In honor of Pride Month, we at Galecki Search Associates believe it is important to share ideas about how to be an ally to members of the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace. An ally is a colleague who actively advocates, supports, and encourages members of the LGBTQ+ community, while also challenging harmful stereotypes, prejudices, and maltreatment of these individuals. There are many strides that have been made recently by allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community to help advocate, support, and encourage LGBTQ+ co-workers:
- As of 2019, a record number of businesses have anti-discriminatory policies towards LGBTQ+ employees. 93% of Fortune 500 companies have such policies in place for sexual orientation in 2019 compared to 62% in 2002. 85% of Fortune 500 companies have such policies for gender identity in 2019 compared to 3% in 2002.
- More businesses have transgender benefits than ever before. 62% of Fortune 500 companies have these benefits and in 2002 such benefits were practically non-existent in the US.
- Companies are working on their overall culture by providing education to their employees, such as issues of conscious/unconscious bias and resources about how to navigate this topic at work.
These initiatives are helping to create an inclusive work environment, and you can play an important role, even outside of the LGBTQ+ community, by being an ally. Everyone can do their part to create a welcoming workplace for all its employees. After all, fostering strong relationships amongst team members is very important to a team’s success.
Five A’s of Allyship
To be a good ally, you first need to learn about the LGBTQ+ community. Understanding what “LGBTQ+” means is a great place to start:
- Lesbian: A woman whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction is to other women.
- Gay: The adjective used to describe people whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same sex.
- Bisexual: A person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or to those of another gender.
- Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.
- Queer: An adjective used by some people, particularly younger people, whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual. Once considered a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBTQ+ people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBT community. Some prefer the term “questioning” instead of “queer”.
- “+”: The plus sign is meant to represent all other genders and sexualities that are not included by LGBTQ.
Recognize that this is not a comprehensive definition of each term and that not everyone’s identities perfectly align with these descriptions. It is also helpful to understand several different types of discrimination facing members of the LGBTQ+ community, such as:
- Homophobia: discrimination, disrespect, harrassment, and exclusion of lesbians or gay men because of their sexual orientation
- Biphobia: discrimination, disrespect, harrassment, and exclusion of a bisexual person because of their sexual orientation
- Transphobia: discrimination, disrespect, harrassment, and exclusion of trans people because of their gender identity
While typically phobia means “fear of” in these cases its meaning more aligns with “maltreatment” which is why it’s important to increase your awareness, consider different ways to be an advocate and when/how to acknowledge and apologize when necessary.
To increase your awareness when interacting with LGBTQ+ colleagues:
- One’s gender and sexual orientation are parts of their unique identity; therefore, generalizing their experiences can be perceived as discriminating and offensive.
- Ask your colleague about their preferred pronouns or if a colleague asks you to refer to them by certain pronouns, use them. You can also be proactive and add your pronouns to your LinkedIn profile or e-mail signature to encourage dialogue.
- Refrain from off-color jokes about a colleague’s gender or sexual orientation as it can create an uncomfortable environment for both individuals and teams.
- Get to know your colleague on a personal level rather than reducing your colleague to their gender or sexual orientation. Not every interaction between you and an LGBTQ+ co-worker should be about LGBTQ+ people or issues. There are many sides to a person’s identity, and you should get to know those sides.
- Share information about your life, family, hobbies, etc. with your co-workers but maintain awareness of what is comfortable to those around you to discuss. Private and medical matters are just that: private. Don’t assume everyone is open to discussing this information.
- Respect boundaries, knowing information about someone doesn’t mean you can and should share it with others.
Bottom line, treat others how you would want to be treated. Imagine if someone was stereotyping you, telling you what you can and cannot do because of your gender, making offensive jokes about your identity, or asking you inappropriate questions about personal and medical matters. To be a good ally to this community you need to practice empathy, recognizing what they may be going through.
You’ve started and seek to continue to act with awareness, taking the time to get to know your colleagues in an open way, without assumptions. It’s a great foundation and now you can take things a step further or engage concurrently.
Here are some ways advocate:
- Join an employee resource group, get involved in community events like pride parades or simply share your preferred pronouns in conversation or email signature are all ways you can demonstrate you are a safe space for an LGBTQ+ person.
- Seek out online resources like the Human Rights Campaign to for a comprehensive educational and community experience
- Stay tuned in, if you notice a colleague that is openly LGBTQ+ or has confided in you is demonstrating signs of not feeling included in your team, approach them to see how you can best support them.
- Take a page from our awareness section, it may be that they have preferred pronouns that don’t align with their assigned gender. Make sure to use their preferred pronouns and encourage the same with other work colleagues. Respect boundaries, don’t assume someone is comfortable disclosing personal details or overshare with colleagues.
- Stand up, if someone at work makes a comment that could intentionally or unintentionally offend a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you can take action. You can talk with the individual directly, providing education and / or report the behavior to a managerial HR.
- Check in – it would also be appropriate to check in with the employee later in private so that they can talk about the situation with someone.
- Be the change – Don’t assume that someone else is taking action and recognize that your effort to extend empathy and education can make the workplace more comfortable and productive for all of your colleagues.
By taking an active role in advocating for the LGBTQ+ community you can promote inclusivity in the workplace.
Acknowledge & Apologize
What if you make a mistake? Everyone from time to time makes a mistake in conversation; however, if you take the time to connect with the person and clear up any misunderstandings, it will allow for a safer, more inclusive environment going forward. To rectify the situation, acknowledge the mistake and apologize. Here is an example of a mistake and how to address it:
Imagine you used the wrong pronouns to address a co-worker on accident and realized your mistake after the conversation. The appropriate thing to do is to talk to this co-worker in private, acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and try very hard not to make this mistake again. If you repeatedly misgender a person, it is highly offensive. If a colleague constantly called you by the wrong name or pronouns, you would likely feel like this colleague does not respect you enough to identify you correctly. A good way to avoid this mistake is to address pronouns by sharing yours the first time you meet a new colleague.
By employing these five concepts, you’re on the road to being an effective ally to LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. If you are ever in doubt about how you should be treating others in the workplace simply apply the golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated.