Be An Ally and Do Less!

Be An Ally and Do Less!

Hello all,


  • My daughter Jojo is moving out in a couple of weeks. I started adding a couple of items to our weekly deliveries - laundry soap, quinoa, olive oil... It's been quite exciting watching her and Annica discussing their plans for decorating and furnishing their new home. And then Annica mentioned the locally-made laundry detergent and soaps she'd picked up... and my heart sunk. I realized that in wanting to do more, the mama in me had overstepped their right to make their own choices and create their own world. I had to DO LESS.
  • In the late 90s, a French multinational declared that to become the truly diverse company they aspired to be, a radical step would involve letting go of least half of the senior 300 executives! How else would they be able to offer opportunities to executives from other countries? Expand beyond the French norms and practices? The French had to DO LESS.
  • At the Indigenous Music Summit in Winnipeg in 2017, participants broke into groups to discuss various challenges Indigenous artists were facing in their career growth. At one table, an artist invited a white manager who was taking part in the discussion to "shut up and listen". That manager needed to DO LESS.

I use these three situations to illustrate the paradox faced by allies who want to do more, to be active: in almost all cases of systemic change, an ally needs to DO LESS - and make space!

The first example is an easy one for anyone who's been a child or parent to relate to! Who hasn't felt the frustration of having a parent impose a way of thinking or doing on them? Now that I'm a parent, I can definitely feel the urge to meddle, even if that meddling is rooted in love and care. But it's also rooted in many other things, including control!

When our lives shift or circumstances change, we can feel that we're losing control of our environments. It is human nature to compensate for loss. And controlling something - doing a puzzle, housecleaning, practicing guitar - can help restore the sense of balance. When our control turns to people, it becomes more detrimental to their independence and, ultimately, to our relationships.

I apologized to the girls for taking up their space, explained that I needed to acknowledge new boundaries, reiterated my trust and pride in them - and my intention of wanting to be supportive.
They know that they can come to me at any time - and are comfortable sharing questions and their ideas. And I will contribute - but only when they tell me what it is that they would value most. (And yes, they will be taking the olive oil!)

That situation had me thinking about control and power... And thinking back to the second situation.

I was hired to help with the transition and I witnessed first-hand the questioning, fear, anger, commitment, and leadership that making space encompassed. How do you tell the top 300 executives in a company of 200K employees that half of them need to go because they are white, French men, who, for the most part, were formatted in the same engineering and business schools?? These were the very people who had steered the globalization of their company.
Now, in the 90s, you didn't hear anyone speak of "reverse discrimination"! And I did hear a few grumble about the unfairness of being targeted for being white, French and male. But the leadership was clear on why the French needed to make space for other executives to attract the best talent around the world. The process was as fair as it could be - voluntary departures were compensated and ALL new hires tapped into a global pool of talent. With a clear vision and with one of the most diverse executive teams at that time, the company grew to become a world leader in its field. Its horizons expanded, fed with new ideas and perspectives. It was remarkable to work there and feel that you could move up the ladder regardless of your origin, your skin colour or your gender. And as painful as the radical change was at the time, it was quickly forgotten, thanks to the sense of possibilities.

The third situation was a turning point for me. I was the white manager... And being told, in a pretty direct way, that my viewpoints were not welcomed nor needed, was a figurative slap in the face! You know me well enough to know that I fall into a "coaching" or solutions mode very easily - it's who I am and how I've worked for 30 years - something that I've been paid well to do as a consultant, and something I know both irks and inspires folk closer to home.
Not that long ago, I thanked the artist for telling me to shut up - she kind of laughed uncomfortably ("Oh my, did I tell you to shut up? Ah, I guess I did!"). She started to apologize until I explained that she had opened my eyes to the colonial dynamic in that room and in the music industry at large. I had never appreciated to what extent white people organize Indigenous artist awards, Indigenous music festivals, Inuit art collections, etc. As a white, middle-aged manager of a breakout Indigenous artist, I was aware of the power balance that tipped in my favour and had to be mindful in the way I respected his rights and art. I did not realize how that was not nearly enough.

Being well-intentioned is just not enough today. Whether we like it or not, there needs to be a shift in power, and that will mean losing some of the control some of us have enjoyed without even realizing that we were in a position of privilege.


But here's the thing - we cannot have a society that is fair, and just, and inclusive and thriving if we do not take an active step to DO LESS - and make space for others!

I am speaking about the lasting systemic change - change in the power structures and decision-making mechanisms that favour some and exclude others. I am NOT talking about overt and directed discrimination we witness and should absolutely DO something about - speak up, call it out, demand fairness and work towards reconciliation.

Systemic change will require those of us who enjoy privilege to do less... we need to give up some of the power and control to make space for others to fill it AS THEY WISH.

What does this mean for the music industry? What can we do less of to make space? Here are some ideas:


  • If you're a male artist and you're looking for a support act, consider filling that spot with a female or non-binary artist.
  • If you're creating a playlist of songs from your region or in your genre, consider adding French-language or other language songs that might please your listeners
  • If you're preparing a panel, consider having more than one POC speaker on it. I've explained this before - when a panel presents two black artists discussing music, the focus is on two artists discussing music. When you only have one POC on a panel, they often end up being forced into a role as a minority group representative and their multiple facets are erased.
  • On that note, remember that all folk have multiple facets and belongings! Every individual is complex and that's ok! (It goes against our need for order and control, but surely we embrace the greater need for respect!)
  • If you're organizing juries, make sure that they reflect the participants. It's not okay to have an all-white, all-male juries in our industry! And if the awards or showcase submissions judged are specific to Indigenous, minority-language or other categories, then make sure you're Indigenous, fluent in that language or part of the cultural group you're judging. And if you're not - step away. Make space!
  • If you're organizing a show, make sure there's diversity on stage - and backstage! I watched an emerging Francophone artist talent show a couple of years back and was shocked that there was only one female person on stage - an artist who found herself sharing the stage with a 7-piece all male band, 2 male artists and an all-male HOUSE band hired for the event. And that EVERY one of the 20 people on the tech team was male. She was alone with 37 men. (And yes, she was harassed and excluded)
  • Hire a diverse team when it comes to your own new project - recording or touring - and if you're not sure who, ask around! In fact - here's a resource page from that has so many lists to help you:
  • If you're offered a job related to diversity or any equity-seeking group, decline taking it (unless of course you are from that equity-seeking group!) Common sense should prevail - for example, if you're asked to run a song-writing workshop for women on International Womens' Day and you're a man, maybe decline and invite the organizers to look a little harder! Even if you are great at what you do, the point is to DO LESS, make space...

I'm sure you all have many more examples. And I do want to acknowledge that none of these things is as easy to do as I might make them out to do. It can be VERY painful to decline work when you don't know how you're going to make rent. Fair enough. But then, don't pat yourself on the back and claim that you're an ally.

Ally-ship comes at a cost. It means giving up some of our power, some of our control, and making space for someone else to do something their way. Like a parent, it's reassuring when those around us to resemble us so that our own values and reference points are validated and reinforced. But that doesn't make it right! And each generation needs to carve their own way. Just as each affinity group needs to be encouraged to voice their truth and to be heard.

Why bother? There are more than twice as many people on this planet as there were when I was born. Diversity of all types is a reality. And the exciting thing is that diversity brings us MORE. More perspectives, more solutions. More ideas. More knowledge. More knowhow. We learn more about ourselves when we begin to learn about the stories of others. We have so MUCH to gain in doing less... to make space for the very many talents that just need a little light to shine on them.

I'd love to hear your examples and comments. I have to recommend Green Book - a new movie on Netflix - which is based on a true story of a Black virtuoso pianist who tours in the Deep South in the early 60s, and his relationship with the chauffeur he hired from the Bronx. It is uplifting! And perfectly timely. We can talk about the chicken wings...


xo Nat

Nathalie Kleinschmit

Article by Nathalie Kleinschmit

Published 06 Apr 2021