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Environmental, Social, and Governance

This Pride Month, Don’t Be Just a Bystander

If the rainbow flags and corporate logos didn’t alert you already, let me remind everyone that it’s June, and that means it’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month! Pride Month is a time to celebrate the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community and recognize the work that still needs to be done to give everyone the chance to live authentically.

Sadly, we are in the midst of a nationwide spike in hate crimes against lesbians and transgender folks, especially transwomen of color. Sadly, we are in the midst of a nationwide spike in hate crimes against lesbians and transgender folks, especially trans women of color. There has also been a rise in anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the U.S., with efforts to bar transgender athletes in sports and teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom.   

When faced with this disheartening information, it’s very easy to feel powerless as an individual trying to make any difference in the world around them. But when I feel this way, I am inspired by Michelle Obama’s quote, “Change happens one person at a time.” Despite how we might feel at times, we all have immense power within our own spheres of influence — our workplaces, our community, and the people we encounter every day.

In the Office of the CTO (OCTO), we want to help people to feel empowered to positively impact the world around them. Part of that empowerment comes from understanding what to do when we see or hear something discriminatory, offensive, or inappropriate, so we can step in to prevent or stop it.

With that goal in mind, we recently rolled out Bystander Intervention workshops to help our OCTO teammates recognize offensive or inappropriate situations — both inside and outside of the workplace — and determine the best course of action based on the situation. Intervening in situations is complex and nuanced but it’s an important part of our quest to positively impact the world around us.

If you’re unfamiliar with bystander intervention, I’ve outlined some background and best practices below to familiarize you with the basic tools for successful intervention, no matter the situation.

What is bystander intervention?

Before we go any further, let’s clarify what we’re talking about. As we define it in OCTO, Bystander Intervention is first recognizing a potentially harmful, discriminatory, or inappropriate situation, and then choosing a response that will positively affect the outcome.

We often think of intervention as breaking up a fight or coming to someone’s defense — which are great examples of direct intervention in an escalated situation. But as you’ll read in a few paragraphs, we can intervene with more subtlety, or in ways that prevent something from happening at all.

Bystander Intervention is not limited to physical harassment or assault. We hear discriminatory language, off-color jokes, and inappropriate comments far more often than we witness physical violence, so knowing how to step in during those times — especially at work — is incredibly useful and important. Allies need to intervene when offensive comments are made about underrepresented groups (as I outline in my Four Actions You Can Take to Become a Better Ally blog post).

During our interactive Bystander Intervention workshops, we go through the various methods of intervening and discuss situations where they might be most appropriate. We also talk about the psychology of intervention and the unique challenges of intervening in the workplace.

While our 60-minute Bystander Intervention workshop content is too extensive to share in one blog, I can share some of my learnings on how to be prepared to intervene.

Setting expectations

One of the best ways to curb inappropriate behavior before it starts is to set expectations. At VMware, we do not tolerate any instances of harassment or discrimination. It’s important for managers everywhere to remind their teams of their company’s policies, as well as of their own expectations for their team’s behavior. Team members should already know that they need to treat one another with respect — but it’s good to remind them!

A few other ways to set positive expectations:

  • Use a meeting template to give everyone a chance to speak, curb interruptions, and help the team get back on track if the conversation gets derailed
  • Allow team members to share important cultural awareness events or issues with the group —  like LGBTQ+ Pride month!
  • Rotate meeting roles, such as “Devil’s Advocate” or “Third Chair” (the responsible party for settling debates or disagreements)
  • Assign accountability partners, especially to managers or leaders on the team
  • Utilize a Yellow Card system where anyone on the team can say “Yellow Card” if they hear an inappropriate or offensive phrase and the conversation must stop to address it

Another way a manager can set positive expectations on their team is by organizing a team session of workshops on topics like Bystander Intervention or Inclusive Language (like we have at VMware).

Recognizing the situation

Let’s look back to our definition of bystander intervention above. The first part, which is recognizing a situation that requires intervention, is complicated, nuanced — and frustratingly — only happens in a matter of seconds. If we’re in public, we might see something happening in front of us and not fully understand all the details. However, we can still figure out what might be happening by looking for situational clues and the target’s response.

Some of those include:

  • Yelling, raised voices, or heated discussions
  • Inappropriate closeness for the environment
  • Visible discomfort from the target of attention
  • The target of attention ignoring the attention
  • A joke or comment directed towards someone, wherein that person seems flustered or unable to respond

Some situations might be easier to spot than others, such as a physical altercation or blatantly offensive language. However, if you’re unsure, it is always a good idea to privately ask the target of any attention if they are okay and if they need any help.

5 Ds of Bystander Intervention 5 Ds of bystander intervention

As we mentioned above, there are many types of intervention. In Bystander Intervention training, we go through what are known as the 5 Ds of Bystander Intervention — five different methods of intervening that can be utilized, depending on the situation. I encourage participants to think about the 5 Ds as tools in a toolkit; they are often not all necessary at the same time, but we can use more than one if we need. The 5 Ds are:

  • Distract: we cause a distraction that turns attention away from the target and towards us. It is most helpful for de-escalating or preventing situations from getting worse and for giving the target a moment to react or get away.
  • Delegate: when we find someone else — a store manager, a leader in the office, a person of authority — to help intervene in the situation. This is helpful when we are not equipped to handle the situation ourselves.
  • Document: when we document the situation through video, photos, or written descriptions. This is a great option when we cannot directly intervene but still want to be sure there’s a record of what’s happening.
  • Direct: when we directly intervene in the situation, such as getting between two people in a fight or speaking up immediately when someone says something offensive. Direct intervention is most effective when done quickly (but safely).
  • Delay: when we intervene after the fact, like when we give feedback after an all-company meeting or ask someone how we could help them in the future. When we delay, we still recognize the situation is happening but were not able to act in the moment.

Inspiring others

“Social influence” is a term psychologists use to describe the phenomenon where we subconsciously change our beliefs or behavior after witnessing the actions of others. When we see someone helping someone else, we’re more likely to want to help in the future.

The same goes for bystander intervention. If we watch someone intervene using one of the various methods outlined above, we’re more apt to recognize the positive impact of the action and are more likely to intervene if we see an opportunity to do so in the future. The situations presented to us might be radically different, but we may inadvertently be inspiring someone else to help in the future.

It goes beyond pride month

Pride Month comes on the heels of Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, celebrated in the US throughout May. Like Pride Month, AAPI Heritage Month showcases the incredible contributions and impact Asian-Americans have made to U.S. history, culture, and society. APPI Heritage Month also acknowledges the challenges still facing the AAPI community and what can be done to overcome them.

Unfortunately, hate crimes against members of Asian and Black communities have also hit record highs since 2020. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, incidents of racism and violence against Asian-Americans have skyrocketed. The organization Stop AAPI Hate has documented over 10,000 instances of verbal and physical harassment or assault against members of the AAPI community in 2020 and 2021. Activists, politicians, and even pop stars are speaking out against the surge of discrimination and violence.

The Black community in the U.S. continues to experience the highest number of hate crimes of any racial or ethnic group in the country. Police violence against members of the Black community continues to be a critical issue, and despite the surge in conversations and awareness since the summer of 2020, systemic racism and inequity is still extremely present in our political and social institutions. 

The Black community in the U.S. continues to experience the highest number of hate crimes of any racial or ethnic group in the country. Police violence against members of the Black community continues to be a critical issue, and despite the surge in conversations and awareness since the summer of 2020, systemic racism and inequity is still extremely present in our political and social institutions.  

I hope this blog post will help you feel more comfortable and confident in utilizing some of the methods I’ve laid out here. And while it’s unlikely that one person will be able to change the entire world, we need to remember during this Pride Month that change does happen — one person, who cares a lot — at a time.   

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