It’s never pleasant to feel alone in a crowd. Something as simple as an encouraging word from a colleague or a quiet show of community and solidarity, may be all it takes to turn that feeling around and help others achieve all they’re capable of achieving.
At NASA, the sky is no limit on the heights such allyship can attain.
That theme – “The Power of Active Allyship” – was a common thread in NASA’s 2021 Pride Month events, recognizing and celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer members of its diverse team around the country.
What is active allyship? For NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson, who introduced the agency’s June 17 online panel discussion event, it means “working together to fight injustice and promote equity in the workplace, where members of this community and our allies will discuss the issues we face as a united NASA family.”
The panel discussion, which drew viewers from all over the world, centered on understanding the barriers faced by the LGBTQ+ community – and how straight and cisgender team members can help shatter those barriers as active allies, upholding NASA’s long tradition of championing diversity, inclusion and equity.
Participants included NASA Deputy Associate Administrator Melanie Saunders; Donna Shafer, associate director at NASA’s Johnson Space Center; Sarah Jane Phillips, a visual information specialist at NASA’s Glenn Research Center; and Ron Brade, retired associate director at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Charles Cockrell, associate director for strategy at Glenn, moderated.
“Silence is very loud,” said Phillips, who encouraged team members to take any opportunity to let others know they care, suggesting that silence can be just as damaging as open hostility. “You don’t have to fly a rainbow flag on your house. You don’t have to shout ‘I’m an ally!’ Just speak. Discuss these things.”
Saunders also emphasized the value of providing diversity training for supervisors across the agency. During her years at Johnson, all team members took a basic “Introduction to Unconscious Bias” class, she said, and supervisors delved deeper still, participating in advanced courses probing issues of race, power and privilege.
In any team role, visible allyship isn’t difficult, Cockrell said. NASA personnel can wear rainbow flag pins, or put their self-identifying pronouns in their email signature line, demonstrating solidarity and declaring themselves to be active allies.
“The most important thing is just being there, and letting (others) know you’re there,” Phillips added. “NASA really does care when we say ‘For the benefit of all.’”
On June 23, Marshall held its own Pride Month event. Team members were welcomed by Loucious Hires, director of Marshall’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity; Tia Ferguson, director of the Engineering Directorate’s Space Systems Department; and Barry Roberts, Natural Environments Branch chief in the Engineering Directorate’s Spacecraft and Vehicle Systems Department.
“Programs like this help us remember that everyone on the Marshall team is vital to the success of NASA’s mission,” Ferguson said. “Anyone can be a leader when it comes to (creating) opportunities to make everyone feel important and welcome and included.”
Mark Moore, director of development and marketing at Thrive Alabama, a North Alabama healthcare provider, provided the keynote address, which included a brief history of pursuit of LGBTQ+ equal rights in the United States, and reflections on his own experiences growing up as a young gay man of color in the 1980s.
Moore said allyship can be a critical tool for improving the workplace for LGBTQ+ team members. He encouraged everyone to self-educate before asking potentially awkward questions of LGBTQ+ colleagues.
“Everybody doesn’t like to be a teacher,” he said. “Go online and read quality articles and books. Find good resources. Educate yourself.”
Moore noted that resistance to change takes time to overcome – but stresses the long-term benefits of embracing diversity among all.
“How many decades ago would we be having this conversation about persons of color? How many decades since it was about women in the workplace?” he said. “We are all in this world together. If you want to be successful, you have to be open to learning about people who are different from you.”
The Marshall event was sponsored by Marshall’s Office of Human Resources and Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity.
Editor’s note: Rick Smith, a Manufacturing Technical Solutions employee, supports Marshall’s Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications.