Don’t expect credit for doing the right thing.
The word “allyship” originally meant “adhering together.” In the 20th century more commonly described nations than people. Now in the last decade, its usage has grown as its definition morphed to center on how people of privilege, especially white people, adhere to issues of equity, especially in terms of race.
Deployed superficially, allyship risks being an act of virtue signaling — scoring woke points, as it were, by dunking on someone less familiar with antiracism and language usage. But advocates routinely bill it as a lifelong process, intoning that this is a lifestyle, not a chore — or an act of self-promotion.
As Nate Nichols put it: “There’s no badge of honor for allyship.”
Nichols is the founder and creative director of the Palette Group, a creative agency started in Philadelphia and now based in Brooklyn. With his partner and Palette Group Executive Producer Steffi Behringer, Nichols launched Allyship in Action. The online community and workshop series rose in response to the killing of George Floyd.
Their relationship itself is an example. Behringer, a white woman, has known Nichols for years. She’s long been informed and has considered herself progressive, but 2020 still stirred something new in her.
“Once you realize you are part of the problem you can work to be part of the solution,” she said.
The pair joined me for the latest episode of The TWIJ Show, a weekly interview series on building better companies. We discussed: What does allyship mean in the workplace?
- “Allyship does not absolve you from being part of the problem.” — Nichols
- What about the discomfort? What about the challenges that white or even some other non-Black people have experienced with equity? What about what these professionals have to give up? To this, Nichols says: “your challenges are measured in ounces, and [the challenges of the Black experience] are measured in tons.”
- Allyship in Action has hosted several summits, which you can watch more here
- The Allyship in Action community drafted this Code of Conduct
- Every employee who wants to be part of the solution is responsible: “Don’t pass this off to your DEI task force,”said Nichols.
- “Find someone you can do this together with,” said Behringer