Key takeaways on actionable allyship

By:  Lalita Salgaokar – SheSays NY Ambassador

Monday March 8th, 2021 on International Women’s Day we gathered around a proverbial campfire to discuss allyship.

Any day of the year is a great day to chat about allyship of course — but IWD was a great opportunity to discuss it.

Allyship is so central to diversity in creative industries. And these conversations are not as common as we would like — because they often make us uncomfortable.

We were fortunate that Vida Cornelious (Executive Creative Director, T Brand Studio at The New York Times ) and Debbie Millman (Founder, Author, Educator,and host of the creative community’s beloved podcast ‘Design Matters’) agreed to join us.

Both Debbie and Vida shared immediate actions for our community to undertake.

As a recap, and quite frankly a reminder to ourselves, we’ve outlined our key takeaways:

1. Talk less, listen more

Debbie urged white men and women to listen. Really listen.

To lean in on conversations and pass the microphone to our diverse counterparts. Vida mentioned that we all should openly ask those diverse voices that aren’t heard for their opinions in meetings and brainstorms.

2. Educate yourself

Debbie advocated strongly that we should not be asking people of color to do the work of educating us. She added, “As allies we can’t expect people of color to tell us how and what to fix. We need to learn what is required and then go do that work.”

3. Read

Make it a point to expand your own horizons when it comes to understanding the things you don’t know. There are things you know — like for example that there is inequality in the world. And then there are the things you don’t know like you might not know enough about a person of color’s experiences. But there’s another whole area of the things you don’t know that you don’t know. and those are the things that you have to actively go and solicit and learn on your own, not from other people of color.

4. Notice ally artists

Cheryl D Miller has been writing about diversity in design for decades now — go and read her up. Maurice Cherry’s podcast “Revision Path” is a great resource to learn about diverse voices in design.

5. Urge your recruiters (and yourself) to create a diverse pool to recruit from

Vida made an excellent point about encouraging recruiters to look for talent in unlikely places and bringing in people for job interviews that don’t all look the same. That becomes an opportunity to push beyond the norm to really discover diverse talent.

6. Build a diverse network

Vida said, “Don’t underestimate the power of your diverse personal networks”. She recommended building your own personal network through peers.

7. Don’t get on boards/panels/conferences that are all white

Debbie asked everybody to refuse to attend conferences or get on boards that don’t show substantial diversity. She referred to Tim Goodman (a white man incidentally) who taught her this micro action that continues to have great implications.

8. Make (lots of) room on panels and boards

When asked by diverse voices to be a participant to help them or their audience come forth, go ahead and do it. And, you’ll really enjoy it.

Use your platforms to check in and hold yourself accountable to highlight the majority of diverse voices (not just a few of them). We need panels that are not 50/50 but almost 80/20 to make up for the lack of diverse voices in the past.

9. Micro-aggressions are real

Vida stated— “Microaggressions can have a huge impact on careers of a person of color and their ability to advance. This pandemic has us working from little boxes so it’s hard to get facetime with the leaders at an organization. It’s that much harder for people of color to get heard during this time.”There comes an opportunity for allyship to really open a door to bring a diverse voice to the forefront.

Vida recommended a simple strategy to be a champion, “Allow that person’s voice to be part of the conversation. It could be as simple as. “I want to hear from XYZ person.”

Debbie added, “The onus is on us — the allies to know what microaggressions are and stop them when they’re happening.”

Watch the entire conversation here as well as on our SheSays Global YouTube channel:


This is an ongoing conversation and we’re nowhere near finished as a creative community to be learning to be better allies. We need to do the work and take actions several times a day to fight the cultural constructs.

The goal here is that we reflect, read, educate and show up every single day to be better allies for our colleagues who look different than us.

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