The importance of LGBTQ+ allies

Each experience is unique, but lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary and other non-heteronormative people (LGBTQ+) still face huge challenges.

“Allyship is about knowing when to stand behind, stand beside, and stand in front” Global Butterflies

Creating psychological safety requires strong allyship.

Daniel Clark-Bland, Head of IT Change at Aviva, quotes a saying used by Global Butterflies1 (an organisation that aims to bring better awareness to the business sector about the trans and non-binary community): “Allyship is about knowing when to stand behind, stand beside, and stand in front.”

Allyship requires being visible and present, using your influence, educating yourself, and simply being kind – for example, using pronouns, asking colleagues how they are, and questioning your assumptions.

Speaking out in the face of homophobia or transphobia and standing up for your colleagues is a key part of allyship. But beyond this, there are many ways to support LGBTQ+ colleagues, from being vocal and visible to creating safe spaces within teams, making sure everyone is heard and valued, or being ready to listen and support colleagues who need to talk.

Examples of allyship that make LGBTQ+ people comfortable to be out at work

  • 42% Supporting a LGBT+ employee resource group/network
  • 40% Speaking up when witnessing non-inclusive behaviours
  • 38% Dedicating time to listen and learn from LGBT+ colleagues
  • 37% Financially supporting LGBT+ events or organisations
  • 34% Reporting noninclusive behaviours to HR or through formal channels
  • 31% Participating in employer-sponsored events (e.g. Pride parade)

Source: Deloitte, 20222

Allies need to acknowledge they know less than they might think

Denyer O’Leary, Head of Operational Governance and Controls, Vanguard Asset Management and Chair of InterInvest, says a great way to be an ally is to ask an LGBTQ+ person how best to support them, highlighting the importance of asking questions.

“We all make mistakes, you just say sorry and move on,” she says. “Don't be afraid to ask, because most people will be happy to answer questions if you're not sure. Just allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to ask them to tell you if you accidentally say something wrong or offensive. That's the key.”

Two important points to note when asking trans people questions, however, are that it is never acceptable to ask about “dead names” (i.e., the name someone was given at birth); nor is it ever acceptable to ask whether someone has had gender-affirming surgery.

“That is really sensitive, personal information,” says Enna Cooper, product manager at Morningstar UK and co-lead of the EMEA chapter of Out@Morningstar. “It is the most private thing possible, and it is completely irrelevant.”

Self-education can help too, and Cooper says allies need to acknowledge they know less than they might think.

“Recognise trans people face issues other people don't know, whether it's in mental health, backgrounds that include anxiety and depression and this kind of thing,” she says. “Everybody from a minority group faces microaggressions all the time, and they take a toll, so it's recognising there is a struggle.”

To learn and show support, allies should attend the educational sessions set up by ERGs, as well as encouraging others to attend.

“You can't be a good ally and just go to the Pride Party,” says Cooper. “You have to do the other work as well.”

Being trans inclusive

Pronouns are of course very important to trans and non-binary people, and allies should do their best to use the correct ones. In addition, they should add their own pronouns to their email signatures, MS Teams or Zoom profiles, and social media profiles, to normalise the practice, and make it easier for trans and non-binary people to share theirs.

“Whether it’s LGBTQ+, carers, age, whatever it is and whoever you’re working with; act with kindness and you cannot go wrong.”

Daniel Clark-Bland, Head of IT Change at Aviva

“If four of us are on a call and I am the only person with pronouns by my name, it looks politicised,” says Cooper. “But if all four of us have them, it starts to be normal.”

In addition, it is important to ensure a company’s women’s and LGBTQ+ networks are specifically trans-inclusive, and to communicate that fact clearly, so trans people can be assured they are safe spaces for them too.

Finally, says Cooper, companies need to make all these measures inclusive of all trans people, whatever their degree of passing privilege.

“Just be kind,” concludes Clark-Bland. “Whether it’s LGBTQ+, carers, age, whatever it is and whoever you’re working with; act with kindness and you cannot go wrong.”


1Global Butterflies

2“LGBT+ inclusion @ work: A global outlook”, Deloitte, 2022

This article is adapted from ‘LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace’ by Aviva Investors. You can read the full version here.