Chemistry News

Aug 31, 2020

Let’s Make a Difference: Learnings From Allyship & Action 2.0


  • Katie Boardman, Media Supervisor 
  • Sydney Morgan, Content and Community Strategist
  • Emily Garrison, Account Supervisor

How did Chemistry participate in the summit?

Chemistry attended the Allyship & Action  Summit 2.0 on Tuesday, August 4th, and joined as the summit aimed to connect allies to Black creatives and other allies to learn and continue this important conversation. 

What are the 1-2 takeaways that you hope folks will learn from attending?

KATIE: Allyship requires honesty and humility. You have to be willing to admit when you are wrong. You have to be willing to accept your privilege and contributions to the problem. You have to be willing to sit down and listen. Our discomfort through the process pales in comparison to what our Black peers have had to deal with.

SYDNEY: The biggest thing I learned and have been learning over the past few months is that it’s okay to not know everything. You don’t know someone else’s lived experiences and that’s OKAY! These conversations aren’t easy and you’ll probably say the wrong thing at least once. That’s also okay. It’s time to listen to what our black peers are saying and amplify their voices. 

EMILY: I hope that we put aside what we think is best (personally and for our agency) and truly do what’s best for our BIPOC peers. Gabrielle Shirdan, VP CD at McCann said, “You don’t know everything, and more importantly you don’t know better. You have to trust what Black people are telling you right now.”

My desire is that we each take personal action that truly transforms our workplaces. First of all, listen and empathize. Then, let that fuel your courage to speak up and make the necessary change happen. 

What were some of the most powerful quotes or insights shared?

KATIE: “Black stories are not just for Black people.” Gabrielle Shirdan, VP CD, McCann, said this during the first roundtable panel on the Black experience. As advertisers, we are in the business of storytelling. Ad agencies are filled with creatives and strategists and planners who all aim to get the right story in front of the right people. We have a responsibility to amplify Black stories and to make space for Black storytellers to share those stories. 

SYDNEY: Roundtable panelist, Angela Brown, Sr Social Strategy, GSD&M said, “Allowing ourselves (people of color) to be in pain and have these conversations to make other people comfortable.” This is something that I think is so important. It is not people of color’s job to educate white people and colleagues. While listening to their experiences and having conversations they want to have is vital, they should not have to relive the trauma for educational purposes so you can feel like a better ally. 

EMILY: Our host and moderator, Nate Nichols, Creative Director, Palette Group said “Being an ally does not absolve you from being part of the problem.” Many times, once we are characterized as an ally, we pat ourselves on the back and move on. In order to progress forward in a healthy way, we must acknowledge how we were and are part of the problem, and continue assessing into the future.

Aisha Hakim, Senior Art Director provided a fantastic definition of allyship for us: “Allyship is the ongoing strategic process in which we look at our relationships and evaluate the environment that we have helped to create or been complicit in creating and decide how we can take actionable steps to create equity.”

What were your hopes, perceptions, and expectations for the conference? Have they changed since attending and participating?

KATIE: My expectation was to come away from the summit with a better understanding on what allyship really means and how I can be a better ally both in and outside of Chemistry. What I learned most is there is no end destination here. Being a true ally is committing to a lifetime of anti-racism work. It’s committing to a lifetime of unlearning, being humble, and listening. And it’s committing to a lifetime of recognizing your own contributions to the problem. There is so much work to be done and commitment to the work is essential.

SYDNEY: I didn’t have too many expectations heading into this. I thought educating yourself and growing personally is so different compared to making change in an office, especially when you aren’t a manager, supervisor, etc. it can feel hard to find your voice. I think I was waiting to hear the magic solution or do x,y,z to make change in your workplace and it’s so much more than that. Now, I feel like it’s very similar to educating yourself. It takes time, patience and empathy from everyone in the office.

EMILY: To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, but I think I was hoping for a checklist, a “handbook” our agency could go by to quickly foster an environment filled with diverse employees and supportive allies. But, I was again reminded that uprooting and transforming our industry is a marathon, not a sprint.

As proud as I am of Chemistry for stepping up and valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion…we’re in for a long journey without a simple to-do list. This webinar was an eye-opening blend of education and personal accounts. LISTENING and EMPATHIZING leads to clear action steps if you allow it. 

Who were some of your favorite panelists / presenters and why?

KATIE: I especially enjoyed Nandini Jammi’s opening keynote remarks. As the co-founder of Sleeping Giants and Check My Ads, Nandini has built a community based on trust and empowerment. She advocates for brands to check where their ads are running and ensure they are not financially contributing to websites that promote fake news, disinformation, and hate speech.

I manage digital media campaigns at Chemistry, and it is hugely important to me that my client’s ads run in brand safe environments. I am grateful for the resources she provided and felt as though there were tangible next steps I could take back to my team and clients.

SYDNEY: I really enjoyed my breakout session, “Finding Comfort in Uncomfortable Situations” with Reema Elghossain, VP, 4A’s Foundation. Reema explained allyship and what it takes to be a successful ally.  She said “To understand allyship, you have to reject complacency.” I think a lot of people do the bare minimum or partake in performative allyship and it’s so much more than that. You have to speak up and make sure you have the right people in the room to be a true ally. 

The thing that stuck out the most to me though was when she said, “It’s not your responsibility to always make it comfortable for everyone else if they already made the situation uncomfortable.” So often, especially in a work environment, you worry about making sure everyone feels comfortable. But in this situation you won’t grow without being uncomfortable. 

EMILY: I loved the all-female roundtable titled “wtf does change look like from the black experience?” These three ladies were honest, passionate, and spoke truth in a way that made me uncomfortable. They emphasized the generational trauma caused by racism in this country, shared personal experiences, and highlighted how crucial it is for allies to listen and create safe environments.

What does change look like to them? Minorities not just having a seat at the table, but LEADING conversations. Allies that are committed to the success of their BIPOC peers and that actively challenge the status quo.

What’s your hope and how are you personally going to push for change and progress in the advertising agency?

KATIE: I am proud of Chemistry for making diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority this year. But I know there is far more work to be done. My personal hope is that we normalize talking about these topics. I think for far too long we’ve been taught to leave certain topics at the door when we come to work. And I think for far too long that has contributed to a culture that has not been equitable or inclusive.

So, I will push for more conversations and I will push for making space for all voices. Change won’t truly happen until we’re willing to listen to one another.  

SYDNEY: I think it’s so important that Chemistry is making these conversations a priority and that other employees are just as enthusiastic. But I hope that the fire is still there once the media attention dies down. But that’s where I hope to make a change. Being so vocal that people don’t have a choice but to listen and that it inspires others to feel the same. 

EMILY: The advertising industry is historically known for being forward-thinking and influencing culture. That perception is all smoke and mirrors when we aren’t supporting and representing all human beings. My ultimate hope is two-fold: that we make diverse hiring decisions reflective of our community, and that BIPOC individuals feel supported after they’re hired. Leadership makes the hiring decisions, but it’s largely up to peers to be inclusive once they’re part of the team. That’s where it gets personal. Am I willing to speak up in a room when my gut tells me a comment or idea is out of place? 

As an Account Supervisor, am I leading my clients in allyship and anti-racism? Am I looking for opportunities to include and uplift minority audiences in my briefs long after it’s national news? There’s a corporate responsibility, but there’s also immense individual responsibility. “You have to change who you are, not just what you’re doing.” – Gabrielle Shirdan, VP Creative Director, McCann

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