Manager Post: The Art of Allyship

Published: October 6, 2020

By Johnnie Pope
Intern Program Manager, Discovery, Inc.

The topic of diversity and inclusion (also known as D&I) is a hot one. Over the past few months, we’ve seen countless conversations around how organizations can impact diversity efforts. But, if we’re being honest, those conversations and initiatives have come and gone. Many organizations have the best of intentions, but end up overcomplicating their diversity strategy. They forget that a great diversity effort can be undermined by a culture lacking the latter term: “inclusion.”

To achieve real change, you need authentic allyship. And anyone can be an ally. For example, a professor can advocate to potential employers on behalf of students that would not usually be privy to certain job opportunities. They can use their connections to share underrepresented students’ resumes. It’s about creating awareness about individuals who would otherwise be at a disadvantage.

Allyship unlocked

I’m an avid lover of all things anime. When I think of allyship, a quote comes to mind from Avatar: The Last Airbender: “The best way to solve your own problems is to help someone else.” A culture that masters the art of allyship creates a domino effect in organizations and institutions. While you’re on campus, there is always something or someone out there looking out for your best interests. This can be in the form of a student-led organization or an alumni group that advocates for certain student demographics through providing funding and mentorships.

Fundamentally, the thought behind allyship is to be supportive of another group— specifically a marginalized or underrepresented population. I check a few of those boxes myself when it comes to corporate America. I’m a black male who is an HR professional and a military veteran. Most (if not all) of the time, I am entering rooms with individuals who do not look like me. It is in these spaces that allyship can be important, not just for myself but for others who want to be truly inclusive. Allyship can and should be executed on all levels, from leadership to new hires.


There are many ways to be an ally, but one of the simplest ways to jumpstart your way into allyship is to be a sponsor. This is different from mentorship, as the focus is on those in underrepresented populations. As a sponsor, you recommend underrepresented employees or colleagues for meaningful learning opportunities. These tasks should be of value, and the reward should be something that wouldn’t be possible for those not in a position of privilege. For example, you might recommend someone for a project that allows them to interact with high-level stakeholders.

As a campus recruiter, it’s important to understand my position and how I can be an ally to students. Ultimately, the internship program is a platform that can also be an ally to early-career applicants. It creates a culture where new opportunities become available for interning students and provides them with the skills to integrate into the workforce. This is particularly true for specific internship or rotational programs geared towards hiring students. These programs provide an opportunity for a student to have solid career progression for the next few years.


While it may seem like a simple call-out, diversity training often misses the mark with addressing issues in company cultures such as microaggressions. Part of the conversation around allyship is recognizing behaviors that hinder allyship. A vocal female employee is told in subtle ways to tone down her work style, while a male employee is lauded for his leadership using the same work style. Oppressive mindsets can be thwarted through mandated unconscious bias training.

It’s also important to understand potential biases that could hinder allyship. We fear what we don’t understand. Eliminating the fear of the unknown allows us to create a safe space for allyship to grow. Here is a great video resource I share with students from The New York Times that dives deeper into the topic.