by Dr. David M. Hall, author of Allies at Work
“I want to be an ally, but I am also a Christian,” a Fortune 500 employee explained to me this summer. She not just attended my session but actively worked to make her workplace more LGBT inclusive. Members of her Pride ERG assumed that she was a model ally and reached out to her to get more involved. She declined as despite her support for the ERG she was fundamentally uncomfortable with those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
If this person is siding on workplace policy with her LGBT colleagues, where does this leave those who possess more reactionary anti-LGBT views? In Atlanta at the Ally Empowerment Tour, one executive wisely explained to me that “what is going in the closet is intolerance.”
We have more allies than ever before, and this is very good news. It also creates a unique set of challenges. What I learned this summer is that the nature of allies is being reconstructed.
With Selisse Berry and Kevin Jones, I had the good fortune of participating in the Ally Empowerment Tour this summer, bringing us to San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, and southern California. I visited additional companies across the country on the topic of LGBT cultural competency and ally empowerment.
It is increasingly well-documented about how things are changing related to cultural competency and the impact on the workplace. However, the face of allies are changing as well, and we need to consider how this impacts workplace advocacy. The average ally involved with their Pride ERG at work is typically someone who is a fierce and caring ally. Sometimes this person possesses a cultural competency that rivals that of their LGBT peers. If we dig just a little bit deeper, we find a different face of allies in 2011.
In many companies, we have educated executives and they tend to understand the business case for inclusion. However, these champions may use language that is antiquated at best and often unwittingly hurtful or insensitive. Today we have allies who champion a work environment in which everyone can be out and equal and, at the same time, will not realize that some of their words can hurt: referring to the “gay lifestyle,” “choosing to be gay,” “becoming gay,” and a myriad of words and slogans that can be hurtful to those who are transgender.
Additionally, we have people who support workplace equality but are offended by the notion of Pride. Often based on religious views, they simultaneously believe in an equitable work environment while still believing that it is morally wrong to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
I have worked with companies across America who work on creating more allies. So what do we do as our allies begin to reflect the sentiments of the larger workforce?
When we reach out to allies, we often reach out to the most obvious person or people. However, if we are casting a wider net, we need to include allies more strategically. This raises a myriad of questions: What is the strategic vision of your company? What is the strategic vision of your ERG? What are some existing needs that allies can fill? What are some new needs that allies can fill? These are complicated questions. Answering them takes careful deliberation among ERGs.
One option is to join us in Dallas for the Out & Equal Workplace Summit and the post-conference allies program for an in-depth examination of allies at work. Otherwise, consider how to work within your workplace on how to work with the changing face of allies.