How to become an effective LGBTQIA+ ally at work

How to become an effective LGBTQIA+ ally at work

Did you know that nearly half of LGBTQIA+ employees have reported experiencing unfair treatment at work? Considering over 8 million workers in the United States identify as LGBTQIA+, in addition to a sizable number who do not publicly share their sexual orientation or gender identity, they represent a large group. Read on to discover how to cultivate a workplace that embraces authenticity, equality, and respect.

Understanding basic LGBTQIA+ terminology

First, it's important to know some common LGBTQIA+ terms. You'll need to understand some basic words and phrases to become an effective ally and create a diverse and inclusive workplace.

  • LGBTQIA+: LGBTQIA+ is an acronym that stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual."
  • Ally:  An ally is a person who actively supports the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Non-binary:  This is a term used to describe someone who does not identify exclusively as a man or woman. A non-binary person may identify as both genders or somewhere between or entirely outside those categories. 
  • Queer:  This word is often used as a blanket term for several groups, including those who do not identify as exclusively heterosexual or those with gender-fluid or non-binary identities. While often used as a slur in the past, it has since been reclaimed by many in the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Outing:  This term means to expose someone's LGBTQIA+ identity without their permission. It can seriously affect the victim's mental health and overall well-being.

Why is LGBTQIA+ allyship so important?

While society has made tremendous progress in recent years regarding inclusiveness, the reality is that there is still a long way to go. The study linked above found that one-third of LGBTQIA+ employees have reported harassment at work due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The same study reported that half of LGBTQIA+ employees have not disclosed their sexual orientation to their current supervisor, and over a quarter have not told anyone at work. Unwelcoming work environments make members of the LGBTQIA+ community hesitant to be their authentic selves in their jobs.

"Allyship sends a powerful message that diversity is valued and that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect."

Allyship is an important tool you can use to create a safe, inclusive environment at work. Allyship sends a powerful message that diversity is valued and that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Becoming an ally can make the difference between your co-workers being their true selves in a safe and accepting environment versus feeling the need to remain hidden for fear of judgment and discrimination.

What are the most common types of LGBTQIA+ discrimination in the workplace?

To better understand the challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals, here are some common types of discrimination and bias they often encounter:

  • Unequal treatment: LGBTQIA+ individuals may face unfair treatment in the workplace, such as being denied promotions, pay raises, or job opportunities based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Harassment and bullying: LGBTQIA+ employees often experience verbal abuse, offensive jokes, or exclusionary behavior.
  • Microaggressions: These subtle but harmful remarks are one of the most common forms of LGBTQIA+ discrimination. Examples include misgendering, using derogatory language, and making assumptions about an individual's personal life.
  • Outing: When a person reveals someone else's sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent, it can lead to an invasion of privacy, discrimination, and potential repercussions in the workplace.
  • Lack of inclusive policies: The absence of inclusive policies, such as gender-neutral bathrooms, dress codes, or comprehensive non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, can perpetuate inequality.
  • Limited benefits and protections: LGBTQIA+ employees may have limited access to benefits, including parental leave or health insurance coverage for their spouse, due to discriminatory policies that do not recognize same-sex relationships.
  • Glass ceiling: LGBTQIA+ individuals may encounter barriers to career advancement, limiting their opportunities for professional growth.

How can I be an LGBTQIA+ ally at work?

There are several simple strategies you can easily implement to transform your workplace into a safe space for you and your fellow employees.

Use inclusive language

This can be as simple as adding your preferred pronouns to your email signature or asking your colleagues for theirs. Making a concerted effort to familiarize yourself with LGBTQIA+-inclusive language can go a long way toward cultivating a friendly, welcoming workspace. For example, avoid using gender-specific words when addressing large groups, using phrases such as "Hey, everyone!" instead of "Hey, guys!" 

Respect the privacy of your LGBTQIA+ co-workers

While curiosity is a normal human reaction to learning new information, practice empathy before asking any potentially intrusive questions. Being honest about one's LGBTQIA+ identity in the workplace is stressful as it is — the last thing you want to do is invade your co-worker's privacy and make them feel even more uncomfortable. 

Understand that you'll make mistakes

Nobody's perfect. You're going to mess up, and that's okay. Don't dwell on your mistakes but hold yourself accountable and take steps to avoid repeating the same slip-ups in the future.  For example, if you misgender a co-worker, you can apologize briefly and make an extra effort to use the correct pronouns in your next interaction.

Stand up for your LGBTQIA+ co-workers

Be proactive about educating yourself on your company's equal opportunity policies and grievance procedures. Some LGBTQIA+ people may avoid reporting incidents for fear of outing themselves to their superiors. Having allies willing to speak up can make a huge difference for those experiencing discrimination at work.

Always be open to listening and learning

It helps to keep an open mind when learning and relearning the best ways to be an ally. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is listen to the stories and experiences of LGBTQIA+ people. Also, set aside time to educate yourself on the LGBTQIA+ community's history and longstanding challenges. This will provide you with a better understanding of your LGBTQIA+ co-workers and help you learn some valuable lessons on allyship. Resources such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National LGBTQ Task Force are good starting points.

Value inclusiveness in your next job search

Seek out a company that shares your values the next time you're looking for a new role. The Corporate Equality Index, run by the HRC, is useful for finding businesses that have made concerted efforts to be more inclusive to LGBTQIA+ employees.

Connect with LGBTQIA+ co-workers

Talk to your LGBTQIA+ colleagues and stand up for them. Remember that one of your co-workers may not be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. That's why exhibiting allyship in all workplace interactions is so important.

Work to become an ally all year

While Pride Month is a great time to educate a broader audience on how to be an ally at work and in their everyday lives, promoting equality doesn't stop when the calendar flips to July. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community face discrimination and stigma 365 days per year. Allyship is a lifelong commitment, and you should treat it as such. 

With nearly half of LGBTQIA+ workers reporting unfair treatment at work, allyship in the workplace is increasingly important. Through consistent effort and a daily desire to learn, you can create workspaces that celebrate diversity where LGBTQIA+ people are empowered to be their authentic selves. Through positive action, you can transform a workplace into a safe, inspiring place for all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Learn more about creating an inclusive work environment:

Discover the history of Pride Month and check out some valuable resources on your quest to become an ally.

Find out some of the best ways to celebrate Pride Month at your company.

Explore how today's employers are pushing for more diversity in their hiring processes.

Are you looking to make your workplace more welcoming for all? Read up on the most effective strategies for shaping diversity and inclusion at work

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