach people towards that behavior, and then you generally try to care about your workers. They’re really pointing out that a leader has to model the behavior. You can’t say, “Do what I say, not what I do.”
MELINDA: Right. Right. Absolutely.
SCOTT: Right? And that’s the thing that I always admire about my dad and my mom, is that they never asked us to do anything that they weren’t willing to do themselves, right. So, when I was a teen, I was like, “Why do you guys smoke and drink?” They immediately stopped smoking and drinking. They cut it. They stopped. And I remember memories of being really young and my dad’s smoking outside. And then I was like, “Oh, I want to smoke too.” And then suddenly, my dad stopped smoking. Do you know what I mean? Or it’s the late 70s, and they’re drinking a box of wine. And I’m like, “Okay, boxes of wine for all.” And then, the wine disappeared. So, I thought that was really cool about them.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. I think now a lot of parents are thinking, how do I raise good allies in my children too? Like, how do I build that muscle of empathy, and also that activation of allyship? Yeah. And you asked, so in terms of being an ally outside of work, the other thing is that people think about, where do you put your dollars? Who are you? Who are you purchasing from when it comes to retail? And then, where are you investing? Who are you voting for? And, you know, activism?
SCOTT: Yeah. My parents, and particularly my dad, were very much supportive of small businesses. So, it’s funny that you bring that up about, like voting with your feet.
MELINDA: And the dollars, yeah.
SCOTT: Yeah, voting with your feet and your dollars. I just came from a bagel shop, which is my favorite shop here in Portland called Sunrise Bagels. It’s just this very nice man named Scott. And he runs this bagel shop. It’s not a franchise. It’s not owned by 50 people. It’s him, and he makes the bagels there. And all of the kids that work there are students on their way somewhere. I would rather go there than anyone at 50 Different Panera Bread or whatever.
That’s just one example, but I’m realizing that probably 85-90% of the places that I go are small businesses that are owned by families. I know them by name. They know to be my name. They know our orders. And we’ve taught the kids to always try to do that, rather than the Walmarts and the Amazons. And then recognizing that the person who’s taking your money is a human being who is paying the rent.
So, we talk about that. When you go to one of these shops and go, “How many bagels does he have to sell to hit the rent this month?” So that they’re thinking about systemic thinking because individual behavior is just like a butterfly flaps its wings. The larger system and that a hurricane happens is a thing that a lot of people don’t discuss systemic thinking, and systems thinking is, I think, important.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah. Or the forest being cut down, so they don’t have a place to land in the winter and all that. Yeah.
SCOTT: Yeah, indeed.
MELINDA: So, back a few years ago, at our first Tech Inclusion Conference in Seattle, you asked to speak, and what you spoke about was Power Rangers Diversity. Can you talk about that a bit?
SCOTT: The Power Rangers or Captain Planet or any of these shows that we grew up on in the 70s, 80s, and 90s usually had four or five, six kids on an adventure. The teams that were built of kids looked kind of artificially diverse. It looked like the United Colors of Benetton ads. And there was always one Black guy. You can’t have two Black guys. You only allowed one based on the rules of Power Ranger diversity, right?
And whether it be that show or Captain Planet or whatever, Scooby-Doo, you kind of go, “Ha! This show seems artificially assembled.” And then, even now, in 2021, my wife and I were watching a Hallmark movie. And it’s like, why is it always the sassy Black friend, right? When does she get love? You know, those kinds of Twitter are called tropes, and you can read about those at TVtropes.com. Those tropes continue to happen not just on TV but in life. Right? And it’s like–.
MELINDA: On leadership teams.
SCOTT: You have to ask yourself, right? If I can remember 500 Pokemon, why can’t I keep the two Black people at work straight? You know, those kinds of hard questions. We laugh a little bit about them, but it’s also you kind of laugh only because you want to not cry.
MELINDA: Right. Right. Yeah. I mean, Wayne and I, my husband and I will be watching Star Trek, for example. And there’s a new Black character that comes on, and we talk about how long it’s going to take for that Black guy to be killed. Right? It is generally the first one to go. And yeah, there are so many of those tropes in the media. And also, yeah.
I would say even over the last two years, a year and a half since George Floyd was murdered, so many companies are hiring more at the leadership level and looking specifically for the one Black person to put on the team, for example. So, it is definitely still, several years later, still an issue.
SCOTT: Yeah. And I think that that’s something that as our common with tropes, we fall into them. And you have to notice them. One of the analogies that I use, I think it works, but sometimes people don’t think it works is this common concept in computer science of boiling a frog? Have you ever heard of the boiling a frog analogy?
SCOTT: Right. You want to boil a frog, you put it in cold water, you turn the heat up slowly, and the frog doesn’t notice. But if you throw the frog into hot water, it jumps right out. He’s like, “I’m not getting boiled today.” And when we throw people into situations afresh, they look around, and they go, “This is ridiculous. What’s going on at this company?”
That’s why consultants are so wonderful. You bring them into a company, and they go, “Look at this boiling water. This is awful. I’m going to jump out.” But the people who are in the thick of it don’t see the water getting hot, and they don’t even realize it. So, sometimes it’s malicious. And sometimes it’s just lazy. And what’s uncomfortable is that moment where you look around, and you go, “Wow, we are sitting in boiling water. This sucks. Now, what do we do?” And that moment, where everyone kind of wakes up and goes, “Oh, crap, this is a problem.” is difficult, I think, for everyone.
MELINDA: Yeah. So, as we are talking, I think it’s been a month, month and a half ago, initially about doing this episode together. You said you wanted to talk about active inclusion. Can you talk a little bit about that? What does that mean? What does it look like? And how can people in leadership roles, management roles facilitate it?
SCOTT: Yeah. Well, I was noticing in meetings that the pie chart of identity is complicated. And me, as a straight White dude, can’t just say that I am the way I am because of those three factors. There are lots of factors. The identity pie chart is complicated. And I have to acknowledge that about everybody.
If someone on my team, let’s say I have a woman of color in my team and they’re shy in a meeting, they just might be shy. But there could be a whole thing in the pie chart of identity and background and where they grew up and how their parents are, and personality. How do I make sure that they can come to work and enjoy themselves and work with people clearly?
So, I’ve started based on some suggestions from a gentleman on my team, one of my managers, James Montemagno, asking people how they want to be managed. I realized that in 30 years of working in tech, not one time has a manager said to me, “How do you like being managed?” Instead, their management style was imposed upon me. And I had to tolerate it. I had to accept it. I had to. It was inflicted upon me.
We just hired a young person out of school. And I was like, “Okay, well, how do you want to be managed? Do you want to talk three times a week? Do you want me not to talk to you at all? I like to check in a couple two times a week. Is that too much?” This isn’t being squishy, you know, for the naysayers who might be listening. This isn’t like, “Just do your job.” This is about, “Hey, man, or woman, how would you like to be dealt with?” “Well, you know, I really value my time at night. Please don’t call me unless it’s an emergency. Don’t bug me on the weekend.” But I have one person, she’s like, I’m fine. Text me on the weekends. If I see it, fine. If I don’t, fine.
So I have a list of all the different ways that my team likes to be managed. And in doing that, I have extended it now to how they want to work in meetings. Some people prefer to absorb the meeting, then write it up and send out a write-up. And that’s how because they really communicate well in writing. And some people are loud and obnoxious and interrupt, and they’re people that are more like me, kind of like that ENFJ personality type that like, the way that we feel dynamic is by vibing and interacting at an intense level, while that might make others shrink in the same meeting.
So, figuring out those management Tetris pieces and making sure that they all snap in together is intentional. It’s active. Otherwise, it’ll just happen. And then you just accept the defaults. And inevitably, the defaults mean 30 to 40% of your team feels gross after a meeting. So, that’s how I think about active inclusion.
MELINDA: That’s awesome. How do you think of your own privilege in relation to being an ally and being an active, inclusive leader?
SCOTT: Someone at work about two years ago said, “I need to give you some feedback. I need you to be conscious of the Hanselman blast radius.” I was like, “Oh my, that doesn’t feel good. That’s not designed to make me feel good.” “What do you mean, the blast radius?” This is like, well, sometimes you kind of just grenade in, and then shrapnel happens, and then other people are caught up in the blast. And they were like, you sometimes can cast a big shadow.
And I said, “Well, what do you mean by that?” And he’s like, “Well, you’ve been at the company a long time, you’ve got a certain level, you’re super excited, you’re not trying to step on people, but your enthusiasm can step on people.” All they said was try to be conscious of that blast radius and minimize it if you can. Because I might jump into a chat on Teams and say, “This website is down.” And then, I’ll leave.
And then I didn’t know it, but a whole series of meetings happened. And there was like, you know, people’s time, people got called on weekends, and like, all kinds of bad stuff happened. But I was just the grenade. I didn’t really think about the radius. That was hard to hear. But it was also another example of actively accepting. Well, there are things about that that are good. Like, I can get stuff done. That is a valuable business thing. But at what cost? So now I know when to explode and when not to explode. And by explode, I don’t mean in a negative way. I just mean in a, “Hey, everybody, let’s get together and do this thing.” That kind of like rah-rah management style is good for kicking projects off, but it’s not sustainable on a day-to-day basis. Does that make sense?
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I think so. And so, in this case, you have that because the question was around privilege, and so you have that privilege of being a leader there. And so, really acknowledging what that impact is of that.
SCOTT: Right. Well, it’s a level privilege. It’s being a person on the internet for a long period of time. Your self, your husband are both people in the space. If you make a declaration today in 2021 on the internet, on Twitter, in a press release or whatever, it’s going to hold more weight than it did 10 or 15 years ago, and that there’s a blast radius to that. If you say something big or something controversial, you make an announcement. There’s privilege inherent in your position as respected people in your space. So, it’s just important to be intentional about that. That is a dimension of privilege.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And so, you kind of use an example. You gave an example of somebody giving you feedback and acting on that feedback. What do you do when you make mistakes as an ally? I’m sure that you have.
SCOTT: I get real quiet. I try to sit in it for a second. Sometimes it feels personal. A lot of times, we go to intent. Yeah, but it didn’t intend to. But, you know, you don’t intend to do a lot of things, and people still get hurt. Sometimes we get defensive. And you want to say, “Yeah, but you do this other thing.” and then you try to turn it around and stuff like that. It is challenging. Nobody likes to be criticized. No one likes to make a mistake. Sometimes you get analysis paralysis, where it’s like, well, I can’t think this thing through, so I’ll just do nothing.
MELINDA: Yeah. Yeah.
SCOTT: I think it’s just part of the tax of a certain amount of success. Right? We pay our taxes. This is one of the taxes that we have to pay.
MELINDA: Does your team know that you’re open to feedback? And if so, how do you get them there as a leader? How do you let them know that you’re open to that?
SCOTT: One of the things that I’ve tried to do is that when someone gives me feedback, I will ask them afterward, “Can I share this with the team?” And that’s something that’s kind of unusual, the team at a team meeting doesn’t expect the boss to go, “Hey, I got some feedback recently about the Hanselman Blast Radius.” And they are like, [gasps]. And they are like, “Thanks for that—that kind of hurt. And I can say that that kind of hurt. But I get where you’re coming from. I can’t say I’ll get it right all the time because I think that my level of enthusiasm has value. But I understand that enthusiasm doesn’t help anyone if I’m also stepping on someone on the way. Right?”
And then, so when someone gives you feedback, you can follow it away. You can deny it. It’s advice, right? You don’t have to take advice if you don’t want to, but being able to ask them, can I share this anonymously or otherwise in conversations like I’m having with you?
MELINDA: Awesome. What about fear? Does fear ever play a role? Does that ever hold you back or keep you silent?
SCOTT: Nobody wants to like kick the Hornet’s Nest, right. Like, people talk about punching Nazis. I don’t want to fight anybody. Do you know what I mean? So, I’m not a confrontational kick-the-Hornet’s-Nest type of person. Using the examples from before. Ted Lasso, Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross—these are the kind of men that remind me of my dad that redefines what it is to lend privilege and be kind. I don’t see them as the kind of people to “tweet” bad people and then kick the hornet’s nest and then fight with people. So, I much rather try to model behavior. You can call that fear or discomfort, but I don’t find a lot of value in the shouting part of the confrontation. I will let someone else fight that battle while I quietly make internal organizational change. Do you know what I mean?
SCOTT: I’ll March, but I’m not going to lead the marching kind of thing. I don’t know if that’s fear or that’s just personality type.
MELINDA: Yeah, maybe both. Yeah.
SCOTT: I don’t know. I mean, there’s room for everybody as far as I’m concerned.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, there are definitely people that need to lead that charge, need to lead that protest or whatever. And there’s a lot of people that need to be there as well.
SCOTT: Yeah, but I’m just saying, I keep coming back to how I would want people to treat me. It’s pretty basic stuff. This is all golden rule stuff.
MELINDA: Yeah. And so, there are definitely a lot of people that are kind of stepping up to allyship for the first time, especially in the last year and a half. And more. There’s a growing understanding that people need to be inclusive leaders, be allies, advocates, accomplices, whatever word you want to use. What would you say to other White men who are just becoming an ally? Where would you recommend they start on their journey?
SCOTT: I don’t think that arguing with people on Twitter is the place to start your journey. I don’t think well actually is a good way to start one’s journey. I would encourage them to listen more. And be careful if the thing that you’re about to say is going to invalidate someone else’s experience.
I have friends who can tell me that a thing happened or they felt some kind of way. I can disagree. I don’t always need to tell them that. Right? Like, “Hey, this thing happened. I think it was this kind of problematic.” What do they need from me? Do they need me to challenge them? Do they need me to say, “Well, I’ve never seen that before. I don’t think that’s a thing.” So, shut up. You can never go wrong with just shutting up.
Being a White guy is pretty easy right now. The worst thing you can do to me, there are two things I can think of that you can do to me that would really hurt my feelings. You can call me a racist, or you can put me in the middle seat in coach. That’s pretty much it. Right? I’m killing it right now. I’m doing great. So, acknowledging that is like step one. And then, shutting up is step two. So like, just listen, read books, understand. You don’t always need to add your words.
If I may, do you remember when you asked me to come on this? What was the first thing that I said? Are you sure you need to hear from me?
SCOTT: Do you remember? I don’t want to take up space. Somebody else could come on the show. But you were very kind, and you said, “Well, no. I think you should come to the show.” But my knee-jerk reaction was [forced a smile].
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, there is that. As we step into allyship, there is that line we’re walking, right, where there are times where it’s important to step up and to say something and do something. And there are times when we listen, and we don’t. We make space for other people to stand up and step in. That is a key piece of all of this.
As you know, I asked you on the show because there are so many people who are White men who are trying to figure this out. I think sometimes, and most of our show is people with underrepresented identities, talking about what they want from allies, but occasionally it is important to also talk about how people grow as allies, how people who are White grow as an ally, so yeah.
SCOTT: I’m just doing my best, right. I mean, we’re just trying to remind people that it’s all supposed to look like the mall. I like going to the mall. The mall is great. The airport is great. Time Square. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just go into any field and find a representative group of people that’s random? That would be awesome. When we are at a representative group of people, then I’ll be like, “Okay, good.” That work was worth it.
MELINDA: Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. Great. I have one more question here, which is that we usually close each episode with a call to action. So, what is one thing that you wish people would do after listening to or watching this episode?
SCOTT: About ten years ago, Anil Dash unfollowed everybody on Twitter. He’s a person of some renown. And everyone was like following zero. What’s going on? People get really offended if you unfollow them. But you know, they don’t know if you’re following them via a list or via some other mechanism. And I said, “What are you doing?” I DM him. I said, “What are you doing, man?” And he says, “I’m going to only follow women and underrepresented people for the next year and see if it changes what Twitter means to me.” It can’t hurt.
So, I think that a thing that can’t hurt is to give it a month, a year. Just pick the amount of time, something that works for you. And only retweet and only follow people that don’t look like you, whatever you are, and just see if it changes your vibe. Because you know, we all know that the algorithm puts us into a bubble of people that agree with us and kind of look with us and like the stuff we like.
It didn’t take me long to get into the MCU Marvel Universe bubble. Follow some DC people. Like, you know. It can’t hurt, right? There’s a whole world out there, the whole universe out there. This whole like, yeah, I’ve got this many Black friends thing. If you have to count them, you don’t have enough, right? So, I don’t have any DC people in my life. Or whatever your thing is, just follow people who aren’t you for a long time. And what will happen is it’ll balance it out because maybe you have 500 people that you follow, and now you’ll have a thousand.
You’re going to see articles that they’re reading. You’re going to see movies that they’re watching. You’re going to see book recommendations. I feel like I have really lovely followers from all over the world, different languages. I read newspapers I’ve never heard of now because I see their retweets. I hear about book recommendations I never thought about. If you have a diverse pool of people in your life, as we know, diversity improves all systems. Right. That’s like how evolution works. Whether it be diverse teams building software or diverse people building your Twitter feed, try that. Try that for a month or two or a year and see what happens. It can’t hurt.
MELINDA: Yeah, I love it. I love it. That’s great. And if you’re not on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or the articles that you read, the books you read.
SCOTT: Just try. We talked about the critical this and critical that. All it is, is looking at something with a critical eye. That’s what it means. Critical Theory is about looking at things critically with historical context. Just like how did you get it? How did you get here? How did I get in this hot pot? I don’t remember being thrown into it. Well, it happens slowly. Read some different books, watch some different movies. The documentaries are there. The internet is a thing. Google is your friend. But if you do it with intention, you might find on the other end of it that you’re going to learn something. That’s how it worked for me.
MELINDA: Excellent. Awesome. Thank you. I appreciate you sharing your story and your thoughts.
SCOTT: I appreciate you too.
MELINDA: And everyone, if you want to listen to another episode, in Episode #44, we talked with Jeremy Sussman about his journey as a straight White man. So, this is kind of a second episode in the series. I appreciate you all tuning in. Have a great week. We’ll see you next week.
MELINDA: To learn more about this episode’s topic, visit ally.cc.
Allyship is a journey. It’s a journey of self-exploration, learning, unlearning, healing, and taking consistent action. And the more we take action, the more we grow as leaders and transform our communities. So, what action will you take today? Please share your actions and learning with us by emailing Podcast@ChangeCatalyst.co or on social media because we’d love to hear from you.
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Leading With Empathy & Allyship is an original show by Change Catalyst, where we build inclusive innovation through training, consulting, and events. I appreciate you listening to our show and taking action as an ally. See you next week.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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