I tell my students, "When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game."
I think of this quote often when I think about what it means to be an ally at work.
What is an ally? Webster's defines it as someone "joined with another for a common purpose." I've also heard it defined as one who acts as a trusted force for good, or as one who uses their privilege to make positive changes to lift up or help succeed those less privileged or marginalized.
The key, however, is to act not out of self-interest (because it's good for you) but because it's just the right thing to do. You listen, you learn, and you act selflessly. The goal to make others better, not to avoid others making your situation worse. In other words, you're an ally because it's right thing to do and because you understand the responsibility that comes with your position and your authority, not because you're afraid of being canceled or suffering other negative consequences.
Case in point? Consider BrewDog, the multinational Scottish craft brewery with six Ohio locations including its recently opened Cleveland outpost. In June 2021, Punks with a Purpose, a group of 336 former BrewDog employees, published an open letter criticizing the company's treatment of employees, including its creation of an environment that fostered sexism and misogyny. (The allegations are also the subject of a BBC documentary released earlier this year.)
Within days, BrewDog made a public promise to its employees to "build a better business." To that end, in partnership with Hand & Heart (a UK-based HR consultancy), on Feb. 8, 2022, BrewDog launched the BrewDog Affected Workers Registration Platform — a resource for past and present BrewDog employees to log anonymously their mistreatment. Those reports, in turn, would be shared with BrewDog, but "only when they are willing to engage in good faith."
That sharing, however, looks like it will never happen. Earlier this week, Hand & Heart ended its partnership with BrewDog. At the core of the breakup appear to be allegations that BrewDog is using the EU's data protection laws to unmask the platform's anonymous complainants (which seems to breach the promise of an anonymous reporting program, and would chill any future reporting), in addition to unfounded allegations by BrewDog that Hand & Heart misled platform participants and encouraged malicious reports. Says Alexis Caldwell, BrewDog USA's former regional events sales manager, "Every step of the way, I really tried to view this through the lens of 'this company is really trying to do something to make it better.' It's very hard for me to look through that lens anymore."
Did BrewDog really want to correct its errors and help its employees, or was it just afraid of suffering a public backlash from being perceived as a misogynist abuser of employees?
So, I ask again, are you an ally, or are you just afraid of being canceled? Because if it's the latter, don't bother.