A guest post by FC Consultant Dr. Kiera Penpeci
The moment has come: the opportunity to practice allyship and stand up.
To align our actions with our words.
In that split second, our faces and the tips of our ears are literally hot. Our heartbeat and temperature rises. Our nervous system also recognizes a threat—perhaps that there’s something to give up, or something to lose.
I experienced this as I logged into an all-company zoom meeting. As people were waiting for the full group to arrive, some of the (man-identifying) senior leaders began to use the chat function to tease another (man-identifying) senior leader who was wearing flowers on his shirt.
“Did you shop in the women’s section?”
“Maybe he borrowed his wife’s shirt.”
I looked at the faces of the other staff in their zoom boxes as they read these chats. I was offended myself, and recognized the representation of many individuals who would find them offensive as well.
The thought of calling out these senior leaders made my hands shake.
I knew my voice was needed, but I was afraid. Afraid of saying something imprecise that would make the situation worse. Of upsetting the recipient and being seen as a sh*t-stirrer. Of being ineffective.
Each opportunity to speak up is a chance to test these assumptions.
I simply typed, “I think we should change the subject.”
The teasing stopped. And the chat was immediately filled with “thank yous” both public and private.
My assumption was proved wrong, and that moment changed the way I think about allyship.
Rather than calling out someone’s mistakes, I used mindful language to call them in. “Calling in” is a term coined by Ngọc Loan Trần and amplified by educator Loretta Ross and other social justice activists. It emphasizes compassion and patience over shaming.
When people feel shamed, they experience a threat to their character. The reaction then is defensiveness, anger, or shutting down.
Calling in makes others aware of the impact of their behaviors, but also leaves room to further the conversation. We can tend to everyone’s interests, getting our point across while saving face.
Calling in isn’t about policing our tone of voice or hiding our true feelings. Rather, it’s about matching the energy needed to be constructive in a high-heat moment. This just isn’t possible when people feel shamed.
Without finger-pointing or character assassination, calling these leaders in left a door open for them to reflect and follow up if they’d like. Those who needed allyship in the moment also had their interests amplified.
The next time you find yourself in a moment that feels high-stakes, notice the sensations in your body. Your fear reflects assumptions of shame and negative reactions.
Test those assumptions. Call people in instead. Thoughtful words can start to rewrite your allyship story.