How to Be an LGBTQ+ Ally in the Workplace

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Everyone deserves to feel comfortable and respected at work, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In fact, about half of LGBTQ+ persons fear coming out in their workplace because they worry it will negatively impact their career. With more and more people coming out every year (8 in 10 Americans know someone who identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual) it’s more crucial than ever to be an ally.

But what exactly does it mean to be an ally? You don’t have to identify as LBGTQ+ in order to be an ally in the workplace. It’s all about the way you conduct yourself. If you show support for equality in numerous ways, support LGBTQ+ persons or are an advocate for equality and fair treatment, then you’re an ally. And that’s straight from the horse’s mouth, or at least how the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD define being an ally. So why should you be an ally? Because everyone deserves to feel comfortable at work, have the same opportunities to build their careers, and feel safe.

Tips for Being an Ally

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to being an ally then you’ve come to the right place. We have compiled a list of tips that will help you on your way of becoming an ally.

  • Pronouns: A great place to start is learning more about pronouns! Pronouns can be a little confusing if you’re not used to being very mindful of them, so taking a little time to familiarize yourself with common ones and their proper usage can make a big difference.

  • Introduce yourself with your pronouns: Doing so can make a person from the LGBTQ+ community feel welcomed and can make a great first impression—both for you as an individual, but also for the culture of your workplace. This can feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. You can also have a similar effect by adding your pronouns to your email signature, or to your name badge (if applicable!).

  • Try to avoid any intrusive questions: Some people in the LGBTQ+ community don’t mind answering questions about their identity or other identities, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so unless they specifically say so. Even if they do offer to answer your questions, be mindful of what an appropriate co-worker relationship looks like and whether or not you would ask a straight co-worker the same question. For example: “How do you have sex?”; “Have you had any of the surgeries yet?”; “Who’s the man/woman in the relationship?”

  • Get informed: There are a lot of great websites that offer glossaries of LGBTQ+ terms. If you’re not very familiar with a lot of LGBTQ+ identities, learning a little bit about common ones can help you feel much more comfortable during conversations.

  • You don’t understand everything, and that’s ok: Sometimes it’s helpful to just listen and provide support in ways that don’t involve you proving you’re a know-it-all. If this is uncharted territory for you, own that. And then learn by asking questions. Don’t ever assume that you know what a member of the LGBTQ+ community wants or needs. That’s why you should ask them instead. If you have questions about the LGBTQ+ community in general, it’s a good idea to ask if they’re comfortable in answering the question.

  • Research: Much like you’re doing right now, research something if you don’t understand. Be open and upfront with how much you don’t understand, but don’t depend on your LGBTQ+ coworkers to educate you on everything.

  • Try to help as often as you can: By help, we don’t mean coming out for someone else. Lend a hand at work. Offer to take on some extra responsibility, or take over a shift. Even doing something as simple as inviting someone to lunch can go a long way.

  • Be there: If someone needs to talk, just be there to listen and remember that it’s not your place to come out for someone.

  • Stay informed: Read the news, keep up with current events and learn about the challenges that face the LGTBQ+ community.

  • Speak up: Say something if you hear a slur, an anti-LGBTQ+ joke or if someone is passing around misinformation.Make sure when you are speaking up, it’s safe for you to do so. It’s important to explain why what they are saying is hurtful.

  • Everyone is different: There are many different groups of people within the LGBTQ+ community that it’s important to not associate everyone as the same. LGBTQ+ includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual and many other groups of people including non-binary and pansexual individuals. You should recognize that everyone has their own experiences and struggles.

  • Avoid tokenizing: Understand that members of the LGBTQ+ community are more than what they identify as. For example, it’s important to remember that your “gay friend” is actually just your “friend.”

Advice for Managers on Being an LGBTQ+ Ally

A lot of the tips above can also apply to managers who are working on becoming an ally. BUT as a manager, if you want to improve the inclusivity in your office you need to start by setting an example. Introducing yourself with your pronouns, adding them to your email, adding them to name badges (if applicable), or even to bios on your website can make a big impact on LGBTQ+ employees and applicants. Here are some other tips you can follow to become an LGBTQ+ Ally as a manager:

  • Offer LGBTQ+ ally seminars/workshops/trainings(especially with panels): This can help get everyone informed in a formal way! I would recommend not making the trainings mandatory, but maybe incentivizing them with either food, raffles, or PTO if possible. If they’re mandatory, some participants may be resentful and not take in any of the information. Also, if they’re in a negative mood that may affect the atmosphere of the training for everyone else involved.

  • Become a safe zone: With the right training, your workplace can also become a certified Safe Zone! Seeing Safe Zone signs/stickers/magnets can help new and current LGBTQ+ employees feel safer at work.

  • Review HR Procedures: Making sure there are appropriate HR procedures for harassment/discrimination against a person based on their sexuality and/or gender identity is absolutely crucial. No matter how many trainings, or signs, or any other forms of allyship may be in place in your workplace, if there are no protections for your LGBTQ+ employees then everything else can seem performative. I recognize, however, that some places can’t change their procedures for a variety of reasons. In this case, a supervisor should be approachable and validate employees with complaints.

  • Create an inclusive environment: The difference between a tolerant environment and an inclusive environment is that the latter is welcoming in a way that recognizes there are differences amongst the group, but celebrates that diversity and how it makes the group better. I’ve heard it best described during a seminar on how to make your workplace more inclusive: “I don’t want to be just invited to the party, I want to feel welcomed and at home. I want to hear music and eat food that’s a part of my culture. I want my culture to be celebrated.” While this quote is paraphrased, the analogy of it works really well.

  • Try to avoid gendered language when appropriate: For example, using “partner” instead of husband/wife. Or when writing a document instead of using the clunky “The man/woman will do XYZ until he/she feels comfortable doing ABC by himself/herself.” Substituting they/them/theirs can help set the tone both in your office culturally and paperwork wise.

How to Come Out as an Ally

LGBT people dancing

This isn’t a particularly difficult task by any means. Anything from advocating for workplace equality to something as simple as sticking up for someone will get the message across. But if you’re struggling to find opportunities to help, you could always join the Straight for Equality Ally Campaign.

This campaign is designed to identify allies and other means of support. It provides 3 cards for you to choose from:

  1. I’m an ally because…

  2. I need an ally because…

  3. As an ally to the trans community, I will…

The cards are printable so if you want to hang this up in your office or on your desk, you can. This is an easy way to let others know that you’re there to help and provide support.

Another great way to show allyship is by introducing yourself with your pronouns, or having your pronouns somewhere visible in your office. This is a great way to show a). you don’t make assumptions about someone’s gender based on their appearance b). you recognize that pronouns are important to talk about and c). signals to the other person that they can bring up their pronouns without necessarily having to explain themselves.

You can also hang up Safe Zone signs, small rainbow flags/shapes, and even just a sign that says LGBTQ+ ally to let the other person that they’re safe to be themselves. But the best way to show that you’re an ally is through behavior. From the language you use to the questions you ask.

Diversifying Your Network

A very important step in becoming an ally is expanding your network to be more diverse. Reach out to someone with a different background than you and ask about their story. This is a good way to understand the challenges members of the LGBTQ+ community are facing as business owners and employees. Not only will this provide you with a great resource, but it also is a good way to show support for those who are underrepresented.

Making Your Company More Inclusive

LGBT community side by side

As a leader, it’s important to ensure your team that you have their backs in spite of differences. That’s why you should be doing everything you can to make sure team members feel welcomed, included and safe at work. Many studies show that employees who are happy at work are more productive, so it’s not just the right thing to do but it’s also a smart business move.

First things first. You need to research all things LGBTQ+ so it shows that your company is knowledgable about the LGBTQ+ community. Start with how you’re branding the company. You need to ensure team members see people like themselves on the staff and your website. Everything you promote should be inclusive.

Be ready to listen to your employees’ concerns. And then take action so they know their words don’t fall on deaf ears. By doing something to resolve a conflict or issue, you’re letting your employees know that their ideas and opinions matter.

Add networks and councils to your company so employees have outlets of specific support easily available. Building community through affinity or employee resource groups is a great way to let a team member know that they’re not alone.

Lead by example through being an ally role model. Use the tips above to become an ally and educate others. Make sure you’re using the right pronouns and if you’re unsure, ask. This just may be the confidence booster a team member needs to become an ally.

Inspire others to be more inclusive by building diversity and inclusion into performance reviews. These reviews are a good way to measure how inclusive your company is while allowing team members to see what they need to work on.

How Allyship Could Affect Your Job

Becoming an LGBTQ+ ally can positively and negatively affect your job. On the one hand, it allows you to make a difference in someone’s life, but on the other hand, it opens you up to the possibility of losing coworkers as friends. Here’s a complete list of all the ways being an ally can impact your job.

  • Being an ally creates an opportunity for you to develop close relationships with a wider range of people.

  • As an ally, you’ll become more knowledgable and won’t be constrained to gender role expectations and stereotypes.

  • You’ll be presented with opportunities to learn, teach and impact a community

  • As a role model, you have the opportunity to give someone else the courage they need to become an ally

  • Others may assume your sexual orientation or gender identity is on the LGBTQ+ spectrum

  • You may face criticism from those who don’t agree with you

  • Your colleagues may alienate you if they’re not comfortable with the LGBTQ+ community

  • You may be discriminated against

Handling a Non-Inclusive Work Environment

LGBT worker statistics

So your work environment isn’t all-inclusive. This can be especially damaging to your brand and the way people look at you. It may even cause members of the LGBTQ+ community to lose trust in your allyship. If you’re wanting to be an ally for someone in the office, or just an ally in general, it may be hard to get that across in this kind of company. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you may create permanent change throughout the company. Or you may face hardships in your career. Here’s what you can do.

  • Educate others through conversations, or ask if you can schedule a speaker to discuss topics surrounding the LGBTQ+ community

  • Ask leaders for the addition of inclusive practices like affinity groups or an inclusion council

  • Promote the fact that you’re an ally around your desk/office space

  • Insert “I’m an ally,” into your email signature

  • Network with other like-minded team members who also want to see change and come up with a plan to initiate that change

Sometimes even the most closed-minded companies invoke change, especially if they think it’ll help their team grow and become more productive. But other times, companies won’t change for the better. In these situations, there’s a chance that you’ll be harassed by your coworkers for standing up. But there is one more option that you have: quit.

If push comes to shove and you’re not seeing the change you want, then maybe it’s time to move on. If you have enough money saved up to live on for a couple of months, then you can quit right away. But if not, then you may want to find another job before quitting. Lucky for you, we put together a list of the best companies for LGBTQ+ equality.

Companies Dedicated to Equality

This year, the Human Rights Campaign released its Corporate Equality Index which listed 686 companies as scoring a perfect 100. These companies were also named the “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality.” The campaign ranks companies based on their:

  1. Non-discrimination policies across business entities

  2. Equitable benefits for LGBTQ workers and their families

  3. Ability to support an inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility

Based on these qualifications, we found the best 12 companies that are progressive in thinking and all-around inclusive.

Methodology for Finding the Best Companies

To determine what companies made our list we compared data from the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, the HRC’s list of businesses with transgender-inclusive health insurance benefits, and Zippia’s database. In order for a company to make the list, they needed a Corporate Equality Index Rating of 100, to have transgender-inclusive health insurance benefits and a Zippia score of 4.5 or greater.

To get a corporate equality index rating of 100 a company needs to score perfectly on workforce protections, inclusive benefits, supporting an inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility, and responsible citizenship. To get a Zippia score of 4.5, a company needs to rank highly on salary/pay, company financial health, and diversity.

Amanda Postma
Amanda Postma
Author
Jackie Knutti
Interviewed Expert