LGBTQ+ Allyship in the Workplace:

6 Ways to Be a Supportive Colleague

Being an ally to LGBTQ+ colleagues is an important part of creating an inclusive work culture that welcomes all professionals, regardless of their sexual and gender identity.

LGBTQ+ is a term that refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer, while the "plus" includes other sexualities and identities, such as pansexual, intersex and asexual. For some colleagues that identify as LGBTQ+, the workplace can trigger feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness and other states of discomfort. Being an ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues is not just about providing a listening ear but about being visibly supportive, inclusive, and intolerant of discrimination from others.

  1. Firstly, Educate Yourself

We may assume that we already understand what our LGBTQ+ colleagues experience in the world of work on a basic level. Being a true ally means researching further and educating yourself not only about the history of the LGBTQ+ community but the progress so far, including regulations at work that have been introduced, rights and also the everyday battles that many surveys and polls show that those that identify as LGBTQ+ still encounter in their everyday life. Empathy comes from a place of understanding, and equipping yourself with the right information shows that you are extending your welcome in a deeper way.

  1. Ask How You Can Best Support Someone

It's possible that a colleague will come to you for support in sharing their identity with their family, friends or colleagues. We are all individuals with different needs, so the best starting place to support anyone is often to simply ask them what would be helpful.

The key is that if someone shares their personal story with you, it's important to understand how you can be the ally they need. Ask them what they would like you to do and in what ways you can support their journey - it might be nothing but a listening ear. Ensure you understand if this is something they are comfortable sharing with others before you disclose it to anyone else. This consent is essential.

  1. Be Accepting

Whether it's dress codes, mannerisms, or choices, being an ally at work is about accepting that others do things differently. Creating an environment where you are supportive of LGBTQ+ colleagues starts with an acceptance of difference. For all of us, it's personal preference as to how much of our private lives we choose to share at work and that must always be respected. Acceptance is also about understanding the difficulties that others might encounter and having the courage to ask questions to steer clear of misunderstandings. Avoiding assumptions is an important part of being inclusive - don't jump to conclusions about someone because of how they speak, dress or present themselves.

  1. Use Inclusive Language

Being aware of discriminatory language and using inclusive terms is a good start. Listening to the language that colleagues use to talk about themselves, their lives and their identities can help to prevent any misunderstandings or conflict in the workplace.

Check if people have preferred pronouns. Also, using someone's name as opposed to 'he' or 'she' is a good way to focus upon who they are rather than an assumption about their gender identity.

If you don't know someone well, stick to neutral language that doesn't assume their sexual orientation. For example, asking a colleague if they had a nice weekend with their 'partner'.

  1. Speak Up - Active Bystanding

Discrimination can come in either overt and clear ways or, as often, in incremental and snide ones with microaggressions designed to make the victim feel belittled, sidelined, and bullied. It's important to call out or question dismissive remarks when you hear them.

Pushing back against 'throwaway' comments helps others to get it right and disrupts ways of thinking that have proved harmful to marginalised communities. Simply holding others accountable for their language and behaviour, and gently correcting and educating others on the effects that their comments, statements and generalisations have on members of marginalised groups have, can be the most powerful form of allyship and advocacy.

For example, you could question a generalisation: 'Everybody?' 'Always?' Or give the person a moment to reflect: 'Could you repeat that again please?' or 'I'm surprised to hear you say that.'

We all need to understand how we can make our workplaces more inclusive for everyone and to create a work culture where every individual feels as though they are recognised and respected for who they are.

  1. Be a Safe Haven

Being an ally at work means providing a listening ear, not being judgemental, and being sensitive to issues that may not be impacting you but can be a daily challenge for many. According to Stonewall, one in five LGBTQ+ people were the target of negative comments at work.

Everyone, regardless of their sexual or gender identity needs a 'go-to colleague' that they can share their concerns with and being that ally means opening up a dialogue that provides psychological safety and warmth and where a trusted discussion can unfold. If you connect on a personal level, you can widen your relationship with prompts such as, 'Please know that you can always talk to me'.

Being an ally at work to your LGBTQ+ colleagues requires active listening, empathy, inclusion and calling out any discrimination. You can ask yourself what more can you do to understand? June is Pride month and is a celebration of LGBTQ+. It's a good time to find out more about the community and draw stronger bonds with colleagues to break down barriers of gender and sexuality and to build a culture that is truly accepting of people whoever they are.