Allyship isn’t an end state, it’s an ongoing process; one that requires us to reach beyond our narrow, lived experiences and listen to others with openness, humility and empathy.
That was a primary takeaway from a recent keynote presentation by award-winning educator, consultant and social entrepreneur Kim Katrin during a special Rakuten Americas Pride Month kickoff event. Speaking to an online audience of Rakuten employees, Katrin offered clear strategies for tackling hard conversations and moving past divisiveness.
It starts with a conversation
“My approach is always to support people in having what might seem like difficult conversations, because I recognize that there is such a rewarding place to get to on the other side,” explained Katrin in a 45-minute session hosted by Rakuten’s Pride+ Employee Resource Group.
“One of the things that comes up for a lot of people is a fear around being canceled, a fear around saying the wrong thing, a fear around damaging the personal and professional relationships that they have.”
To tackle this fear, Katrin emphasized the importance of nurturing a consistent dialogue with friends and colleagues, with the understanding that progress often starts with difficult or uncomfortable conversations.
We don’t see things as they are. We see them as WE are
So how to start having these conversations? To be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, we need to understand that every individual sees the world through their own unique intersectional lens.
“While there is an objective reality, we don’t always experience it in the same way. Both our individual and shared experiences are changed by the lens we observe them with,” said Katrin, who has been recognized as one of The Root’s ‘Young Feminists to Watch’ and was named a National Youth Role Model in Canada.
“My approach is always to support people in having what might seem like difficult conversations, because I recognize that there is such a rewarding place to get to on the other side.”Kim Katrin
Naturally, the lens we see through is defined by our personal experiences, cultural background, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, socioeconomical background and many other factors. This is part of being human, but this can also mean that we assume we are the standard.
This is why Katrin suggests that “we should not only treat people the way we want to be treated but treat people the way they want to be treated. Which means, asking.”
That doesn’t mean we will always be able to meet everyone’s needs in the same way, stressed Katrin. “We all have different boundaries and different capacities. Saying ‘treat people how they want to be treated’ is not an assurance that we’ll always be able to meet every single person’s unique needs, but rather that we are in dialogue and looking to co-create with the people around us.”
Katrin pointed to the use of personal pronouns as an area to be mindful of, both in the workplace and in our social lives. Asking your colleagues about their preferred pronouns is easy and can make a big difference in creating a more inclusive space. But it’s important as well to be proactive. Avoid gendered pronouns such as “ladies,” “gentlemen” or “guys” when addressing a group and go with more inclusive options like “friends,” “folks,” or “y’all” instead.
“Think about it as something that is useful and valuable for us, that we can use in service of each other.”
The business case for diversity & inclusion
While making the effort to use inclusive language may seem like a small thing, it can have very real impact on a company’s bottom line. As Katrin stressed to the audience, the value of having a diverse workforce cannot be overstated. “It isn’t just about the wonderful feeling we get inside when we are connected with each other…. Ultimately, we know that it impacts a company’s bottom line profoundly when we encourage differences in perspectives.”
According to research shared by Katrin, diverse teams produce results that are six times higher than teams that are less diverse, with 22% less turnover. Companies with clearly defined policies and values around diversity and inclusion see greater productivity from employees and enjoy significant recruiting advantages as well.
Wellbeing through attachment and authenticity
Before moving on to a question-and-answer period with Rakuten employees, Katrin explained the important roles that attachment and authenticity play in the social, mental and emotional wellbeing of all people.
Regardless of background, she noted, we each have two fundamental needs as human beings: attachment and authenticity. Attachments are the relationships we have with all the people in our lives. Human beings are social creatures that crave interaction with others. At the same time, we also have the need to express our feelings, ideas and identity honestly and authentically to the world around us.
“We should not only treat people the way we want to be treated but treat people the way they want to be treated. Which means, asking.”Kim Katrin
However, when they cannot be authentic, people may be forced to forgo authenticity for attachment to hold onto a relationship.
“Part of what we are doing when we are thinking about allyship as a process, is thinking about how you can be an open space for people to be honest with you and to still maintain their professional or personal relationship with you.”
“It’s not about trying to solve all the issues of homophobia and transphobia that exist around the world, but about how you can honestly be there for the colleagues in your life who may experience various degrees of marginalization.”
Katrin’s advice: “Be there for people in honest ways and allow them to share the issues that they may be having. Because a problem that we can’t talk about is one that we cannot do anything about.”
Allyship is not built in a day
Katrin pointed to Rakuten Founder & CEO Mickey Mikitani’s principle for success “Continuously improve by a fraction. It’s the key to what others call ‘good luck’” – which recognizes the value of incremental improvements to the overall success of a project or organization – as an example of how to approach allyship in the workplace.
“Encourage incremental conversations: lunch and learns, sharing articles, sitting together and having conversations. Start small and build up your ability to tackle these larger issues because you don’t get there overnight.”
“Be there for people in honest ways and allow them to share the issues that they may be having. Because a problem that we can’t talk about is one that we cannot do anything about.”Kim Katrin
“When we encourage dialogue, we’re increasing our capacity to have this conversation well.”
Thanks to the leadership of educators like Katrin and the powerful voices of the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s a conversation that’s becoming more likely to happen.
More Rakuten Pride Month 2021 events
Kim Katrin’s special Pride Month keynote was just one of the events planned for Rakuten Americas employees in June. Here are a few other highlights:
Our Side of the Rainbow Lunch & Learn
Pride+ hosted a panel discussion with four members of the LGBTQQIP2SAA community from Rakuten, encouraging panelists to share their personal experiences both within and outside the community.
Movie Screening and Q&A with Filmmaker
DISCLOSURE is an unprecedented and eye-opening documentary film that premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It was directed by Sam Feder – cited by Indiewire as one of the “exciting trans filmmakers shaking up Hollywood.” The film is an in-depth look at Hollywood’s depictions of transgender people and the impact of their stories on transgender lives and American culture.
LGBTQIA+ Jeopardy! and Happy Hour
Rakuten’s Pride+ team hosted a virtual happy hour featuring LGBTQIA+ Jeopardy!, rainbow-themed cocktails and mocktails and a chance to compete for the title of ‘Best Dressed’ in the Fabulous Icon Contest. During Jeopardy!, employees will learn about notable LGBTQQIP2SAA stories while sipping rainbow-themed beverages and connecting with colleagues dressed as their favorite LGBTQIA+ icon.
About Rakuten Pride+
Rakuten’s Pride+ Employee Resource Group fosters a culture of meaningful inclusion: One that values, celebrates, and encourages the diverse LGBTQQIP2SAA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous, and asexual) voices within the organization.
Pride+ collaborates with existing diversity and inclusion committees and senior leadership to propel Rakuten Americas forward by advocating for talent attraction, growth, and meaningful inclusion across markers pertaining to gender identity and sexuality.
Pride+’s work centers around the LGBTQIA+ community – and its allies – focusing on four key ‘pillars’: Attraction, Retention, Growth and Outreach.