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Activist, Advocate, Ally and Ambassador: What Applies to you?

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

With so many terms being used interchangeably and inconsistently, we thought we'd unpack the often-missed distinctions between some of the more common labels attributed to individuals in the DEI space.

A cardboard sign being held aloft. In black marker reads 'amplify your voice' with an arrow pointed down to the people below.

Being members of the queer community, we are often subject to labels: labels we place on ourselves as markers to others which allow us to effectively communicate our gender identity and our sexuality for example; labels given to us by others to catagorise us into certain queer archetypes based on body types, or style choices; and labels given to us at birth - things like our ethnicity and heritage, which come from our family. Then there are labels that are given to us by society, which can be based on things like our socio-economic status, our level of education. All of these labels have varying levels of importance and significance on an individual, yet they all have a profound impact on an individual’s opportunities, as well as their approach to situations and decisions they are faced with.

The same paradigms apply for those who work in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) space, whether from the inside of an organisation, or self-employed / as a freelancer. There are very personal choices individuals make when considering the labels they attach to themselves, when they decide to become more vocal about a particular cause, issue or community that they care about. The two main labels here are ‘ACTIVIST’ and ‘ADVOCATE.’ There is a common misconception that these two words are synonymous. However, in reality, there are some very clear distinctions. Let’s explore those:


Someone who labels themselves as an ‘activist’ is typically more grassroots and can be (to an extent) anti-establishment. Often, an activist’s lifestyle can be heavily steered by their stance on a specific issue. Furthermore, activists spur on wider political and systemic change through their actions and words.


Similarly to an ‘activist,’ an advocate also wants to make change and support a cause or community that matters to them. However, they work within existing systems to raise awareness about issues and injustice, selectively considering when they are vocal about a specific issue - amplifying discourse taking place in society, and bolstering the efforts of activists.

Then we have labels which are given by others:


We in the queer community and the DEI space are all aware of the label ‘ALLY’ and their importance on our lives. Yes, someone can easily label themselves an ally. However, a sign of true allyship is when someone else can give an example of when someone has helped them and stood in solidarity with them, showing how they have helped in closed environments during a time of need. The positive effect of an ally is most often a bond between individuals or a small group of people.


An ambassador (in terms of DEI) is normally someone who an organisation or brand partners with. Normally, this ambassador will be part of a marginalised community who is vocal on societal issues and injustices. The rise in partnerships being forged in this way is down to companies wanting to show support to marginalised groups, and to illustrate to clients and customers that their company ethos is aligned with an ambassador’s values.

So, what label do you think most applies to you? Most importantly, people who have these labels attributed to them are ALL needed to enact positive societal change.


While you're here...

Did you know we consult with 100+ Businesses, ERGs and Change-Leaders providing bespoke corporate solutions? Through consultancy we design shared learning experiences, produce DEI insights and craft bespoke content that support individuals with strengthening their roles as change-agents within their communities and organisations. Find out more here.

We also organise FREE community events throughout the year! We offer a variety of ways to get involved - both online and in person. This is a great way to network and learn more about others' experiences, through in-depth discussion on an array of topics. You can find out what events we have coming up here. New ones are added all the time, so make sure you sign up to our newsletter so you can stay up to date!


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