New employees at the British headquarters of Accenture, a global management consultancy, were slightly taken aback during a recent induction morning when the head of human resources encouraged them to wear rainbow-colored lanyards declaring themselves ‘allies’ — not just at the meeting, but permanently. In addition, they were given the option of adding the word ‘ally’ in the same rainbow pattern to the footers of their company email addresses. Anyone confused by HR language — a reference to World War Two perhaps? — was referred to the company website, where the word ‘ally’ was helpfully defined: ‘An ally is someone who takes action to promote an inclusive and accepting culture regardless of their own identity and demonstrates commitment to an inclusive workplace. We currently have allies programs for Mental Health, LGBT and People with Disabilities.’
This use of the term ‘ally’ originated on college campuses as a way for the beneficiaries of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and so on (e.g. straight white males) to signal that they’re on the same side as ‘oppressed’ minorities in spite of their ‘white privilege’. In a seminal essay by a Californian consultant called Frances E. Kendall entitled ‘How to Be an Ally If You Are a Person With Privilege’, often cited by diversity and inclusion officers at American universities, allies are advised to preface what they say with, ‘As a white person…’ This is to let others know you’re aware that ‘being white has an impact on how I perceive everything’. A good ally speaks up if there are no ‘women of color’ on a panel and ‘identifying committees, decision-making teams and departments that are “too white”’.