As consultants, our working hours often stretch beyond the standard 9-5, and our working relationships often turn into friendships due to long hours and travel schedules. This blurred line between personal and professional relationships can be intimidating for LGBT+ employees, who often spend considerable emotional energy trying to limit sharing details about their personal lives due to a fear of being discriminated against or, in some cases, fired.
It’s one thing to consider yourself an ally to the LGBT community, but it’s another to take actions that create an open and safe work space for your LGBT+ coworkers. Here are three easy ways to be a better ally in the workplace:
- Be Informed: The first step to being a good ally is being informed. Understanding the difference between L, G, B and T is a great place to start—but expanding your knowledge to understand Q, I, A, P, and N-B will allow you to be an ally to any coworker no matter how they identify. There is extensive information about all sexual identities on the internet, and spending just 30 minutes reading up on the terminology can make a huge difference.
- Be Vocal & Visible: If you hear anti-LGBT+ comments, speak up and make it clear that those comments are not okay with you—even if they are made out of ignorance rather than malice. Speaking up against these comments serves two equally important purposes: first, it will help coworkers understand how and when their comments can be offensive. Second, it shows LGBT+ colleagues (including those who are not yet out at work) that you are an ally and someone they can be their truest self around. Another way to do this is to demonstrate your support by wearing a rainbow pin or keeping a rainbow flag at your desk. A visual indicator signals that you are an ally and goes a long way in creating a workspace where LGBT+ coworkers can be their full selves and spend less energy monitoring what they say and who they are.
- Be Respectful: Although it’s always important to engage in an open and vulnerable dialogue when an LGBT+ friend comes out to you, it’s especially important at work given the sensitive nature of the situation. If a coworker comes out to you, ask “are you out to anyone else?” to avoid accidentally outing them to others. Additionally, ask how you can support them best both in that moment and over time. Finally, if a coworker is out to the entire office and is open about his or her partner, treat them exactly as you would treat a straight coworker—ask about their partner by name and engage in conversations about their lives.
One of the best things about being a consultant is the deeply-rooted friendships that are developed in the workplace. Show your LGBT+ coworkers that you are a friend and an ally by taking the steps outline above—and, when in doubt on how to be a better ally, ask them.