With the socio-cultural changes that have gathered steam over the past year, a lot of us have been forced to look inwards and examine our behaviors and our role in – consciously or unconsciously – enabling the status quo to fester.
This introspection is important for not just individuals, but organizations too, to evaluate where they stand on social and economic justice. It has become increasingly important for companies to reflect the values of the society in which they operate, and not just to affect the bottom line. Organizations and their policies affecting the members of the community within their workforce are coming increasingly under the scanner.
Companies are more than just a place of business, and more than just an employee’s paymaster. The workplace has, in the past decade, become a community within itself. And as with any community, there are people from all walks of life who work and seek to thrive there. But also as in any community, all sections of society are not equally represented or treated at the workplace. And that is where allyship comes in.
Allyship, simply put, is members of a dominant section of society, making conscious efforts to include and champion the upliftment and development of historically marginalized sections of society.
Allies have the responsibility to narrow the cultural gaps in true inclusion and to make workplace belonging a reality.
In part four of our five-part series on Pride Month, we tap into how and where allies can bolster the inclusion agenda and make belonging a reality for their leaders and peers from the LGBTQ+ community.
The power of language
Words - spoken or written - matter. The language we use today is a product of terminology that was coined centuries ago. And while it doesn’t seem like much, on closer inspection, we can see how the english language has been designed from the perspective of the straight, white man. Although the spectrum of sexuality had been left largely unexplored, there has been a seismic shift in our collective outlook and understanding since then.
But as we have evolved, our usage of language has not. A good first step for any ally could be to examine what they have been taught, understand how the existing language affects the representation of the LGBTQ+ people around them, learn terminology that is inclusive of the underrepresented, and work towards altering their own usage, and educate others of the same.
Show up, speak up
According to a study carried out by the Human Rights Campaign, 53% of LGBTQ+ workers reported hearing offensive jokes about lesbian or gay people. Humor may be subjective, but, when humor comes at the cost of someone’s dignity and personal pride, it becomes problematic.
Allyship is speaking up for those around us. But it also includes speaking up for those who aren’t around us.
While opportunities have improved, there is still a long way to go for the LGBTQ+ section of society to have adequate representation at the workplace, and it is the job of allies to speak up and help create those opportunities to bring in a more diverse workforce.
Beyond representation, inclusion plays a critical role in making the workplace one where each and every individual can thrive. To ensure that hiring the LGBTQ+ workforce doesn’t just become a tick in the box, allies have a crucial role to play. Encouraging an inclusive climate is not the job of one person alone, or one team alone. The only way to build a sustainable inclusive climate is by empowering inclusion ambassadors or allies, across hierarchies and functions to be aware and cognizant of the various forms of discrimination, and to speak up when they are witness to such behaviour(s) or practice(s).
Active listening goes a long way
The experiences faced by marginalized sections of society can only be truly understood by those who live through similar experiences. Allies can, at best, try to empathize with their LGBTQ+ coworkers, they cannot live their experiences or “walk a mile in their shoes”. But that doesn’t mean allies can’t listen.
Actively listening to the stories and worries of their LGBTQ+ peers, listening to them when they talk about what they need to feel more secure goes a long way. One does not need to have been in the same situation as the marginalized to be an ally.
One simply needs to listen and engage with them to try and understand their perspective, become cognizant of what and where changes are needed, and acknowledge their own role in enabling that change.
It's not a one and done
Allyship involves unlearning and de-conditioning a lifetime of our own social and cultural conditioning before supporting and championing the underrepresented. Allyship is not about showing support in one conversation or surfacing during Pride Month, it is an ongoing journey of unlearning bias, building a sense of equality, and gathering the courage and conviction to give voice to that belief of equity for all.
How effectively organizations empower allies, and how sincerely allies take up the responsibility to stand up against discrimination is critical to sustainable LGBTQ+ inclusion.
With true equity years away, allyship is one weapon to counter further breeding of bias and discrimination.
It’s fair to say that the status of the LGBTQ+ community has improved markedly over the past two decades. But before we pat ourselves on the back, it is important to realize that there is still a very long way to go. True allyship is an ongoing journey, and it’ll probably be a few more decades before we achieve true inclusivity. Whether we can narrow the timeline and accelerate inclusion, depends on the actions we take today.
Follow our five part series this Pride Month:
Part One: Accelerating LGBTQ+ inclusion with ACA
Part Two: A glossary of inclusive workplace communication
Part Three: Roadblocks to LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace
Part Four: Enabling cultural shifts with allyship
Part Five: Solidify inclusion efforts with inclusive managers