A Googler Perspective on What Being an ‘Ally’ Means

Abundance Accountability Personal leadership Respect


Advancing the value of inclusion in organizations is the focus of a few key workshops and events at  SXSW 2019.  And as part of the ever evolving inclusion conversation, more attention is being paid to helping ALL of us better understand and apply the concept of “allyship.” Is that phrase being used more in your work community? It is in mine, and yet do we really understand what it means and when it is actually well practiced? I’d like to share what I personally learned about “allyship” from the SXSW session I attended.

Story: Our “allyship” facilitator was Kyle Alicurrently a Google executive, and a black man who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. He remarked that when he left university, he had a self-acclaimed, well-developed perspective on all that was “blackness.” Or so he thought. Turns out, his first teaching job in the center of Baltimore altered that view when one of the very first things a student asked him was, “Mr. Ali why do you look so much like Carlton (from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air)?”


We all translate through an interpretive narrative based on our own unique experience and lenses. So becoming an ally for others is not something we can simply assume or self-proclaim. When we sit in an advantaged or privileged position, it is not sufficient to intellectually declare “allyship.” Although most of us who care about inclusion certainly have the best intentions, I believe there’s a lot more work to do in understanding what being an ally really means. The working definition of allyship presented by Googler Ali is as follows: “Acting for justice through the lens of one’s own membership in an advantaged group.”  I know from listening to the workshop discussion, attended by people obviously enlightened and deeply interested in the topic, that most of us have a lot more work to do on OURSELVES first before those outside our more privileged positions embrace us as genuine allies. That’s a humbling and important base to start from.

What we can do about this:  

According to Kyle Ali, with the help of Google’s research and progress on the topic, we will move forward as we:

  1. Become more self-aware of being a member in an advantaged group.
  2. Better understand what justice means for others outside this membership.
  3. Remember that the first three letters of allyship are “ALL.” Inclusion and allyship are easier concepts to wish for than really do. We must start with the hard work of better understanding ourselves to fully join the ALL.

Think big, start small, act now,


One Millennial View: I think many Millennials, myself included, might respond with a big ole “duh, I know” when the topic of inclusion is discussed. I simply have never been in a professional situation where someone has been excluded for just “being” anything. That said, this isn’t a subject from a clickbait Buzzfeed article, it’s from a stage at SXSW with a lot of invested, interested participants. If we’ve already been told that we’re on the “allyship” train, that’s great, but it doesn’t hurt to stay learning and self-accountable to keep things on track.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis