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Sunday, February 26, 2017

How To Be a Gay Role Model and Gay Ally

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Written by Jenny Fallover


I was absolutely ecstatic to receive the Stonewall LGBT Role Model of The Year Award when they announced their annual workplace equality index Top 100 earlier this year. I struggled for a long while to see myself as a role model and then I slowly realized that I did not need anyone’s permission to role model positive behavior on a daily basis. I am going to share some of the things I have learned along the way:

YOU DON’T NEED TO HAVE A SENIOR ROLE IN A COMPANY TO EXUDE A POSITIVE INFLUENCE ON OTHERS
Anyone at any level can have a positive influence in the workplace. Work with your LGBT business resource group on a reverse mentoring program. That way you get exposure to senior leaders and you can help them understand the challenges that LGBT people may face in the workplace.

STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN
I am naturally an introvert but I made a resolution a few years ago to say yes to any opportunity, especially if it made me feel uncomfortable. Not only has it been great for my personal development but I have met some amazing people and had some great experiences as a result.

BE CURIOUS AND LEARN ABOUT OTHER DIVERSITY GROUPS ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
It’s common to be worried about saying the wrong thing or upsetting someone but talk to your colleagues in diversity groups and frame the conversion with something like: ‘I really want to understand more about the challenges LGBT people face but I am worried that I will say the wrong thing. Please do not be offended if I do as I mean no ill intent but do not hesitate to correct me and explain why that was the wrong thing to say’.

START WITH SMALL GESTURES THAT MAKE OTHERS FEEL COMFORTABLE IN THE WORKPLACE
If you are LGBT, have a picture of your partner on your desk or your intranet profile. I have a picture of the ILGA map on my desk and I find it’s a good starting point for conversation around global LGBT rights. If you are an ally make that visible by having related materials like stickers or a desk card. If your company doesn’t have an ally program then find out if you can get involved in starting one.

POLITELY CHALLENGE INAPPROPRIATE SPEECH OR BEHAVIOURS AROUND YOU
More often than not people say the wrong thing but have good intentions. For example, if you hear someone calling something ‘gay’ then explain to them that they may be inadvertently offending colleagues around them by using the term gay with a negative connotation. If you hear clearly homophobic speech then challenge them and try to politely educate them.

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
When I tentatively stepped into a leadership role in our LGBT business resource group, Pride at Work, I wasn’t confident that I had the right skill sets to take on a leadership role. I spoke to my manager at the time and she really encouraged me to take on the role and I have never looked back since. Trust that if you have a passion for something that you will work hard and do a good job.

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