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How to support and be an ally to LGBTIQ+ colleagues.

Post by
Diyanah Afendy
How to support and be an ally to LGBTIQ+ colleagues.

It’s Pride Month! This means we’re celebrating dignity, equality, self-affirmation and acceptance for all people. It’s also a time to reflect on how we have progressed in half a century and an opportunity for all to protest discrimination and violence. Though progress has been made since the 1969 Stonewall Riots, research suggests that workplaces are still failing LGBTIQ+ people – and just FYI, Pride month rainbow logos are not enough.

This topic is something that I hold dear to my heart. I remember when I nervously started my first job search here in Australia. As a queer Asian woman, I felt like there wasn’t a need to “come out at work” either in interviews, intros or meetings. To my surprise, my first job was with a team that was led by a queer woman. I took notice as she confidently mentioned her weekend plans with her partner over team lunches and I felt encouraged to do the same. It was in that first job that I requested to attend training as an LGBTIQ+ Ally, in hopes to establish a safe space for my other colleagues across the organisation.

When organisations create and establish safe spaces, we are given the freedom to share more parts of our lives at work which feels like a huge weight lifted. It also becomes an opportunity for employees to lean on each other for support and build stronger, deeper bonds which contributes to an overall healthy team culture. This, however, requires an intentional approach. Employers would have to think beyond Pride month – and instead focus on building environments rooted in inclusion and belonging all year round.

There is no doubt that organisations in most sectors have made huge strides in supporting the LGBTIQ+ community by creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces. However, there is still a lot of work that can be done.

According to a 2019 survey of LGBTIQ+ professionals led by Diversity Council Australia, a concerning 44% of LGBTIQ+ workers had personally experienced discrimination and harassment in the workplace. LGBTIQ+ workers were also much less likely to be respected at work, with 35% of respondents agreeing that they had to hide or change who they are at work to fit in.

Beyond harassment and discrimination, many LGBTIQ+ workers also report being unsatisfied with how they feel their organisation supports — or rather, does not support — the LGBTIQ+ community.

How to best support your LGBTIQ+ coworkers at work:

If you see something, say something.
  • Stand up and stand out against discrimination. If you hear negative or uninformed comments about the LGBTIQ+ community, stand up and explain why it’s offensive and wrong. You could share something you’ve read, seen or heard that has personally helped you understand gender diversity more broadly.
  • You should also call out harmful stereotyping. Explain that it contributes to creating an unsafe environment for LGBTIQ+ coworkers.

Work to uncover your unconscious bias.
  • 1 in 5 LGBTIQ+ workers have been told or had coworkers imply that they should dress more feminine or masculine – compared to 1 in 24 non-LGBTIQ+ workers.
  • If someone corrects you, be sure to listen, acknowledge, learn from the experience, and move the conversation on. Check your own insecurity: don’t take offence, don’t make it about you.
  • Similarly, be aware of normative bias and don’t ask questions you wouldn’t normally ask a straight, cis person, e.g. “When did you decide you were heterosexual?!”

Listening is key.
  • As allies, one of the most powerful things you can do is listen to and affirm LGBTIQ+ voices.
  • Be open-minded and willing to learn from your LGBTIQ+ coworkers. Think about how you might be able to take actions, big or small, to adjust your own behaviours and help create a more inclusive and affirming environment.

How organisations can support LGBTIQ+ employees:

Commit to inclusive hiring practices and goals.
  • Words carry so much weight and what one person may find unimportant could mean a great deal to someone else. Go through your employment applications and see if your company still asks for a candidate’s gender. It’s not really a necessary question for most jobs. If it is, make it a point to be gender-inclusive.
  • Remind interviewers and hiring managers the dangers of subconscious bias – reaffirm the company stance that candidates must be hired based on their merit and how they add value to the team. (NOT whether they could ‘fit in’.)

Establish strong anti-discrimination policies and practices.
  • Have clear, enforceable policies in place to ensure the workplaces are free of discrimination and microaggresions.
  • Remove any unnecessary gender language. And if you haven’t done so already, add gender identity or gender expression to the list of areas in which harassment will not be tolerated.
  • Be onboard and show your support – otherwise these policies will fall flat.

Continuously look for new opportunities to create safe spaces.
  • Consider making single use restrooms gender neutral – instead of 1 men’s room and 1 ladies' room, you could have 2 gender neutral rooms!
  • Using gender-neutral language makes a big difference in the workplace. An example would include a simple swap of terms using ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ to ‘partner’ or ‘spouse’.
  • Offer training to your teams to help them better understand the difference between sex and gender, the different types of gender, and how they can contribute to a more inclusive workplace.

Remember, psychological safety is the key to engaging, supporting, and learning from LGBTIQ+ employees. It is about creating a safe workplace where everyone feels accepted and respected. At the end of the day, each and every employee deserves to feel safe at work. So being able to feel at home in our own skin, without fear of how it’ll land, isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.

Leaders should not have the mindset that LGBTIQ+ employees no longer need to fear workplace discrimination, because the industry you’re in is ‘known to be inclusive’. That assumption is not only naive, but harmful. Your organisation may adopt a rainbow logo for Pride month, but this doesn’t automatically equate to your employees feeling safe to be their authentic selves at work. We are living in a time when the line between our private and professional lives is blurred, and authenticity is being rewarded in the workplace. So leaders should continue to encourage that, and use their influence and power to ensure a psychologically safe culture for all.

If you zoom out and look at the bigger picture, when organisations create a psychologically safe culture, not only will employees thrive, but it will increase your bottom line. LGBTIQ+ employees who feel psychologically safe at work are more productive and empowered. They’re also more willing to take creative risks and make their voices heard. Isn’t that something you want from your teams?

BTW, inclusivity benefits EVERYONE.

One of the most common misconceptions is that diversity and inclusion efforts within organisations only benefit people from target and minority groups – such as workers who have a disability, are female or identify as LGBTIQ+. Wrong! Inclusivity within the workplace not only fuels team performance, it also fosters satisfaction, success and security.

It is reported that employees working in an inclusive organisation are:

  • 5x more likely to be very satisfied with their job than workers in non-inclusive teams 😄
  • 5x more likely to innovate 🚀
  • 3x more likely to work extra hard 🦾
  • 3x more likely to be highly effective than workers in non-inclusive organisations  ⏳
  • 3x less likely to leave their current employer 🧲