11 ways to be a better ally to your LGBTQ+ colleagues
To celebrate Pride Month, we’re looking at ways we can show up at work for our colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community. We asked members of our Q Pride group the actionable things allies can do to make everyone feel accepted, supported, and heard.
1. Listen. No, really listen
It’s hard to be an ally to an entire community if you don’t listen to the people who make up that community. Don’t assume anything on behalf of a community. If you truly want to be an ally, listen to what you’re being told.
It can be difficult to know what to do in certain situations. If in doubt, ask. And then really listen.
“Some individuals will want an ally to speak up for them,” says Alexandria Reynolds, Qualtrics Senior Software Test Engineer - Accessibility. “Some won’t. One of the best things you can do is to ask that person on an individual basis.”
What is active allyship?
An active ally is a person (from a non-marginalized group or another marginalized group) who uses their privilege to advocate for a marginalized group on a daily basis.
At its core, the act of allyship is the daily practice of advocating for someone who is not being seen or heard. This is incredibly broad, it can be done in a ton of different ways, but the key concept is the practice of advocating every day.
2. Use the right pronouns
Have you ever been called “sir” when you actually identify as a woman? Or vice versa? How mortified were you? Imagine that happening every day, all day. Take note of someone’s gender pronouns and use them. It’s incredibly disrespectful not to.
Let’s normalize introducing yourself with your pronouns. This will make others feel more comfortable doing the same. For example, an ideal opportunity to do this is when you’re in a meeting with new people. As well as your name and job role, you can add your pronouns too.
Plus it’s incredibly easy to add your pronouns to Zoom, Twitter, LinkedIn or Slack – simply include them in brackets after your name.
3. When in doubt, use gender-neutral language
“Language is important,” says Paul Warn, Qualtrics Head of Marketing Strategy & Operations. “I think the first step is using gender-neutral language if you don't know someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The most common scenario I see is asking me if I have a partner, rather than asking me if I have a wife, which avoids me having to correct someone that I'm married to my husband.”
4. Correct microaggressions when you hear them
Correcting others on jokes or microaggressions, particularly against trans people. “It can seem really innocuous,” says one of our Q-Pride members. “I was in a conversation (not at work, nor with work people) where someone added onto a joke by saying 'yeah, or a guy in a wig!' and everyone laughed along.
“I think some people don’t even realize that the punchline is transphobic, but that's the root of it. I wish straight people would see that and correct each other on it because it makes me feel like such an outsider to be the only trans person at the table AND the only one who has an issue with stuff like that.”
It may be 'just a joke' to some people, but to others they feel they are the joke. Their identity is the joke.
Speak up and tell others it's not OK.
5. Don’t be paralyzed by mistakes
No matter how well-meaning you are, everyone has at some point been tripped up by their own clumsy curiosity. You’re going to get things wrong along the way, nobody’s perfect. But that’s not the point. The point is to be supportive, not to be “right” and “woke”.
Don’t give up – keep listening. Use it as a learning opportunity.
“Be open to correction! It's okay to make mistakes,” says our Q Pride member. “However, when you do, be sure to apologize when corrected. And work to not make the same mistake again.”
6. Stop talking about ‘preferences’
This is a big no-no. Don’t treat people’s true gender identity or sexual orientation as a choice. It’s patronizing and dismissive.
“A preference implies something casual and chosen, like a preference for one ice cream flavor vs. another whereas identity is core to who someone is,” says our Q Pride member.
7. Ask your LGBTQ+ colleagues about their lives
Chatting with colleagues is part of bonding at work. Not asking somebody about their life outside of work, just because they’re LGBTQ+ is pretty alienating.
“Continue to engage with LGBTQ+ colleagues about their personal lives like you would with anyone else,” says our Q Pride member. “Ask them about their partners, hobbies, weekends, etc.”
We are in a system that relies on action at every single level. Local and state politicians make decisions that impact your everyday life and are the ones who can create, recreate, break down, and change the system in which we live.
If you have a politician who isn’t voting the way you’d like, find a new one. Your voice and vote matter.
Advocacy and active allyship is important, but there are plenty of charities that desperately need your help. If you’re able to, set up a recurring donation to organizations that support marginalized groups. A little goes a long way.
The website Global Giving has a fantastic list of charities you can support. (Qualtrics isn’t affiliated with these charities, but it’s a good place to start.)
10. Get involved!
For those of you who work at an organization with an Employee Resource Group (ERG), go beyond simply attending the meeting. Take an active role and grow the group. It’s not inauthentic to help an ERG as an ally in a group built to support marginalized groups. You want to understand what you don’t know, but this is a space to put your privilege to work.
11. Don’t be a ‘performative ally’
While the opposite of true allyship is not being an ally, something equally as harmful is what’s termed “performative allyship.” If “true allyship” is a sustained long term commitment to change, then “performative allyship” is essentially hopping on the most recent bandwagon of issues for a brief period of time.
Examples include posting on social media, attending events, or celebrations or other activities which don’t fundamentally change actions or beliefs.
And although attending Pride events and posting support on social can be positive, what’s more important is that you educate yourself on the posts and events, understand the underlying meaning, and look at your previously held beliefs and actions to see if they align with what you've learned.
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