It’s a phenomenon that’s come to be known as ‘rainbow capitalism’, the practice of using LGBT+ symbols and messaging in marketing campaigns and products, particularly during Pride Month (June). However, this year, the customary branding exercise has encountered tough opposition from conservative circles.
Recent boycotts of major US retailer Target and Bud Light beer, due to their perceived support for the LGBTQ+ community, have resulted in significant losses of market value amounting to billions of dollars for these companies.
Against this backdrop, when ‘allies’ advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and equality in the workplace, they may encounter opposition or resistance. That is why we interviewed Stephan Schmuck, who directs the LGBT+ Leadership Programme at ESCP’s Berlin campus, to explore strategies for allies to navigate this delicate subject and support LGBT+ colleagues while still engaging with contrasting viewpoints.
To be an ally is to be actively involved in advocating for LGBT+ rights and equality. It means taking a leap of courage, to support those who may be in harm’s way.Stephan Schmuck
Acknowledge the adverse effects of unconscious bias
So what does being an ally mean, especially during Pride Month? “Allyship means that a person or group recognises the impact of unconscious bias on the business or social environment,” Schmuck says, referring to the automatic, unintentional stereotypes, attitudes and prejudices that people hold about certain groups.
This can manifest in various ways, including through discrimination, like unfair treatment in employment, or microaggressions, which are subtle, often unintentional behaviours or comments (such as derogatory jokes) that marginalise or invalidate a person’s identity.
But allyship goes beyond mere recognition of such issues in the workplace; it entails actively taking steps to address and combat them. “You can’t just label yourself an ally and do nothing,” Schmuck stresses. “To be an ally is to be actively involved in advocating for LGBT+ rights and equality. It means taking a leap of courage, to support those who may be in harm’s way.”
Promote an environment of inclusivity and belonging
Supporting LGBT+ colleagues in the workplace can be accomplished through various means, including actively advocating for and promoting inclusion, the practice of creating an environment where all individuals are valued, respected and fully included.
“You might extend invitations to opportunities or events that LGBT+ colleagues would not normally be invited to,” says Schmuck. “It’s about fostering a sense of belonging and actively dismantling the barriers that may prevent them from fully engaging in social or professional settings.”
A third approach is to collaborate and form partnerships with fellow LGBT+ advocates. “Allyship is not a fight you take on alone. You should look out for other like-minded individuals, to extend your allyship to a wider group,” he adds.
Take on the role of a coach or mentor
Additionally, senior working professionals have the opportunity to act as coaches or mentors for their LGBT+ colleagues. Mentors can help mentees overcome self-doubt and navigate challenges related to identity or workplace inclusivity. “It is empowering to be an ally, and it empowers others as well,” Schmuck says.
On the other hand, ‘reverse mentoring’, where individuals from the LGBT+ community serve as mentors to more senior colleagues, allows them to gain first-hand insights into the experiences, perspectives and challenges faced by LGBT+ individuals. “As an ally, you should proactively seek to educate yourself about LGBT+ history and issues in order to be better advocates,” he adds. “You need the courage to grow and learn. If we’re all static then nothing will change, and unconscious bias will persist.”
Allyship is not a fight you take on alone. You should look out for other like-minded individuals, to extend your allyship to a wider group.
Engage actively in employee networks
Although senior managers have the ability to make a significant impact on their working environments for LGBT+ colleagues by implementing more inclusive policies, our expert emphasizes that change can also originate from the bottom up. “Get involved in employee networks, where individuals can collectively propose changes and influence workplace policy and practice, ensuring that LGBT+ perspectives are considered in the decision-making process,” he says.
That may include an equal benefits policy that ensures that all employees, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have the same access to health insurance, family leave, retirement plans and other workplace perks.
Change can also begin at a smaller level, such as by including pronouns in your email signature.
Listen to opposing viewpoints
Regrettably, allies may face opposition or resistance from others when advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and equality. Schmuck suggests that a way to handle this situation is by actively listening to opposing viewpoints, even if you hold a different perspective.
“Carefully query their arguments,” he advises. “You may not like conflict but if you approach these people and discussions from a seemingly objective vantage point, you can be the devil’s advocate, and challenge people constructively.”
However, actively listening to opposing viewpoints does not imply conceding ground, he adds.
If you waver in the face of opposition and are not consistent with the values you represent, then you’re not really an ally.
Maintain support beyond Pride Month
Lastly, our expert says that while Pride Month is a time of celebration, it is equally vital to recognise the ongoing challenges encountered by LGBT+ colleagues and provide support throughout the year — such as actively listening to diverse perspectives, engaging in employee networks, educating oneself about LGBT+ history and problems, as well as fostering collaboration and forming partnerships.
He suggests moving beyond basic internet research and actively engaging with LGBT+ individuals by asking them questions — which can help foster mutual respect and bridge any gaps. “Visit new places and do new things,” Schmuck says. “Get out of your comfort zone and enjoy the diversity of humankind.”
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