How Call Out Culture Is A Catalyst For Intersectionality At Work

Posted on November 11, 2020 by BWBacon. Tagged: Resources for Candidates, For Candidates, Resources for Entrepreneurs, For Clients, Blog

What does it mean to have a call out culture at work? Different from cancel culture, call out culture encompasses all forms of addressing intersectionality at work, from microaggressions to creating more inclusive systems. In order to have more open, equitable, and comfortable workplaces, we must learn to hold each other accountable.

Just as human life is complex, the workplace is full of interpersonal relationships and social dynamics. Often, they unconsciously cause us to come to conclusions about others that may not be true, and in some cases act on those assumptions. However, our implicit bias can be identified and unlearned, and that is what call out culture is all about…

Defining Call Out Culture And Why It’s Not Cancel Culture

No one likes feeling attacked, which is why having a conversation about an issue someone may not be aware of is distinctly different than judging or shaming them. In other words, “the notion of call-out culture being a life-ruining process depriving people of the opportunity to redeem themselves for wrongdoings is a fundamental misunderstanding.” Notice those who reject call out culture all together, as it may be a sign of inherent fear towards addressing the ways in which their own behavior or comments are harmful to others.

You may be thinking, ok, saying anything to anyone these days puts us at risk for tempers flaring. So, how do we approach topics like bias and microaggressions at work or in hiring? The answer is slowly, and patiently. Diversity and inclusion are just buzzwords if we avoid the work of examining how our own biases impact others. In our experience, people are more willing to listen and learn about breaking down barriers in the workplace than we may think. (Unpacking another assumption there…)

Having A Call Out Culture Encourages Openness

Now that we know a call out is different than “cancelling” someone, why is implementing call out culture so beneficial? By definition, call out culture refers to when someone or an entity brings “awareness with intention to another person or entity about a harmful or otherwise problematic behavior they committed.” Calling attention to harmful practices or comments, even if they were unintentional, is the very first step of creating a safe space for all groups and employees.

Ensuring your team that they will be listened to encourages employees to be more authentic when sharing their experiences. Call out culture can make those who may be in the minority, like women or BIPOC employees, feel a greater comfort level that microaggressions and incidents of bias will be addressed in a calm, didactic way.

By starting to make work one less place where people have to pick their battles, or stomach an uncomfortable microaggression, your team can bring about growth and openness. In turn, this also elevates the intersectionality of your team. Intentionally making space for these discussions opens up the floor for new perspectives on problem solving, brainstorming, and leadership.

How To Turn Tough Conversations Into Teachable Moments

If you’ve ever been called out by someone else for an unsavory comment, or something else that crossed the line, it can be uncomfortable. Dealing with being the one in the hot seat can make people defensive, and switch the conversation from what was said to what was intended/not intended. While this reaction is normal, it’s worth breaking down. Organizations cannot dictate a laundry list of change items without the individuals that make up those organizations doing the work.

For example, when a situation arises where a call out is necessary or has already happened, help your team focus on what was said and why it has harmful associations. If the situation feels more heated than friendly, give the offended party time to explain their perspective. It’s likely that the offender did not intend harm, which is why highlighting what there is to be learned is more important than outwardly labeling another person as racist or sexist. Business writer Katrice Dustin gets to the heart of staying open minded:

“If allies are to remain teachable, then acknowledgment must be made and criticism must be readily embraced. To be an ally is to never stop unlearning and learning, to use one’s privilege to defend and amplify the voices of the marginalized and oppressed, and to strive for impactful action while calling for others to do the same.”

After all, being called out in the first place is an indication of trust. It shows that the person making the call out wants the other person to grow. Just like feedback on a presentation or a job interview, social feedback is a necessary part of not just coexisting, but thriving and creating together. From our perspective, this is why call out culture can be good because it has the power to create learning opportunities and positive change.

Role Playing: Asking Questions And Responding Positively

When breaking down big topics like stereotyping and interpersonal relationships at work, examples are very helpful. Here’s some tips on approaching a call out or conversation about something more personal:

  1. Don’t Forget Intersectionality: intersectionality recognizes that “identity markers, like “woman” and “black,” do not exist independently of each other, and that each informs the others, often creating a complex convergence of oppression” (Kimberlé Crenshaw.) In layman’s terms, people have complex identities that inform how they interpret or react to certain situations. What’s offensive to one person may not be to another, and that’s ok. It’s about understanding one another.
  2. Avoid the Moral High Ground: As we’ve mentioned, coming at someone with righteousness or anger will likely make them shut down. Tone is everything in how we approach call out culture at work, so do your best to avoid shock or anger that someone is unaware their actions were rude or not inclusive.
  3. Be aware of privilege and priorities: Basically, people are accustomed to what’s around them and may not have the same understanding of a topic or microaggression as you do. If you bring this awareness, it can be easier to teach someone where you are coming from. Talk about how you learned the information, or how what you’re conveying has impacted you personally.
  4. “I hear you, but here’s why I think differently”: This simple phrase holds an incredibly important nuance of call out culture. Acknowledging that you see someone’s perspective, but still have more to offer them can go a long way. Make sure to ask question before leaping on the call-out train like, “what did you mean by that comment?” or “can we talk about why you have this understanding about this person?”
  5. Practice Your Responses: Individually or as a team, having a tool kit of prepared responses for discussions can help us find common ground sooner. Much of how we interact with the world is socialized and embedded in our culture, making unlearning our implicit bias a challenge. Try these talking points and responses:
    • Ask questions to clarify intentions or better understand why someone said something.
    • “That made me uncomfortable. Can we talk about it?
    • “I learned that that phrase has a harmful historical context, this is what I read…”
    • “I’m struggling with that interaction that just happened.”
    • “Thank you for bringing this to my attention”
    • “I am going to think about what you said more and do some reading.”
    • “I appreciate your willingness to teach me about how this hurt you.”
    • “Your feedback has given me a lot to consider, thank you.”
    • “I am not sure I understand this fully, could I ask you a few questions?”
    • “I am not going to use that term in the future.”
    • If harm was done, a genuine apology noting the offender understands why it was hurtful goes a long way.
    • Offer a follow up a later point to share you care about that person’s wellbeing.

Finding Accountability Is Doing The Work

As we continue to pursue greater diversity and inclusion on our teams, call out culture should be viewed as an opportunity for authenticity and honesty. As a recruiting partner, our position creates a unique space where examples of bias play out all the time, and we have more power to work on them. Noting where we have blind spots, or where we too heavily rely on assumptions, it can help us be more intentional, and grow.


Here at BWBacon Group, we know and live what you are experiencing as an employer or job seeker in Denver, Boulder, Dallas, San Francisco, New York City or any of the other cities we work in. We believe great recruiting starts and ends with understanding people.

If you have any questions about living, working or playing any of the areas we serve, please contact us. We are happy to help. Seize the day, every day, that’s what we say!