Ally and LGBTQ Professionals State Their Roles In Promoting Inclusion and Countering Discrimination (Part 2)

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 THIRD article of our series. Start from the beginning here:

Space to learn and grow

We’ve become familiar with the term ‘safe space’ as being a place void of discrimination where people can feel assured that they will be respected. Allies play a pivotal role in upholding a safe space at work. Our workshop participants highlight that the concept of safe spaces must grow beyond ideals of defending minorities from inappropriate comments and actions. Instead, we need to aim for is a space that fosters mutual understanding.

Accept people’s choice in their identity

We all can relate to the feeling of frustration or annoyance when someone invalidates our expressed wishes and identities. Likely familiar is the example of an uncomfortable conversation that begins by asking someone, “so, where are you from?” When the person answers with a place that does not match a preconceived idea of their origins based on their looks, the response from the interrogator, “no, I mean, where are you really from?” is a thorn in the side. Even with the best of intentions, we can make assumptions about our colleagues that are wrong or hold ingrained biases that are hard to change. Our workshop participants noted a strategy for Allies and LGBTQ colleagues to avoid thorny misrepresentations is to pay attention to, and accept, a colleague’s expressed identity.

A colleague’s preferred pronouns, for example, are not based on a whim. When a person asserts how they wish to be addressed in the workplace, ignoring their choice because you think they do not “fit” their desired gender pronouns is unacceptable. Also consider the need to respect one’s expressed sexual orientation. A participant recalled a professional context where an effeminate male colleague stated he is heterosexual to fellow employees. A well-intentioned Ally wrongfully invalidated him in a misguided attempt to support inclusion; the Ally responded, “ah, don’t worry, it’s ok to be gay here. You can come out of the closet. No one cares.” The peeved emotions that followed could have been avoided by ditching stereotypes and understanding that individuals know best their own identity.

It takes time

“You just need to treat other people the way you would like to be treated, no matter which community you belong to. I think it takes effort from both sides to get more diversity and equality.”
Workshop participant

Ensuring that a work environment is inclusive to all is journey that will be far from perfect on day one. Workshop participants from both camps expressed a need to view the establishment of a diverse and inclusive workplace as a step-wise process that requires long-term momentum. We must understand that educating and sensitizing the workforce on the needs of minorities will take time. With greater knowledge of the subject, we should expect an evolution in the roles employees want to assume in diversity initiatives, such as wanting to change from a passive ally to an active ally. Key to this growth is determination by both Allies and LGBTQ members to build a great workplace where being a minority is a non-issue.

Said or unsaid: both matter

Let’s face it, conversations in the workplace will often centre on topics unrelated to work. Talk about family, friends, dating and the Instagram-worthy moments of our social life are inevitable. These topics are prime ground for identifying someone as a gender, sex, or sexual minority. When a colleague does reveal their LGBTQ identity, Ally members at the workshop noted that the last thing anyone should do is “freak out”. In order for the “out” colleague to feel included, Ally members must be diligent in keeping their relationship with their colleagues consistent.

Diligence goes beyond beyond what is said and done. Retractive body language, the avoidance of certain topics of group conversation, and an employee’s uncommon silence are more subtle hints that members of the workforce may feel excluded or ostracised. Consider the following two examples. One workshop participant recounted the professional situation where employees had a shared conversation about family building. One-by-one, colleagues were asked about their aspirations of partnership and childbearing; the only person overlooked in the conversation was an “out”, gay colleague, where his office mates decided to end the conversation at that point. Rather than include him, his colleagues decided to avoid treading on what they thought might be a contentious issue. You can imagine the unnecessary tension in the air. In a previous article, we describe how lesbian and gay employees at a major bank would consistently state they were single in order to hide their same-sex partnerships (see section, “Attention all employees: we know”); their “perpetual absence” of partnership was an obvious facade that upper management eventually called it out as due to an un-inclusive work environment. Here we exemplify that Allies in the workplace should be vigilant of such unsaid contexts in order to ensure LGBTQ members remain treated just like anyone else.

See the next article in our series here:

Photo by Jason Behrmann.
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