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What It Means to Be a Co-Conspirator: Next-Level Allyship in 2020

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Comments from Brooke Cartus

(Part II in our Equity series.)

I started improvising when I relocated to Ohio for law school, following an opera career. At my very first rehearsal with my new improv troupe, I played it safe. I jumped in a few times when there was a lull in a scene, yet I never brought in new ideas or new concepts.

I responded only to obvious situations where I was needed, rather than laying any groundwork for the rest of the troupe.

My team let me fumble like this for a few rehearsals, and then they got real with me. “You have ideas, you need to bring them to life. Don’t wait to jump in and try new things – we need you more than every now and then! And don’t be afraid to fail - that’s improv!”

I was behaving like a solo artist (ally), rather than an integral part of a team (co-conspirator).

What Equity Means to Me

We have learned in the last few years about what it means to “be an ally.” An ally is there for a person who is different from themselves. An ally has your back when you need them and is emboldened to speak up when they see situations that place a person at a disadvantage.

By that definition, an ally is also doing exactly what I did when I first started improv; jumping in just when needed. As we all envision a better, more inclusive future, it will take more risk to transform a team, an organization, a culture.

We must do more that be an ally. We must be a co-conspirator.

A conspirator, according to Merriam-Webster is “a person who takes part in a conspiracy.” The conspiracy you are taking a part in? True equity and inclusion.

If allyship is a first step, then co-conspiratorship is the next level. You hear a colleague not being inclusive, and you step in. Consider what proactive steps can you take to unravel the systems of inequity in your organization.

Here are three steps to proactive co-conspiratorship:

  1. Engage - Proactively engage in conversations about the topic of discomfort. This can begin to lift the veil of discomfort around these topics, making it more commonplace to discuss.
  2. Ask Questions - Investigate recruitment and retention in your company. Are there equal opportunities for diverse groups? In a recent conversation with a tech leader, we discussed the challenges of recruiting, and we challenged his leadership team to expand recruiting outside where it is geographically convenient. Investing in recruitment early will pay dividends in diverse teams.
  3. Observe - Is your company investing in inclusive spaces that allow comfort and safety for diverse populations? In working with one team, we discussed the importance of creating accessible space for those with visible and invisible disabilities in their break room. Every break room only had a few high-top stools without backs, and the microwave was inconveniently high for employees or visitors who use wheelchairs. Making a space meet code is one thing, creating a welcoming environment for everyone by thinking ahead is inclusive.

Diverse populations have been expected to do the heavy lifting on these issues for a long time, and help is needed.

As a representative of diversity, I need co-conspirators to pick up the mantle and take the risk before I walk in the room.

Then, when we all take a seat at the table, we can be a true team that takes risks, leans into innovation, and flourishes - together. Be an example to your whole organization of the benefits of embracing inclusivity.

And yes, there will be mistakes. Being a co-conspirator is a lot like being an improviser. We must lean in on stage and start showing up for the team. Show up for your team this year and transform allyship in 2020.

Brooke Cartus is the Director of Business Development and Senior Facilitator for ImprovEdge. She only sings in the shower now.