Workplace inclusion: are you as much of an LGBTQ+ ally as you think?

9 min read | Hannah Pearsall | Article | DE&I | Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

pride inclusion allyship

The world of work has seen a huge increase in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives over the past 10 years, and as a result, we’ve also seen an increase in the use of the word “allyship” – especially when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. But what does being an ally really mean, and is simply identifying yourself as one enough?

According to the Collins Dictionary, an ally is “someone who supports people who are in a minority group or who are discriminated against, even though they do not belong to that group themselves.” The idea behind allyship can be thought of as “strength in numbers”: amplifying the voices of people within a marginalised group, shining a spotlight on the issues faced, and rallying together to fight for meaningful change can go a long way towards making our society fairer and more equitable.

However, simply calling yourself an “ally” isn’t enough. Don’t worry – we’re not suggesting that you spend every moment signing petitions or taking part in protests (although we certainly wouldn’t discourage it!), but there are plenty of things you can do in the workplace on a day-to-day basis to put allyship into action and make the term feel less performative. So when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, what do those things look like?

Keep reading to discover the six steps you can take towards becoming a better ally.


Step 1: Get educated

Standing up for and supporting a group of people you aren’t a part of can feel daunting, even though you know it’s the right thing to do, and that’s why it’s imperative to educate yourself on the history of the LGBTQ+ community, the challenges that they have faced, and the issues ongoing today. It’s also important to remember that, as with everything, one size does not fit all. The experiences of a gay, white, cisgender male will be very different from those of a bisexual, Black, non-binary person, for example. Keep your knowledge up-to-date by speaking with members of the community in your workplace, but don’t rely on them. If you are serious about being an active ally, seek out reading resources provided by organisations such as Stonewall or charities such as Mind Out UK, or following The Pink News.


Step 2: Be mindful

It’s natural to be curious about peoples’ differences, but remember that – for some members of the LGBTQ+ community – talking about personal circumstances can be difficult, for a multitude of reasons. It may seem obvious to keep certain topics out of the workplace, but sadly, invasive questions and assumptions can be commonplace for many LGBTQ+ individuals. It’s always best to wait for someone to raise a topic themselves, rather than asking about personal details.

On that note, it’s also crucial to remember that just because someone is a part of the community, it doesn’t mean they identify as “gay” instead of “straight”. There are many different sexual orientations and gender identities, so instead of assuming, either wait for the person to tell you, or ask in a polite way – if appropriate. For example, instead of asking about somebody’s husband or wife, you could ask about their partner.

Finally, bear in mind that just because someone has “come out” to you, it doesn’t mean they’re out to the rest of the workplace, society, or even to their family and friends. Treat any conversations you have as confidential and wait for the individual to lead the narrative in a wider setting.


Step 3: Take a proactive approach

A simple step towards becoming a more effective ally in the workplace is to display your pronouns on your email signature, instant messaging applications and internal systems. Even if your pronouns have remained the same since birth, showcasing them publicly makes it clear that you understand the need for them. The more people within your organisation that do this, the better – it shows people from the LGBTQ+ community that it’s safe to be open about theirs, even if they differ from the “norm”.

Another proactive way of taking action is to speak up if you hear any derogatory remarks, stereotypical comments, or inappropriate jokes about the LGBTQ+ community. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it can also open up the conversation and make way for a teaching moment as to why certain things can be perceived as offensive. According to research by Stonewall (in their LGBT In Britain report), 12% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people wouldn’t feel confident reporting homophobic or bi-phobic bullying to their employer, and 21% of transgender people wouldn’t report transphobic bullying in their organisation. Therefore, the support of allies is paramount.


Step 4: Admit mistakes and learn

When it comes to advocating for a community you are not part of, you are bound to make mistakes – perhaps by using an incorrect pronoun or an outdated term, for example. Intent is everything, and on most occasions, simply apologising for your error and taking the time to learn more appropriate wording is the best course of action. It’s better to continue conversations with the occasional error than it is not to have them at all, and if you’re ever in doubt about what to say, consult with a member of the community or look up reputable educational sources online.


Step 5: Know the process

Discriminating against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender is never right, and as an ally, it’s important that you actively learn about the reporting and escalation processes in your workplace. According to Stonewall, at the time of their research, 18% of people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender have received negative comments or been discriminated against within the past year as a result of who they are, so if you witness an incident like this, it’s important to know how to take it further to prevent it happening to anyone else.


Step 6: Listen to the community

Many organisations have set up Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are staff networks comprising of people that either belong to a specific community or are passionate about supporting it. Having a dedicated ERG for LGBTQ+ employees offers heaps of benefits – it can create a space for confidential support from likeminded individuals, it can be a catalyst for meaningful change in the workplace, and it showcases the value an organisation places on genuine diversity and inclusion. If you’re an ally and you join an ERG of this kind, it can give you a first-person perspective on the lived experiences of the community and means you can better amplify the voices of those who need it.

Here at Hays, we’re extremely proud of our Pride Network and the work we do to support a workplace culture where people can be confident that their voices will be heard, their opinions respected and where they can be their whole selves.

Being a true ally involves more than just standing by a community; it’s about listening, standing up for what’s right and being proactive. If you’re curious to learn how your organisation could bolster its DE&I efforts, visit FAIRER Consulting – the Global Inclusion Company – for more information.



About this author

Hannah Pearsall, Head of Wellbeing, Hays UK&I

Hannah has over 20 years of recruitment experience across a number of business areas, including construction and property, technology, engineering, energy, social care, human resources and procurement. She is now the Head of Wellbeing at Hays and leads on the design, development, implementation and delivery of a holistic and evolving wellbeing strategy for the UK and Ireland.

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