As organizations build a more diverse workplace, it becomes even more important that we shed our preconceived notions, unconscious biases, and possibly, certain prejudices. While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us, marginalized groups have been hit more severely. A study conducted in 2020 reveals that the economic consequences of the pandemic will disproportionately impact minority groups unless urgent steps are taken. Therefore, the inclusion efforts of organizations must accelerate to include all workgroups, and especially the LGBTQ+ community.
It is a proven fact that diversity in organizations leads to growth and innovative thinking. Different ideas and viewpoints bring out the best solutions. However, merely hiring team members from different groups is not good enough. Leaders need to create an inclusive environment to enable diverse employees to thrive in the workplace.
A small yet important step in that direction is to understand the basic first when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. For instance, many people confuse sexual orientation and gender identity and use these terms interchangeably. However, sexual orientation describes who you are attracted to (same sex, opposite sex, both, neither etc.), while gender identity is our internal awareness of who we are in terms of gender. It may differ from the gender assigned at one’s birth, and need not be limited to the traditional, binary gender attributes.
As part of any organization, each one of us has a role to play. You can play your part by being an ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues. Of course, we first need to ask the question of who an ally is, and what it means to be an ally.
Few ways in which you can be a true ally
1. See something, say something
The role of an ally is not that of someone who passively accepts all colleagues. As an ally, if you see a colleague do or say something that might not be appropriate – as an ally, you could find ways to speak up, or depending on the situation, help your LGBTQ+ colleague to access HR or other official channels as needed. Stand up for your LGBTQ+ colleagues and support their voice.
2. Understand the nuances
As an ally, it’s crucial to read up and educate yourself to understand the terms, terminologies, and policies. Be open to learning about new laws and policies at the workplace through colleagues. This will also help you strike a healthy conversation with your LGBTQ+ colleague during discussions.
3. Practice compassion
Each one of us is unique. Be compassionate and humane towards your LGBTQ+ colleagues. Many colleagues from the community may have faced difficult situations in their life. It is best to come across as a friend and an accomplice, and not ask any intrusive questions.
4. Power of words
Knowing what to say and how to say it is imperative. Words have tremendous power. As an ally, it’s important to be sensitive to how you would address certain matters. Aim to ask the right questions without hurting sentiments and crossing the thin line of privacy. For instance, if you were discussing your own family in a group of colleagues and you notice that some colleagues do not share much about their situation, do not express curiosity in an intrusive manner. If the aim is to express concern for their well-being, you could simply do so in a broad manner without getting into specifics. Being an ally does not entitle you to ask for information that a person is hesitant to share, for any reason whatsoever.
5. Offer support
Sometimes members may hesitate to ask for help. As an ally, be the one who goes out and offers support. Provide a safe space for an LGBTQ+ colleague to confide, without insisting that they confide in you. Sometimes all we really need is a good listener who will not judge. Find out if they are having any issues or facing discrimination and work with other allies toward finding a solution. Encourage them to help other known members of the community find employment by directing them to the careers page of your organization.
6. Raise awareness
The next step to educating yourself would be to go ahead and share what you have learned with other colleagues who may not be aware. This could be via conversations or formal emails if you are in a leadership role. You could also offer to be part of any such informational initiatives taking place in your organization.
7. Truly accept
Accepting your LGBTQ+ colleagues at work would mean being inclusive of their ideas and opinions. Accepting and valuing their contributions keeping aside their gender identity and sexual orientation is important. Encouraging them to participate in office activities and events could be one way to be a supportive ally. You could also provide them with the opportunity to lead and organize an event that will help them feel accepted and safe.
With these points in mind, you can be an LGBTQ+ ally with PRIDE and truly make your contributions count! Let’s look forward to working together with LGBTQ+ colleagues as “us” rather than “them”, offering all equal opportunities and equal respect!