How to be an LGBTQ+ Ally in the Workplace

3 minute read

Did you know that 35% of LGBTQ+ staff have hidden that they are LGBTQ+ at work through fear of discrimination? That’s a really sad and unacceptable statistic to read. So it’s never been more important to show your LGBTQ+ colleagues that you’re on their side. Even if your charity is generally a welcoming and inclusive place that encourages people to be their true selves at work, there’s always more that can be done. But how can you actually be an LGBTQ+ ally in the workplace, rather than just saying you are one? Here’s how…

Empower yourself through information

The first step in understanding more about the experiences of LGBTQ+ colleagues is to empower yourself through information. You can read articles, watch videos and follow relevant social media accounts to educate yourself on the community’s history and current events. Stonewall has some useful resources you can tap into and they even run an LGBTQ+ Allies Programme.

Tackle your unconscious biases

Think you’re not biased? Unfortunately, you’re wrong. Everyone has natural unconscious biases based on their background, upbringing and experiences. The trick here is to try to understand and reduce yours as much as possible. In this context the best thing to do is to try to get to know your LGBTQ+ colleagues better. Diversifying your network and spending more time with others with different backgrounds and characteristics will help to broaden your perspective and reduce implicit assumptions. However, be patient if they don’t seem receptive to this straight away—if they’ve had bad experiences before, then you may need to earn their trust.

Remember not to ask personal questions. If you want to understand more about something then wait for more information be offered, or try to find out via another means, rather than being intrusive.

And, if a colleague confides in you, react sensitively. Keep in mind that it isn’t about you or how you feel about what you’re hearing. The most important thing is to really listen.

Woman laughing with arms folded, men in the background

Use language carefully

An easy way to be supportive is to put your pronouns in your email signature. As a cisgendered person, you may not think this necessary, but it shows you recognise the importance of pronouns. This will make LGBTQ+ colleagues feel more comfortable sharing their own, when they’re ready to.

Be careful to keep greetings neutral. Something like, ‘Hi team,’ is more appropriate than, ‘Hi guys,’ which could risk making some people feel excluded. Equally, avoid stereotypes. Don’t assume that someone will like or dislike something just based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Take a stand

What changes you from just being a bystander into really being an ally is speaking up for your LGBTQ+ colleagues when something happens. If you witness any inappropriate behaviour or discrimination then call out the perpetrator and let them know it isn’t acceptable. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but it’s an important one. LGBTQ+ people don’t always feel able to speak up for themselves, but it’s essential to shut down even the smallest of comments before it grows into a bigger issue. Find out what the reporting procedures are in your workplace and if you witness anything, use them. If you’re a manager or in a position of leadership, then make sure you take any reports of these types of incidents seriously and act on them appropriately.

A male and a female work colleague discussing at a desk

Champion an inclusive environment

Join any inclusion committees or focus groups to help champion an inclusive environment. If your charity doesn’t currently have any, then why not set one up and invite representatives from different teams across your organisation?

You can also check your charity has proper discrimination policies and encourage your senior leaders to also be allies—a culture of real inclusion starts from the top.
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Own your mistakes

Do you sometimes worry about saying the wrong thing and end up not saying anything? Try not to stress about this—everyone gets it wrong sometimes. The important thing is to be accountable for your mistake and make the effort to get it right next time.

Also, accept that there are some things you will never fully understand. You haven’t had the life experiences of an LGBTQ+ person and you haven’t gone through what they’ve gone through. It’s great that you’re trying to understand as much as you can but you must take on board that some things you’ll never be able to really appreciate. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t still offer support.

To be a true ally for LGBTQ+ colleagues you need to support actively, not just passively, and even though you may not be an expert, there are many ways you can show you care.

It’s also important to work for an organisation that reflects your values. If yours doesn’t, then it might be time to browse new opportunities.

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