By Michelle Clark (Keene, NH)
Every minority group needs members of the majority in their corner. In the business world, the LGBT community looks to straight allies to provide public support for their cause. Straight allies in the workplace don’t necessarily hold the key to total inclusion and diversity, but their role is absolutely essential in advancing LGBT equality efforts in the corporate arena.
By getting involved with employee resource groups and being outspoken advocates for their LGBT colleagues, straight allies have the ability to help change the attitudes and strip away the preconceptions that impede the establishment of a global corporate culture ruled by acceptance rather than exclusion.
Straight allies have already made incredible strides on behalf of the LGBT community in the workplace through their supportive words and actions, but the next generation of workers will be even more influential, according to Tyronne Stoudemire, Principal at Mercer and expert in inclusion and diversity consulting. He says, “The next generation of workers is far more accepting of different backgrounds, cultures, and communities, and I think they welcome difference.”
Even though next gen straight allies will approach LGBT community with an open mind, the road to equality for LGBT workers is still going to be littered with plenty of opposition. This is due in part to the fact that the corporate world must still take many of its cues from the social and political arenas.
Stoudemire says, “Society will have to take the lead, and corporate America will follow.” He adds, “Until organizations can provide a safe place where people feel comfortable coming out at work, things will continue to be hard, and members of the LGBT community will still feel like coming out at work could be held against them amongst their managers and colleagues.”
Next gen allies can make that happen by vocally supporting LGBT colleagues, calling for equal policies and benefits, and standing up to correct less enlightened team-mates if they make a negative comment or joke about being gay.
A Universal Truth
This discussion of next gen straight allies and their important role in helping to establish a safe and comfortable workplace for members of the LGBT community is not limited to the United States, of course. However, multinational companies that want to create diverse and culturally rich environments must be aware of the pervading worldview on gay people. On a global scale, straight ally advocates for LGBT rights and equality in business still have a long way to go since many countries are not tolerant of LGBT people, some going so far as to outlaw them.
It may take a long time to conquer the prejudice that exists globally, but there are small victories taking place every single day with the help of straight allies who also “come out” on behalf of their LGBT colleagues by openly and frequently advocating through LGBT networks, employee resource groups, and other diversity driven efforts found within corporations.
View from the Top
There is no question that in order for long-term change to begin to take shape, the example of tolerance and acceptance for diversity in the workplace must be set at the highest level of leadership within a company.
Stoudemire suggests that as more corporate leaders relate to the LGBT community, change will increasingly trickle down the ranks until acceptance becomes a recognizable part of a company’s culture. Although implementing corporate change will require a continued effort on the part of straight allies and the LGBT community alike, future leaders have greater potential to be more naturally accepting of the LGBT community than the generation before them.
Stoudemire says, “It starts at the top of the house. When leaders within corporations have a personal experience or personal encounters with close friends or loved ones who happen to be gay, they will push the envelope of change a little harder.” However, corporate leaders who choose to be straight allies need to do more than lead by example. According to Stoudemire, “Future leaders will be successful in implementing change when they are proactive in making sure that their employees have the tools and the resources available to navigate the new normal of a diverse corporate culture.”