How to be a real ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Ambassador Ari Humirang gives five tips for effective allyship

As a non-binary person who has worked across a range of industries, from retail to travel, I have encountered a lot of discrimination in my work life. Once, when I worked in the hotel sector I was called out for wearing my uniform in a certain way and criticised for how I presented myself. Below, I explain the ways to become an ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues.

Being an ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues

In another job in the hospitality industry, I was regularly called ‘fairy’ by my manager. I am Filipino and English was not my first language, so I did not understand the connotations of the word at first until a colleague took me aside and told me that it was a derogatory term for a gay person.

Thankfully, I now work at a company in the creative industries which celebrates and champions diversity. The leadership team I work with is focused on making diversity and inclusion integral to the business and we have a strong Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) committee in which I also play an active role.

I have never felt more supported to be my authentic self in a workplace environment. But I know I’m lucky and that in other businesses this level of commitment to DE&I is still quite rare.

LGBTQ+ employees are more likely to experience conflict and harassment at work than their heterosexual and cisgender colleagues, research last year from the CIPD showed. The study also showed that two in five LGBTQ+ employees and more than half (55%) of trans workers experienced conflict in the workplace within the past 12 months, compared to just three in ten heterosexual and cisgender employees.

Gender affects how people perceive you. In a society where people continue to be conditioned to fear or be dismissive of lived experiences outside of their own, it’s easy to get judged, discriminated against or bullied just for being different. I know people from the LGBTQ+ community who hide their true selves at work out of fear that if they didn’t they would be treated differently or lose their job.

Whether you are a business leader or the most junior person at your company, it is not enough to say you are an ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues, you must back it up with action.

Through their initiatives, workplace policies and culture, businesses must show that they are taking steps to ensure all employees feel respected and supported at work. To paraphrase one of our CCOs, “everyone walking through the door, either to our agency or to the wider world needs to feel they have a voice, a place and a positive role to play.” There are many ways to practice allyship and make your LGBTQ+ colleagues feel better supported: here are some points to get you started.

1. Be respectful

You must be respectful and empathetic in your interactions with your colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community. You don’t know what people are dealing with in their personal lives or the challenges they have to face. Don’t just rely on your assumptions, make an effort to start conversations with your LGBTQ+ colleagues and develop an understanding of their experience.

2. Use the right pronouns

If you are not sure which pronouns a colleague uses, ask them. Personally, I am flexible when it comes to my pronouns. I present as female most of the time and, so, based on what I’m wearing, people tend to address me as ‘she’, and that’s fine with me. But, if you are in any doubt on how to address your colleagues correctly, ask them first. If you don’t get the opportunity to ask and you are in doubt, just refer to them by their name.

3. Educate yourself and ask questions

All businesses should have mandatory diversity training as well as education and awareness initiatives so that employees get an understanding of their unconscious biases and gain awareness of the lived experience of people from different communities. Bullying arises out of ignorance and so the more educated and open a workforce is around race, culture and gender, the more inclusive and happier it will be. The quickest way to educate yourself is to get to know your LGBTQ+ colleagues better, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

4. Stand in solidarity

If you hear derogatory language being used at work or you see that a colleague is experiencing bullying, harassment or discrimination, speak up and call it out. Show solidarity by standing with them and supporting them to get the issue addressed. Employers should never tolerate bullying or discrimination of any kind and everyone must actively play a part in making sure the workplace is a safe space.

5. DE&I must come from the top

People who aren’t afraid to stand up for others or who go against the grain to achieve positive change are my heroes. But action on inclusion at work should not have to fall to activists or employees from diverse communities. For progress on DE&I, the commitment, investment and hard work have got to first come from the top. The leadership team need to be fully invested in embedding inclusivity across operations in order for systemic change to happen. We live in an age where you are either a follower or an influencer and people in a leadership role should use their influence to affect positive change, when employees see senior members doing it, it prompts them to do the same.

Finally, remember that no matter what level you are at or how large your organisation is, you as an individual have immense power as an ally.

Ari Humirang is Building Services, Concierge and Induction Co-ordinator at Havas UK. They have been active as Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Ambassador and, also, Non-Binary & Trans Rep of the LGBTQ+ network (Havas Pride) at Havas UK, working to promote LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion in the agency’s work and workplace and to connect with LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies.

In this article, you learned that:

  • Two in five LGBTQ+ employees and more than half (55%) of trans workers experienced conflict in the workplace within the past 12 months
  • If in doubt about the right gender pronouns to use for a colleague, use their name
  • You are either a follower or an influencer and people in a leadership role should use their influence to affect positive change

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