In news that’ll hardly shock any of us in the community, a recent survey published in Nature mag found that only 40% of respondents felt their employers were doing enough for diversity.
40%. What is this, the ’60s? Dismal scenes.
I bet if you asked anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community, they’ll be able to share a minimum of five stories where they felt excluded, attacked, isolated or overlooked in the workplace.
So, if you’re a coworker who wants to be an active, angelic ally, I have a few ideas to get you started.
And while organisations like CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, are continuously working on programs and policies (including recent non-binary, trans and gender diverse inclusive policy and process improvements), part of the solution lies with ourselves and our coworkers.
We can’t correct our past behaviour, but we sure as schitt can work to be cooler humans in the future and make people around us feel comfortable.
You don’t want to be uncool, do you?
Learn there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach
By speaking to anyone in the community, you’ll quickly realise that every story is different.
Shockingly, just like you wouldn’t assume everyone with blue eyes eats peanut butter sandwiches every second Tuesday for lunch, you wouldn’t make sweeping generalisations about the LGBTQIA+ community. The letters mean something, people.
It’s really a matter of getting to know others as individuals. Taking an interest in your coworkers and listening to what they have to say (or don’t want to say) will go a long way, and make them feel like they matter and that they’re being taken seriously.
I had a chat to Louisa, who is part of the leadership team for CSIRO’s Pride Network, and identifies as pansexual and queer. “It’s all about being respectful,” she said. “LGBTIAQ+ people are incredibly diverse; not all of us like Rupaul’s Drag Race or have great hair, but just like your cisgender and heterosexual colleagues we don’t like being asked about our sex life while at work.”
We humans are social and curious butterflies, so get those wings flapping. Just, flap them respectfully.
Make a conscious effort to learn pronouns
Look. People slip up. It happens. As a gay man, I know I’ve gotten it wrong more times than I’d like to admit. The thing is, no one’s sitting there waiting for you to trip up. LGBTQIA+ folks are incredibly forgiving, from experience.
What you can do, however, is to take a beat before making assumptions. We shouldn’t instantly think people’s appearance accurately reflect their sexuality or gender, so nipping that idea in the bud is a good first step.
There’s nothing to say that allies can’t talk about pronouns, too. “It’s important to normalise the practice of exchanging pronouns both in and outside of the workplace, regardless of whether an LGBTQIA+ person is present,” Louisa explained.
“By simply putting your pronouns in your email signature and offering your own pronouns in an introduction, you foster a more welcoming and safe environment for LGBTQIA+ colleagues, particularly those who are transgender and gender diverse.”
And once you’ve learned how people identify? Y’know, remember it. Like you’d remember someone’s names or remember not to put your hand on a hot stove.
People aren’t expecting a ‘saviour moment’
It’s tricky. There’s a fine line between noticing someone is feeling uncomfortable, and making them more uncomfortable by stepping in to help – despite the good intentions.
If you can tell a coworker is feeling uncomfortable, reach out to them and let ’em get back to you in their own time. Sometimes, it’s easier (and less awkward) to let little missteps slide than it is to make a whole-ass scene about it, so it’s truly a case-by-case situation.
Just know that most of the time, your coworker will be chuffed that you reached out to them.
Don’t expect others to do the work for you
Google, people. Google. Books. Chatting to friends and family. Podcasts. Music. Blogs. This article.
Your LGBTQIA+ coworkers aren’t your walking, talking lighthouse guiding you safely through the rocky seas. They’re, first and foremost, your coworkers.
“Instead of asking your LGBTIAQ+ colleagues to hold your hand through all 12 units involved in a cert 3 in queer literacy, ask them for good articles, websites, Youtube videos etc. Some of us are happy to take the soapbox and educate allies, but others would prefer to pass the mic,” Louisa continued.
Having conversations and picking up on what they’re putting down is great, but let’s not slip into ‘tell me everything I need to know and tell me right now’ territory.
Look into your company’s values
If you do have the fortune of working for companies that are actively investing time into inclusivity and diversity matters, use it to inform yourself.
By actively engaging with programs and workshops, or simply being aware of what your company is actually doing to help, you’ll naturally become more familiar with everything.
Let’s rightfully toot CSIRO’s horn and use it as an example for a hot sec. The agency will be marching in this year’s Mardi Gras but, before you think it’s one of those performative situations (yuck), lemme explain: over the past five years, CSIRO has been working on numerous policies, some of which include “gender affirmation leave for employees to support them through their transition, introducing all-gender bathrooms, a Reconciliation Action Plan to build stronger relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, as well as its work with the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) and Champions of Change initiatives to improve gender equity”.
Hell, they’ve even been awarded for it.
By championing these issues, 85% of its LGBTQIA+ employees recommend working there to others in the community.
And you know what happens when LGBTQIA+ people feel comfortable working for a company? More show up. And you know what happens when more of us show up? The workplace becomes (closer to) an equal playing field.
And you know what happens to allies and aspiring allies alike? They become more familiar with people from different walks of life.
Now, go out there and make everyone feel equally loved, you adorable, allied scallywags.