Skip to main content
Commsy creative stuff straight to your inbox


No organization needs nice people

< Blog home

No organization needs nice people

Why does niceness fall short when it comes to dismantling racism in the workplace?

This is one of the many insightful and refreshingly unapologetic topics covered in The Anti-Racist Organization by Shereen Daniels. 

From team diversification and the implications of the hidden job market to challenging white fragility and getting comfortable with discomfort, this book gave me a lot to unpack and reflect on. It’s emotive yet highly practical, calling out the strategies that do not work while inviting in the ones that do – I highly recommend you get yourself a copy! 


Kind of nice or nice and kind?

Niceness, according to Shereen, is performative. It’s often used as an excuse, a reason to not call people out on their behaviour because they’re nice. Kindness on the other hand is active, conscious and deliberate, it’s about holding yourself and others accountable, showing compassion and taking action.

Yes, being nice is better than being mean, but it’s not dismantling racism; it’s not kindness, which is a form of compassion and will lead to creating action to support Black colleagues […] Niceness is the deflection ‘Oh, I didn’t mean it’ reaction to a microaggression rather than kindness, which sees the pain caused to others, the ‘I’m sorry, I will do better and here’s how’ response.”


While space, time and permission are needed to make mistakes, this assertion shows that it’s what we do with those mistakes, what we learn from them, and what we commit to doing differently next time that makes the most difference. 

Recognising when we’ve caused offence and reacting from a place of respect and empathy is a highly valuable part of being a good leader, a good colleague and creating a positive work culture. This is true in any context or situation but is especially vital when it comes to promoting anti-racism.

Anti-racism, after all, means it’s no longer enough to simply be not racist, just like it’s no longer enough to simply be nice.


“Systematic racism is the foundation on which our society is built […] if you’re not actively doing something to dismantle racism besides being nice, you are complicit in the ideology’s existence.” 


The frankness of this statement will be a hard-hitting home truth for many, but that’s okay. Getting comfortable with discomfort is absolutely necessary if we’re going to have the open, honest and productive conversations needed to create and sustain anti-racist organisations.

But what does ‘actively doing something’ look like? When, where and how do I speak up? What does good allyship really look like? 


White leaders are likely to shy away from these kinds of questions and conversations, but Shereen’s book is packed with helpful guidance…

  • Be prepared –

Prepare some things to say in case an incident happens; for example, a Black colleague is talked over, and their contributions keep getting missed. Think about how you would interrupt that meeting to ensure credit is given where credit is due.

  • In the moment –

Address the issue in the moment by starting a conversation with ‘just before I comment can I clarify what you meant?’ or ‘I don’t know if you meant offence, but actually some of the things you said are really questionable.’ 

  • Focusing on intent –

There’s often too much bias towards intent with dismissive comments like ‘they didn’t mean it like that, they’re nice’. While this may be true, a greater focus on impact is needed. Just because the person meant no harm, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable. 

  • Defensiveness –

Not every colleague will have a growth mindset when they’re challenged about their behaviour. If someone is defensive, try to be patient – give them time to respond and a chance to apologise to the person who was adversely impacted. 

  • The flipside –

If you intervene, ensure you’re not speaking over or on behalf of your Black colleagues. Give them the option to join the conversation and if their body language implies they don’t want to, then read and respect their choice. 


These acts of active kindness aren’t about seeking external validation or recognition for your allyship. One of my key takeaways from this section of Shereen’s book is that putting the preferences of your Black colleagues at the centre of the choices you make and actions you take, is what distinguishes active kindness from passive niceness when it comes to dismantling racism in the workplace. 

No organization needs nice people; you need kind people.” 


By Lauren Castle

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“So glad that we chose Alive to create our new website. As well as taking the time to get the visual side of our requirement right, they worked with us to understand us, our business and our clients and reflect this across the site. We loved their flexible approach, which, coupled with the right level of challenge has replaced our old, clunky site with one we can be proud of. ”

Victoria Ford — Perago

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“Love it. I will pass to the boss, but I think it's awesome.”

Matt Fletcher — Met Police

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“I have worked with Alive with Ideas for many years now and they are by far the best Ideas and design company I have ever worked with (I’d even go as far as to say the best company of any sort that I’ve ever worked with). They are an incredibly talented and creative team, who are normal human beings, completely grounded, totally down to earth, approachable, friendly and an overall joy to work with.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“We worked with Alive on our new website and branding project. They wowed us during the pitch and they didn’t stop “wowing” us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
Alive logo