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Be an LGBT+ ally in the workplace

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Do you want to be a better ally to your LGBT+ colleagues but don't know how? 

You’re not alone. Many heterosexual employees are unsure how they can contribute to LGBT+ inclusion in their workplace, according to Stonewall, UK’s leading LGBT+ rights organisation.

9 out of 10 employees want their workplace to be LGBT-friendly, according to research from Stonewall. In striving for equality in the workplace, employees who identify as ‘straight allies’ have a critical role to play. Speaking up for LGBT+ colleagues can have a transformative effect on the culture of an organisation. The involvement of ‘straight allies’ in fostering inclusion can create a supportive environment for all employees, gay and straight.

How can you support your LGBT+ colleagues?

Here is our advice to contribute to progress in LGBT+ inclusion in your workplace:

1.  Educate yourself

In order to offer empathy and valuable support, you can learn about LGBT+ issues in the workplace. Did you know that 19% of lesbian, gay and bi professionals experience negative conducts at work because of their sexual orientation? At 35%, the statistic is even more stark for transgender professionals.

It is important to learn about all forms of workplace bullying such as open discrimination and homophobic or transphobic behaviour.

Make an effort to understand what microaggressions are and avoid them. These comments are often made in a seemingly ‘humorous’ way but are unconsciously homophobic in their nature and can be hurtful to the person hearing them.

2.  Speak up

Bullying is still a reality for many LGBT+ professionals in the workplace. Although there are anti-discrimination policies in place at most organisations, many LGBT+ professionals might feel intimidated to challenge unjust behaviour on their own. 1 in 8 lesbian, gay and bi professionals wouldn’t report homophobic behaviour due to a lack of confidence, according to Stonewall. The statistic is one in five for transgender professionals.

If you notice any acts of homophobia or transphobia, big or small, stand up for your LGBT+ colleagues and make it clear to them you’re on their side. Take it a step further by encouraging your LGBT+ colleagues to feel confident in reporting this behaviour. Speak up and educate your colleagues on the negative impact that microaggressions or inappropriate ‘office banter’ might have on your LGBT+ colleagues.

3.  Show enthusiasm

Tackling bullying head on is a great start to dealing with homophobia. It doesn’t solve the bigger issue, which is an unaccepting attitude towards LGBT+ people. Being proactive and outspoken about your support for LGBT+ individuals regularly and consistently, can create a sense of acceptance and inclusion, leading to lasting attitudinal change.

As an ally, make sure to be visible and discuss actualities and news in the LGBT+ community on an everyday basis. Casual expressions of support can be encouraging for your LGBT+ colleagues. Simple exposure and representation of LGBT+ issues in the workplace can be quietly powerful and might just help your colleagues make the leap to come out.

Stonewall Client Group Manager Vicky Constance advises: ‘Talk about articles that you read at the weekend or things that are happening that are particularly pertinent to the LGBT+ community. You don’t know if there are people at work who aren’t out because they feel they can be, but if allies have those conversations around you, it creates a much more inclusive culture and says we value diversity here.”

4.  Get involved

Are you aware of the major LGBT+ events taking place throughout the year? As an ally, show support to your LGBT+ colleagues and friends by taking part and getting involved in the local community.

June is Pride month and February is LGBT History Month in the UK. There are many ways you can show support.

  • Donate to a local LGBT+ charity
  • Purchase books by LGBT+ authors to support the community
  • Learn about LGBT+ history by attending LGBT+ run exhibitions and promote them to your peers

The biggest event in your local LGBT+ community is likely to be Pride. Join in on the festivities to support your gay and trans colleagues and friends. Seeing active support will create a sense of comradery and will reaffirm to your colleagues that there is existing support among their peers in your organisation.

5.  Listen

As an ally be a good listener. Offer empathy and try to understand how your LGBT+ colleague might be feeling within the workplace culture. Having a trusted person to talk to can go miles in making someone feel more accepted and comfortable in the workplace.

If an LGBT+ colleague feels comfortable to talk to you openly, always respect that, and keep in mind that just because they’re able to open up to you doesn’t mean they can do so with everyone else. Coming out can be a sensitive moment for an LGBT+ person and be mindful that they might want to use discretion until they’re ready to come out to the entire workplace. Telling a trusted ally about their sexuality, however, is a critical step in getting there.

At RED we’re committed to providing a workplace where everyone feels they can bring their whole selves to work. If you’re an employer and would like to know how to create an LGBT+ inclusive workplace, read our recent blog.

Visit RED’s blog page for more valuable advice on inclusion and career development.

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