Ally and LGBTQ Professionals State Their Roles In Promoting Inclusion and Countering Discrimination (Part 1)

Our findings from a workshop concerning Allies and the resources we need for a diverse and inclusive work space.

Photo by Jason Behrmann

This is the SECOND article of our series. Start from the beginning here:

Set the groundwork for an inclusive work environment

Many of our participants targeted the need to set the right culture in the work environment so that it fosters diversity initiatives and provides support for both Allies and LGBTQ colleagues.

All in this together: make diversity the norm by having an inclusive discussion

“I realize that we are all Allies to someone else. You might be gay and the allies are people who aren’t gay but support you. So I may be an Ally to lesbians, to trans, or to anyone else. We all got a role to be allies to someone else.”
Workshop participant

Allies can play a vital role by stating their support for diversity in the workplace and should offer, and be welcomed in providing, their support. Both upper management and minority members have a duty to include Allies as active participants in the development of policies against discrimination and the support of inclusion. Having an ambassador for Allies and minority groups with a reserved chair within leadership committees is a good idea. Here our participants also noted to include discussion of LGBTQ members being supportive allies to other LGBTQ colleagues, as well as Ally colleagues.

Active collaboration at work within and between groups shows that all employees are stakeholders that can take ownership in building an inclusive work environment. Collaboration also helps avoid an undesirable outcome that foster and “us versus them” dynamic when talking about discrimination and diversity; with Allies as active participants, a workplace achieves a more supportive dynamic of “all of us in this together”. Rather than target policies towards a specific group, which may label this group as an “other” and reinforce divisions in the workplace, policies that support equity in general is the better path to follow (see section, Transitioning in the workplace is a group affair, in this article for an example). Planning diversity and inclusion policies should be exactly that: built from a diversity of voices representative of all groups.

Positive discussions about diversity

Instead of focusing diversity and inclusion efforts exclusively on the negative status-quo, our workshop participants noted that upper management should orient discussion of these matters towards the benefits of a diverse workforce. Initiatives can highlight facts, for example, that a diverse workforce encourages innovation and helps retain talented employees from minority groups, which in turn builds a more competitive company with brighter long-term growth prospects. Identifying examples of how non-diverse or inclusive workplaces foster hostile workplaces rampant with problems of discrimination is indeed important, but will not provide a complete discussion that inspires employees of a brighter future.

Knowing when we’ve gone astray: Values-based vision and mission objectives

A simple means to unite Allies and minorities, as well as keep a company accountable for diversity and inclusion policies, is to include these values in the company’s vision and mission statements. Mentioning the value of proactive Allies and the importance of diversity in the vision and mission statements maintains awareness of these issues; awareness in turn helps employees identify early on when these values are falling short and require action so that the company does not stray too far from its vision and brand.

Start a conversation about discrimination in the workplace today

“I think we as part of the LGBT community, and Allies of the LGBT community, we need to make sure that — for example, if we hear something discriminatory, a saying or something, about, for example, recent immigrants or about islamophobia and things like that — I feel that we have a responsibility to also be proactive and reactive to those things because we faced those [forms of discrimination], obviously. We have those experiences that we can relate to. Everybody needs to be aware of those challenges as well.”
Workshop Participant

Remaining silent on an important issue is like being an ostrich with its head in the sand. Why not take control and break the silence as a means to prevent an undesirable outcome? Our workshop participants reminded us that Allies do not need to wait for an unwanted situation in the workplace to show their support and start a conversation about discrimination. The better strategy is to broach the subject before an unwanted incident. Several Allies in attendance mentioned they should initiate the conversation to set a positive example. Overall, the least desirable situation is when colleagues must have a conversation about discrimination because an employee was the target of inappropriate behaviour.

Help a colleague facing discrimination: add protections to the equation

Sure, Allies understand that they ought to help a colleague that is facing discrimination; however, this duty to act is not so straight forward, especially when the situation requires calling out a superior — this may cost you your job. Supportive Allies thus need protections so that they can call out inappropriate behaviour by whomever without fear of retribution.

Several workshop participants noted that those with positions of power in an organisation have the responsibility to ensure a non-discriminatory work environment; for many social groups, such as women, this is enshrined in law. This is not true, however, of all groups, where it is still possible to discriminate against Trans people in many parts of the United States, for example. The lesson here is that we must counter harmful and avoidable discrimination in any form as a moral duty rather than pick and choose minority groups that happen to be recognized as meriting protections by our legal system.

Transparency: show me the data

Our technology-inclined workshop participants noted that businesses should oversee the efficacy of diversity and inclusion initiatives using hard data. Being transparent by posting in clear view simple measures of diversity and inclusion provides open insights on a company’s progress, as well as tangible observations of setbacks. Some participants argued that a company should provide a system where all employees can submit on a routine basis an anonymous “environment score” that measures the hospitable nature of the work environment. Ally members expressed the need for them to openly support tracking these metrics in order to ensure compliance.

Many prominent tech companies now track and publish company statistics about diversity in their workforce, which sets a great example. While more common in large corporations, some members of the workshop argued that tracking such labour statistics is more important in smaller companies given the more cohesive environment. Imagine a company with ten employees, one of which is a minority; her or his want to track diversity and inclusion in the workplace will likely carry little influence unless the other nine members show allied support for the initiative.

Activities for you, me, and both of us

Allies and minority groups must collaborate when planning team building activities so that both groups can benefit from new experiences by hosting team building events within their representative communities. Allies should go to LGBTQ spaces and vice versa. Within the workplace, unified activities can, for example, reassess workplace policies as a small company grows and the dynamics of its workforce change.

Part of this team building exercise can focus on setting new goals and highlighting new areas where the company can grow in terms of diversity; this is especially important in startups that when starting out will have a handful of founders and initial employees. It goes without saying that upholding diversity in a growing, fledgling company will be a stepwise process. For example, the first hire can be a person with a disability, which moves the needle forward on this front; the next hire can be a visible minority, and so on. Setting priorities in hiring is a great team building exercise because it builds the team according to a unified vision of a cohesive and inclusive group, one that everyone will look forward to joining at the start of the workday.

To commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, members of Local Logic, a Montreal startup, came to work wearing the colours of Pride. A great team building activity for everyone.

See the next article in our series here:

Photo by Jason Behrmann.