Now Reading
Fear of ridicule and uncertainty over role puts many people off becoming LGBT allies

Fear of ridicule and uncertainty over role puts many people off becoming LGBT allies

'In essence LGBT allies need to be encouraged to “come out” by management.’

A diversity consulting organization has released what it believes to be the first major study of LGBT allies in the workplace.

LGBT Allies: The Power of Friends is drawn from research undertaken by Netherlands-based Out Now Consulting between January and August 2016.

The study sampled 2,584 LGBT allies across 60 countries.

Fifty-six per cent of the ‘allies’ who took part in the survey identified as ‘heterosexual’, with 37% identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Among the finding, 13% said that they were more likely to stay with a company if they felt it actively supported their role as an LGBT ally.

When it comes to the factors that determine whether someone is an ally or not, 67% said that an uncertainty over what an ally does plays a part.

Forty-nine per cent thought that by supporting LGBT colleagues, others at work may assume the ally themselves must be LGBT – despite the fact that most of the allies in the study identified as heterosexual.

Thirty-one per cent said a ‘fear of ridicule’ was likely to affect some people’s decision, while 25% said that concerns over a negative career impact might have an affect.

Other key findings

  • The most common beneficial action undertaken by allies was to mention LGBT people or topics positively in the workplace (87% of respondents said they did this), followed by speaking out against anti-LGBT discussions that others were having at work (43% said they had done this) and anti-LGBT jokes.
  • With regard to having the confidence to stand up as an ally, 63% said it was ‘very important’ that there is stated and visible support from management around LGBT issues.
  • The experiences of LGBT and non-LGBT allies can differ greatly, and some non-LGBT allies may be missing the concerns or issues being experienced by LGBT people in the workplace. In effect, they may be more blind to anti-LGBT discrimination.
  • Globally, two-third said they ‘sometimes’ heard anti-LGBT jokes or banter in their workplaces.
  • Asked why they chose to become allies, most said they believed LGBT ‘need support’: 79% said they had an LGBT friend outside of work, while three out of 10 said they had a LGBT family member. A majority also said they were motivated by a work colleague being LGBT.

‘Everyone needs allies, and LGBT people often have a greater need for that support’

The report features examples of responses, such as this from one US worker on their reasoning for being an ally: ‘We all benefit when people can be their authentic selves, including at work. An inclusive workplace where everyone is valued and respected brings out the best in people.

‘Everyone needs allies, and LGBT people often have a greater need for that support.

‘I work for a conservative company, and many people who believe they are allies are silent in the workplace. People need to understand that being an ally comes with a responsibility. If you witness someone being disrespectful to the LGBT community, speak up. Silence is their permission to continue.’

Ian Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of Out Now, will discuss the results of the survey this Thursday at the annual Out & Equal Workplace Summit, in Florida.

Johnson said in a statement, ‘We have seen research insights about LGBT people for almost 25 years, but until now there was no research data available about the important issues faced at work by LGBT Allies.’ Johnson says.

‘In a competitive market environment, this information is invaluable to build workplaces that more effectively support LGBT people — and their Allies — at work.’

Johnson told GSN that he was surprised by many of the findings

‘One was the extent of prevailing concern that being seen to be supportive of LGBT people as an ally may cause the ally to then be perceived by colleagues as being gay or lesbian as a result.

‘In my ideal world it would be: “So what if someone thinks you’re gay?” but in reality there are many heterosexual and closeted LGBT people who are potential LGBT allies but who are choosing not to say or do anything because of that fear.

‘That was reported as a barrier by well over half of the total sample. In essence LGBT Allies need to be encouraged to “come out” by management.’

‘Another interesting finding is how difficult people still find it to speak up against anti-LGBT banter. It sounds easy to say, “I would challenge it” but as the report shows it is often easier to address in theory than in practice.’

Among the report’s recommendations, it says companies should make their support for LGBT rights clear, discourage anti-LGBT jokes, provide formal structure to support LGBT colleagues and their allies, and engage in regular feedback to identify areas for improvement.