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Dear ally: “It’s not about you”

January 23, 2020, 10:19 PM UTC

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“I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s deeply human stuff,” says Katrina Jones, whose diversity work has included senior roles at Accenture, Vimeo, Twitch, and now, Amazon Devices. “That’s why it’s so challenging.”

For the better part of her career, Jones has dedicated herself to creating and implementing systems designed to address the barriers that exist for people from non-majority cultures in the workplace—the kinds of things that make people feel excluded, overlooked, or simply exhausted from the effort of fending off microaggressions.

She also knows from her own personal experience that feeling like “the other” at work takes a toll.

“One thing that has existed as a divide, and for me that has made me feel disconnected, is that I’ve felt that I could not bring my race, and the experiences [that derive from it] forward,” Jones said, as she helped co-lead a town hall on power at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen summit in 2018. These insights are part of the diversity “good stuff,” the parts where teams outperform, new markets are discovered, and where the innovation happens. But it’s also how people thrive at work and find peace in their lives.

When it feels risky to be yourself at work, allies are in a unique position to help. But she says, it’s a hard thing to master.

How to be a better ally is a question that comes up constantly in her work, she says. “I hear it all the time. And it’s typically when something happens, and a person in a majority group bears witness to something and then suddenly and viscerally understand how messed up things are for marginalized people. It hits them hard and it hits them deep.”

The first problem arises when they want a simple answer. “They want logical steps. They want a prescription. They want to be walked from Point A all the way through, but that’s not what this is,” she says. “Allyship is a constant journey of learning, humility and curiosity, and finding the courage to take action to make things better.”

Jones recently wrote a popular Twitter thread that talks about what it means to be a good ally—and why it can be so hard. Today, raceAhead has adapted that thread into a Gif essay, with her permission.

Read on for Jones’s thoughts, in Gif essay form.


It’s Not About You, Ally

Allyship, especially in service of increasing diversity and making [organizations] more equitable and inclusive, must anchor to humility.


What I mean by this, is it requires you to put your ego aside. Drop your need to be right, actively suppress your desire or inclination to take up space. Think of yourself as an instrument, and ask to be led by the marginalized, affected community members.


And if you end up arguing with said community about who should be at the forefront, guess what?


Wait—that’s not fair! You’re informed, you’re passionate about allyship and said community, and just want to make a difference, right?


And if people will be more likely to listen to you versus the marginalized group, then you’re just doing your part to help, to get people who otherwise would not engage, to engage?


Allyship, in practice, often boils down to you leveraging your position and power to claim space for marginalized people. Not proclaiming to speak on behalf of them or solely being a mouthpiece for the issues that impact them.

It’s reminding people who have the lived experience and expertise and centering their voices, their ideas, their solutions. Removing blockers so they can proceed through, but not necessarily putting on a cape and saving Gotham all by yourself.


My friend Michelle Kim waxed eloquently about allyship here. She starts off with a powerful definition—”Allyship is an active and consistent practice of using power and privilege to achieve equity and inclusion.™”—and breaks it down further from there. I strongly recommend you read her post, make some notes, maybe use it to create a mantra you can recite every day.

Because it takes practice.

— Katrina Jones


Ellen here, again.

Jones said she has a mantra of her own, which was inspired by a recent sermon from her pastor. “Who do you serve?” he asked. It hit her as the perfect way to explain how she wants to engage with others. “My mantra is, ‘I am serving with humility and vulnerability,'” she says. “It helps me stay curious, open and compassionate, and reminds me that I don’t know how other people are experiencing their lives.”

Ellen McGirt

Note: We recently made changes to improve our publishing tools that may cause temporary formatting bugs. Thank you for your patience during this transition.

On Point

Goldman Sachs CEO: If you don’t have at least one “diverse” board member, we won’t take you public Furthermore, says David Solomon speaking to CNBC from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he’s focusing on women. The new rule goes into effect on July 1, 2020, for companies based in the U.S. and Europe, and by 2021, the quota will be increased to two. “Look, we might miss some business, but in the long run, this I think is the best advice for companies that want to drive premium returns for their shareholders over time,” he said. CNBC

Where are the Hispanic executives? Three researchers, including the research director of the Center for Employment Equity at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have published a piece that’s filled with fresh data on representation in large and mid-sized companies. Here’s just one example: “Our analysis shows that white men sit in 85% of these high-paying boardroom positions while representing only 38% of the U.S. workforce,” they write. It helps put inequity in sharper focus. At 19%, Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S., account for 17% of the workforce, yet account for only 4.3% of executive positions. It’s a regional issue, as well. The researchers identify the top five cities with equitable representation of Hispanic executives. Hats off to you, Pittsburgh. Click through to find out the other four. The Conversation

Lizzo’s body, Lizzo’s self It’s been a long road to the joyous self-acceptance that radiates from the flute-playing, but Grammy nom-collecting mega-star Lizzo is prepared to walk you through it. It included an emotional breakdown in 2018 and some work with a therapist. It’s now part of who she is. “But being vulnerable with someone I didn’t know, then learning how to be vulnerable with people that I do know, gave me the courage to be vulnerable as a vocalist,” she tells Brittany Spanos in Rolling Stone.That she is in a good safe and accepting place means that other women have permission to love themselves. “When I brought a friend to see Lizzo perform at Brooklyn Steel this past May, she cried. We’re both roughly the same size as the pop star, wide and curvy, with leg dimples and arm flab and round bellies,” writes Spanos. “She cried because she has never been able to say that about a person she saw performing onstage before, let alone a plus-size performer belting, rapping, and dancing instead of standing still with her body covered.” Diversity in entertainment journalism matters. Oh… and the photos. Enjoy. Rolling Stone

WNBA star Maya Moore sits out the season to fight for criminal justice reform Moore is one of the league’s enduring stars, so her absence will be felt. While she told the New York Times that she was exhausted by the grind of playing in leagues around the world to supplement her WNBA income, she also felt called to do other work. She’s now working with Jeremy Irons, currently incarcerated in the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri, who she believes was convicted with scanty evidence of burglary and assault when he was 16. He’s 39 now. Moore met Irons through a prison ministry, and the two have a sibling-like relationship. “We are proud of the ways that Maya is advocating for justice and using her platform to impact social change,” says Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. New York Times

On Background

On being authentic when you’re the only one like you at work Nilofer Merchant, former tech executive turned strategist and author (and raceAhead treasure), has an important reminder for anyone who is the only one in their workplace. To the token hires, to the only and lonely, she offers some excellent practical advice and an essential philosophical point of view: re-claim your authenticity by finding your people. She doesn’t mean allies. “Your power is found in claiming whom you are for. As you claim what matters, you find your people. As you find your people, you find your power. You never need to feel alone again.” Marker

What’s wrong with tech? If you’re struggling to put the backlash against tech into context, I’d recommend this essay from Anil Dash, the CEO of Fog Creek Software and one of raceAhead’s favorite philosopher-technologists. He begins with an important assertion: Technology isn’t an industry or a set of consumer products. Instead, he says, think of it as “a method of transforming the culture and economics of existing systems and institutions.” While technology itself is not neutral, the people who work in tech typically want to do good in the world. That said, they tend to be remarkably ignorant about their users, and rarely undergo ethics training. And it’s important to understand the surprisingly few ways that tech companies make money. Advertising was Facebook’s choice. “It’s a business model built around surveillance, which is particularly striking since it’s the one that most consumer internet businesses rely upon,” Dash explains. Medium


“I had a great little ally badge that I had on the back of my work badge… and I had an ally poster outside of my office and I’d think ‘people can come to my office and say anything to me, I’m such an ally!’ But what I recognized was that I hadn’t done anything. I was passively a sort of soft place to land. But people were landing all over the place, and I hadn’t done anything to figure out why they needed a soft place to land.”

Drew McCaskill, tech advisor