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How to be an LGBTQIA2S+ ally in the workplace

We all want to be comfortable being our full selves in the workplace. Some people find this level of comfort more easily than others. So, how do we help create an environment where every single person can thrive and help them feel like they belong?  

I joined the Sparkle ERG shortly after I joined Workhuman in September 2021 for that reason. SPARKLE stands for Supporting Pride, Awareness, Recognition & Knowledge: LGBTQIA2S + Employees and Allies. This group aims to support an inclusive and open working environment for everyone by increasing awareness, understanding, and action.  

I wanted to see what I could do as an ally for the LGBTQIA2S+ community at Workhuman. I was hoping to help reduce  unconscious bias, show my support, and most importantly – learn. While I gained a lot of insight from being involved in the committee meetings and the Slack channel, it was when I got involved in Pride month that I gained more even more insight and perspective. 

Did you know that 40% of LGBTQIA2S+ people are not “fully out” in the workplace? This is a high statistic and shows how important it is to create an environment where people can be themselves. In Ireland we have over 135,000 LGBTQIA2S+ people in the workforce – that's a lot of people who need an environment where they truly feel like they belong.  

I wanted to show support and bring value where I can to this ERG, so I attended two conferences this year, both hosted by Pride at Work. I learnt a lot from attending these conferences and I wanted to share my insights from an ally’s point of view so maybe I can encourage more people to be involved, or just share some insight and show how you can help by making small changes to your day.  

How to be an ally in the workplace  

So, you want to support your colleagues, but are wondering where to start?  

Well, simply clicking on this blog shows that you are taking a step in the right direction by taking a positive step towards a more inclusive workplace. 

First and foremost, you need to look internally and look at your own relationships in work.  

People can be supportive of LGBTQIA2S+ people and not realise that some phrases they are using might be harmful. We all need to educate ourselves in these areas.  For example, I always used the phrase “Hi guys” on a group email, slack message or when joining a zoom call for an example. I have now learnt that it is more inclusive to say, “Hi everyone” or “Hi team.”. This is one small change of habit I made, but I feel it will make a difference and is just a small example of what you can do too, and it will make a big difference to someone else’s day.  

I also wanted to add a personal experience I had recently which also involves the words we use.  I was getting my hair done and the hairdresser was asking me if I had any plans for the weekend, I said I was going away with “my partner” to Spain, her face dropped, and she changed the conversation back to be about my hair.  

After a while she asked me again, “who are you going away with again?”. This time I said, “my boyfriend,” and she laughed and made a joke, saying I used the word partner before, and she thought I meant I was a lesbian, and the look of relief she had on her face still baffles me to this day.  

I think the word “partner” describes just that – your partner – hence why I was taken back by her reaction. I think the more we use the term “partner,” the more we normalise the word helping  others feel more comfortable using it. Do not stereotype – do not assume someone wouldn’t want to be involved in a conversation, topic, event, project etc. Always include everyone as you do not know what anyone’s preference is until you ask them.  

Empathy vs sympathy  

A recent tragedy occurred April where two gay men were murdered in the town of Sligo. This was a senseless act of violence against the LGBTQIA2S+, reminding us of the high vulnerabilities and very real fears the wider community experiences on a daily basis in Ireland the U.S., and the rest of the world.  

During this time, you may have wanted to show your support for your LGBTQIA2S+ colleagues. Even though you cannot fully understand how they are feeling when something like this happens, support  is needed in a situation like this. This is a sensitive topic, and we are always encouraged to reach out to our Sparkle ERG if we have any questions on how we can support our team members when a tragedy like this happens. The best thing you can do is listen.  

How to show support  

Another way you and your company can show support is visually. Pride flags should not show up once a year – Pride should be celebrated all year.  

At one of the conferences, I attended this year a story was shared where a white cis lesbian woman was attending an interview and at the time she had her head shaved. She really wanted this job but felt she needed to dress more feminine to make up for her lack of hair.  

So, she put on makeup, high heels, and a dress to make her “fit in.” She was uncomfortable in this as this is not what she would normally wear, but it is what she felt she had to do. When she arrived, she checked in and was brought into the lift to bring her up to her a meeting room for her interview.  

When she stepped into the lift, she saw an employee with an LGBT rainbow lanyard around her neck. Almost instantly the wall she built up came down, and she really felt she could be herself.  

Visualisation is important, whether it be that rainbow lanyard, a badge, Pride flags, or educational resources, it needs to be seen and it has more importance than you might think.  

We also need to be aware that some LGBTQIA2S+ people can feel like it falls on them to be the advocates. It may feel  like they are always the one person in a meeting that people turn to get an LGBT+ opinion. And while it’s great to be represented in those conversations, it can sometimes be draining for that individual to be the “go-to” person all the time.  

How the wider organisation can get involved  

Pride month is great – it’s a celebration with great history, but it is also needed to  help create change in our country. Which is why we cannot just stop after June. Pride needs to be infused into a company’s culture and be a part of the everyday environment.  

And it. cannot just come from management level down. As I mentioned earlier, this needs to be incorporated into the day to day of work. We do not want people to feel like all they have to do is complete a module and then it is ticked off for the year; we need it to be embedded into the culture.  

Rainbow washing  

You may have heard of the term “pink washing,” which was when companies had pink ribbons to show support of breast cancer but never actually donated to charities. Rainbow washing is similar but for LGBTQIA2S+ communities.  

Again, it is great to participate in Pride and it is great to take photos and post about it. Use a Pride filter on your photos! But we also need to back that up by giving back to this community, taking action and making changes. 

To avoid rainbow washing we need to show support all year round, amplify LGBTQIA2S+ voices, defend and speak up against anti-LGBTQIA2S+ policies, etc. We need to have a clear mission statement, be open to taking feedback and always be improving and learning.  

Workhuman work with charities such as Shout Out and the Trevor Project. Employees can use their recognition awards to donate to these charities and more.  

I hope you learned a little bit about how to become a more active ally in this blog.

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