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How to be an LGBTQ+ ally at work

Approximately five decades have passed since the Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969, which marked a significant shift in the struggle for civil rights and equality for LGBTQ+. While laws and regulations against discrimination have been passed around different parts of the world as a result of activists’ persistent efforts, achieving substantial workplace diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ professionals still remains as an issue.

According to a 2021 study under UCLA School of Law, around one third of LGBTQ+ employees report leaving a job or looking for another job because the work environment was not inclusive and accepting.

Honoring and commemorating the uprising at Stonewall, June is celebrated as Pride Month all around the world. For those of us who are and/or strive to be good LGBTQ+ allies, Pride Month is a good opportunity to think deeper about LGBTQ+ equality as well as diversity and inclusion in the workplace. If you wonder how you can be an LGBTQ+ ally at work, we are positive that this article offers you some good tips!

What does being an LGBTQ+ ally mean?

As a freelancer, solo talent, a team leader or a business owner you may ask yourself what it means to be an LGBTQ+ ally at work and how it applies to your professional life. To put it in simple terms, an LGBTQ+ ally is a non-LGBTQ+ or a non-queer person who acknowledges and supports people with various gender identities, sexual orientations and gender expressions which are not cisgender and/or straight.

Remember that through the history of LGBTQ+ rights movement, allies were, and still are, occupying an important place! Being an LGBTQ+ ally not only means to acknowledge and silently support but also to actively work towards a more diverse, inclusive and accepting workplace.

Whether you are an independent professional, the owner of a solo business or the team leader of a diverse team, one of the best ways to be a good LGBTQ+ ally is to aim at permanent changes at your work life that will increase the capacity of representation and visibility of LGBTQ+ professionals, and create a supportive work environment where diversity is not just a box to check on paper but an essential part of the culture.

What can you do to be a good LGBTQ+ ally at work?

There are several things that you can do to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion at your workplace. By making sure that these small yet effective steps are taken permanently, your workplace can set a good example of LGBTQ+ recognition and inclusion. Remote work or on-site work shouldn’t make much of a difference as long as the proper arrangements are done based on the mode of work your workplace has adopted.

Without further ado, here are some tips for being a better LGBTQ+ ally at work:

  • Pay attention to how you communicate
  • Educate yourself and those around you
  • Stand up against discrimination
  • Ensure that an effective non-discriminatory policy is in place
  • Diversify your network

Start the change from language

Needless to say, language is one of the key aspects of almost all dimensions of human communication. Conveying the right message and the right sentiments by using the most effective, non-discriminatory and inclusive language is one of the building blocks of becoming and staying an ally.

Whether you’re working on behalf of an  organization or as a talent, you need to pay special attention to your linguistic choices in order to make sure that people around you don’t feel targeted, neglected or discriminated against. Here are some steps to take towards a more inclusive use of language:

Educate yourself and those around you

As human beings it is quite usual for most of us to have biases, prejudgements and preconceptions towards people and experiences that we don’t know well. While having biases is common, for most of us they can be overcome through personal efforts to educate oneself and open and honest dialogues.

At the workplace, it is absolutely necessary to work towards overcoming biases by making sure that different parties learn from one another, share experiences and resources and create a common ground where everyone feels heard and seen. Not talking about the existence of different identities, orientations and expressions only prevents us from overcoming biases.

Here, it’s important to remember that nobody should have to explain and justify their experiences and existence all the time–the main responsibility of educating oneself and overcoming biases falls onto allies. There are brilliant resources such as the HRC Foundation’s Trans Inclusion Toolkit for Employers as well as Great Place to Work and Pride At Work’s joint LGBTQ+ Best Practice Guide for Employers to kickstart your efforts towards a more inclusive and equal work culture.

Stand up against discrimination

Being an ally in your professional life requires using your position and platform to take action towards substantial equality and inclusion. You may be a solo worker, do freelance gigs or work remotely for a company. While the mode of the work is not necessarily the most important element of how people at your workplace interact with each other, it is essential to stand up against and be vocal about discriminatory policies, practices and remarks at work.

If you witness a discriminatory act, a hateful speech or a long term structural issue revolving around the existence and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ colleagues at work, make sure that you and other allies stand firmly against such acts. You can keep a record of the discriminatory acts, report them to your team leader and get the support of others who aren’t happy about the situation.

Ensure that a strict non-discrimination policy is in place

Making sure that an inclusive workplace is working effectively for everyone is up to organizations and leaders as much as it is up to employees. It is a 50-50 task where both parties need to work together. It is the responsibility of businesses and their leaders to ensure that policies aiming to prevent discrimination and discourage individuals to act in discriminatory ways are actively working.

Ideally, non-discriminatory policies should pave the way towards equal representation of all identities in the workplace. Policies should address discrimination, hostility, oppression, bullying, retaliation and harrassment separately and make sure their day to day examples aren’t materialized on any level.

According to Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index on LGBTQ+ Equality, 91% of the Fortune 500 have gender identity protections enumerated in their nondiscrimination policies, and 93% offer protections for sexual orientation non-discrimination–this is a huge improvement from 3% and 5% respectively in 2002.

Diversify your network

It is tried and tested that just like working in diverse teams, prioritizing diversity in professional networks is one of the best ways to promote equality and be a good LGBTQ+ ally. Harvard Business Review’s study reveals that companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues. Linking people coming from different backgrounds, with different gender identities, sexual orientations and gender expressions always yields a win-win outcome.

It raises consciousness and awareness among people that are linked within the same network, enhances the overall acceptance of individuals towards one another and becomes a future model of an ideal network. As for solo talents, working with clients who integrate diversity, equity and inclusion directly in their vision and values, and collaborating with NGOs is always a good idea on the way to becoming a better ally.

So, where does it leave us?

Whether you are a team leader, business owner, a full time employee or a freelancer, it is crucial to create and sustain a work culture in which everyone is welcome to show up as their authentic selves. In today’s world, this means paying the utmost attention to the rights and inclusion of LGBTQ+ professionals at work.

By educating yourself and other professionals in your surroundings, standing against discrimination at workplace, implementing non-discriminatory workplace policies, diversifying your network and paying attention to the day to day language use, you can take steps towards becoming a better LGBTQ+ ally at work. Remember that putting these principles into practice is as important as making them permanent habits of your workplace culture!

What practices and values do you adopt at work personally or for your business at large to make sure that you and everyone you work with is an LGBTQ+ ally? Let us know by joining the conversation under our LinkedIn post.

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Arno Yeramyan
Arno Yeramyan is a polyglot who’s a fan of constantly learning new languages.

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