There are currently 3.6 million people in the UK who identify as homosexual. Yet a Harvard Business Review study found that a staggering 68% of respondents have not yet come out to their colleagues at work.
When employees can bring their true authentic selves to work, they will be more productive and engaged. This means that we all need to do our bit to offer support and reassurance to our team members if they do wish to come out at their place of work. Consider how you would support a colleague if they came out to you and how you could become an ally.
Ultimately there are no set rules when it comes to disclosing sexual orientation in the workplace; it’s of course a matter of personal choice and should be entirely based on an individual’s decision and how much of their private lives they choose to share with their colleagues or employees.
However, if people do wish to share their sexual orientation with their colleagues and friends at work, how can you as their teammate, line manager or boss, support them and make them feel comfortable.
Here are nine ways to become an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community:
1. Do your research:
Read up and understand LGBTQIA+ history including rights and civil rights movements. Often demonstrating an ability to understand, learn and research shows the commitment to want to become an ally. Learn the different terminologies and the difference between them so you don’t have to ask colleagues what they mean.
The power of listening is very often underrated, and sometimes people just need someone who will hear them out. Resist the temptation to interrupt, or indeed, offer your opinion. The more we listen to each other, the more we’ll understand, and this will make it easier to remove barriers, raise awareness and create an inclusive workplace culture.
3. Speak out:
If you have a conversation with someone and it concerns you, elevate your reports to the appropriate person and make a plan for dealing with them. Actions should have consequences, and you need to make it clear that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. When we witness discrimination in the workplace, it can be very uncomfortable and it’s much easier to pretend you haven’t heard, or just simply to say nothing. We all need to do more to support each other and have the courage to speak up when we see or hear discrimination.
4. Role model behaviours:
78% of employees who responded to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study said they work at organisations that lack diversity in leadership positions. The key to ensuring the right level of support for your colleagues is by having more advocates at all levels; advocates who live and breathe inclusivity. Indeed, role models at the top of the company are tremendously important in both the cultivation of acceptance of the self and from others.
5. Be honest:
Be honest with your colleagues and admit when you’ve made mistakes previously. Likewise own up when you don’t understand something. No one is expecting you to be an expert – and people will appreciate your honesty, rather than staying silent for fear of saying the wrong thing or saying something stupid. Wanting to learn, educate and grow through open communication is welcomed and shows that you are truly looking to be an ally.
6. Support local community events:
Being present at conversations about inclusiveness, attending networking events and support groups and just being open in communicating your enthusiasm means an awful lot to the community.
7. Shared responsibility:
It’s important that best practice doesn’t just come from the top. In fact, a shared responsibility for anyone working within the team, no matter their background, ethnicity, sexuality or gender, to set an example of inclusivity is essential. This can be done through encouragement, picking colleagues up on potentially derogatory language, strong anti-discrimination policies, listening to staff and concerted diversity training. This will also lead to a team working together more effectively, and more collaboratively too.
8. Play your part:
We can all play our part in the diversity agenda by encouraging our employer to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive. You could do this in many ways such as feeding back to your employer if you don’t think their current policies are currently LGBTQIA+ inclusive. You could also become an ally to your LGBTQIA+ colleagues by reporting any discrimination, harassment or abuse in your workplace (from either customers or other members of staff) on their behalf. You could also consider working with others in your workplace to set up an LGBTQIA+ network group if one does not already exist or you could encourage your employer to join Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme.
9. Be more accountable:
If you are in a leadership position in your workplace, then be transparent about where you are on your diversity and inclusion journey in regard to representation and levels of advancement across your workforce. To level up and achieve true equity, organisations need to create work environments where people can be successful. Ultimately people do not want to be treated differently or special, they just want to be treated as humans.
About the author:
Anthony Kielty is a Business Intelligence and Management Lead at Vita Health Group.