How to be an Ally for LGBTQ+ Staff in the Workplace

It is understandable to feel overwhelmed by information in the eternally evolving world we live in. But, by educating yourself and listening to people’s experiences and feelings, you can always become a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace.

Why is it important to be an ally?

According to the Human Rights Campaign, although being openly out during their studies, 62% of LGBTQ+ graduates do not share their sexuality or identity when starting their first job after university. To reduce the number of individuals masking their authentic selves when entering a new workplace, it is important that we strive to provide working environments in which LGBTQ+ members are comfortable and can experience equality.

What can I do to become a better ally?

Listen. The best way to be an ally is by listening to past experiences and absorbing new information, even if you do not completely understand or have ever thought about the oblivious judgments you may have been expressing. The key is to work towards complete acceptance in the workplace for members of the LGBTQ+ community, by actively including them and combatting anything that promotes ‘otherness’.

It is imperative to fight against the exclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals as many suffer from the ‘only’ experience, in that they are often the ‘only one’ in the workplace and therefore feel divided from the rest. So much so, 42% of LGB people have experienced discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Reassuring your LGBTQ+ work colleagues that you are always there to speak openly with is crucial, even if you find it slightly uncomfortable or out of your depth. It provides them with a safe space in which to express their thoughts and emotions, without feeling as though it is being forced onto straight people and burdening them. This will only better your understanding, whilst subsequently breaking down walls and stigmas that inhibit these topics coming to light. Approaching situations in this way encourages an accepting workplace and uncovers anything that may have previously be labelled as ‘taboo’.

For LGBTQ+ people, coming out is constant and never only just the once, first to yourself and slowly to the people around you, whilst many individuals will never fully ‘come out’ at all. Following this, it is critical to keep any assumptions to yourself and then internalise them as you understand it is incorrect to have prior judgments on someone’s sexual orientation or identity. If a work friend is to confide in you or ‘come out’, do not greet it with something like ‘I always knew anyway’. Even if it is said with good intention, as reassurance, it still burns, since coming out is the trusting of someone entirely with a ‘secret’. Jumping in to say it was clear to you from the beginning takes control of a person’s feelings and is belittling, making it about you instead.

Another thing that you can to do become a stronger ally in the workplace for the LGBTQ+ community is calling people out on when jokes or comments are made. Although much of what people think and say label it as ‘light-hearted fun’, this does not validate anything that is slightly offensive, let alone any slurs that are thrown about the workplace to make others laugh. In addition, this does not solely mean standing up for LGBTQ+ people when something occurs in front of them, but behind closed doors where the alienation will continue to breed without any intervention.

It is evident that LGBTQ+ members encounter discriminatory behaviour at work, as 25% of LGBTQ+ people reported that they have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, whilst half then went on to explain it negatively influenced their work. If then the LGBTQ+ individual drops their performance whilst working, it can reflect poorly on their work ethic, although this truly is not their own wrongdoing. Therefore, standing up to things you know that are unacceptable is essential to prevent further problems for the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace.

Also, working from home in the current climate in which we live in can pose problems for LGBTQ+ members and cause ostracism. Online meetings and video calls can be alienating for the LGBTQ+ community, as the loudest voices are often only heard. This can be combatted by those in positions of power by creating direct lines of communication, in effort to allow individuals to speak up and seek support if needed. In addition to this, installing rotation systems during group settings can allow LGBTQ+ people to have their say and remain involved without feeling excluded.

Being an ally is not all about wearing rainbow colours or attending pride by any means. It simply means a great deal to be honest and express your lack of knowledge, followed by listening and being open to learn how to approach the LGBTQ+ people in your workplace in the future.

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