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An ally is someone who believes in equality and wants their LBGT+ colleagues to be out and feel comfortable at work. Let Jacqui show you how to be one and ways to make your commitment visible to others, resulting in a happier, open and more productive workplace.
How to be an LGBT Ally
An Ally is someone who openly commits to supporting other people who may, for whatever reason, feel marginalised, under-represented or in some cases, oppressed. You don’t have to be straight to be an ally. For example, I feel that I am ally to others within the broader LGBT community. Whilst I am not transgender or bi-sexual, I feel that I can still actively support my bi-sexual and transgender colleagues. I also act an ally for my BAME colleagues and friends. So, what are some easy ways to be an ally?
Get to know and understand the issues
Speak to LGBT colleagues about their experiences
Try to understand some of the challenges they face
If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing or using the wrong language – don’t worry. Just ask! I would much rather people around me felt able to ask questions, so that I can explain or perhaps help them to develop their own awareness and understanding. Let’s face it, there is a lot of language, a lot of acronyms and terminology involved, which can make it seem really difficult as a subject area. People’s fear of offending or saying the wrong thing, can sometimes prevent them from engaging at all. I think that I have a responsibility to make people feel comfortable enough to ask questions, by creating safe spaces for conversations or acknowledging to others how very complicated it can all seem. You might have noticed that I have used the acronym LGBT throughout and yet there are many organisations and people, that use LGBTQ (to include Queer or Questioning)
LGBT+ (to include a range of other identities) and several other acronyms are used too. I particularly like LGBT+ because I feel this is inclusive of all and encompasses a range of sexualities and gender identities. For the purpose of this session, I have simply stuck with LGBT for simplicity, but please note this is not intended to be in any way exclusive.
Back to allies. An LGBT ally simply says “I believe in equality and I want my LGBT colleagues to be able to be out and feel comfortable at work. As an ally I will challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language in the workplace and I commit to trying to create a more inclusive environment for all'.
I would encourage you to not just ‘talk the talk’ but make your commitment really visible to others. For example, why not attend events that are focussed on the issues of that community. This year I marched in the London Pride parade alongside over 250 of my Citi colleagues. Many of these people were our straight allies, who showed their support by visibly and actively supporting their LGBT colleagues and friends.
Another thing I would suggest that can be helpful is to try and avoid making assumptions about others and think about the language you use. For example, when asking people about their personal life, instead of saying girlfriend/boyfriend, husband or wife, why not simply say ‘partner’? This sends a clear message that you haven’t made an assumption and creates the opportunity for someone to open up if they wish to.
I would also encourage you to listen out for cues. It may well be the case that someone is considering coming out and is trying to open up to you. In which case, if you are tuned in to what are people are saying, you might well be able to make the process easier for them. In my experience, in the early stages of coming out, an individual will often seek out just one or two people to confide in. This is part of the process of learning to trust people and plays a big part in someone developing their confidence to come out more publicly. Perhaps you can be that friend, that trusted individual? If so, you can play a significant part in helping them on their journey to becoming truly out and visible at work. If this is the case, don’t forget how important it is to respect the fact they have chosen you as a confidant. This is not your news to share.
This insight video is part of the Out and Proud – Approaching LGBT issues in the workplace course.