15th June 2021

Being an ally to LGBT+ colleagues

In this Pride Month, our CEO, Sandi Wassmer, writes about the honour and privilege of being an LGBT+ ally

 

As a straight, cis female, the role I have played and will continue to play in supporting and promoting the rights of my LGBT+ friends, family members and colleagues is that of an ally and an advocate. In the workplace, my role as an ally has been such a vital part of creating and maintaining a true sense of belonging for LGBT+ colleagues.

Allyship goes beyond supporting individuals, but where it’s been most rewarding for me personally has been in doing just that; I’ve had the privilege of supporting many LGBT+ colleagues along their journeys, as they work out their relationship with their identity in the workplace and assert their rights as and when they need to. I’ve supported people through transitioning, when they did not want to disclose, have been the person people have come to when they have felt discriminated against, and have been the person people have come out to, amongst a range of other nuanced things.

In all of this, what I’ve learnt is that being an ally in the workplace is about providing a safe space, with empathy, compassion and open heartedness, to listen and to honour that person’s lived experience, to support, to enable, to stand with, but not to do for. Being an ally is not about fixing things for other people, or speaking on their behalf, no matter how motivated to do so you may feel, and for someone like me who wants to fix the whole world, this is a really key distinction between allyship and advocacy. Of course, there will be times when advocacy is needed, and sometimes you will be both an advocate and an ally.

The responsibility of being an ally at a time when someone may be most vulnerable is, to me, an absolute honour. As we are all individuals, with all of our experiences, qualities and characteristics that intersect to make us who we are, I can certainly say that I’ve never had the same experience of allyship twice.

You’ve just got to turn up, give that person your full attention, and hold them carefully and gently in your heart, allowing whatever unfolds. You may just need to listen and to give the person room to be heard, but you may also need to take action. In this instance, as an ally, you can guide and support, but it is essential that the decision about what action to take and when is the individual’s, not yours.

You don’t need a policy or a program within your workplace to be an ally. You can get started right now, by being there and listening to a colleague who needs you.

Sandi Wassmer, CEO, Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion