Workplace Guides: Straight Allies

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At the Top

This chapter covers:

Leaders at the top

Leaders at the top of organisations have different motivations for being straight allies and advocating gay equality in their workplace. Many believe it's the right thing to do and that to be an authentic leader they need to live their personal values at work.

"We live in a society where people are still kicked to death in the streets for being gay. The reality is that hate crime and discrimination exist. Turning a blind eye would be wrong because those disadvantages exist and they are particular to lesbian, gay and bisexual colleagues. They're also particular to all our LGB customers. So I wouldn't sleep easily if I was only being held to account on the routine things, numbers and quantitative issues. This is qualitative. It's about how people feel." Bill Payne, Chief Executive, Metropolitan Housing Partnership

"I have a burning drive to ensure fairness. I think that commitment to fairness and to the protection of the people that we serve has always been a big driver for me." Alex Marshall, Chief Constable, Hampshire Constabulary

"For people who oppose LGBT equality, let them look at the evidence of homophobic bullying in schools and universities. Where people are bullied to the point potentially of suicide because of their sexual orientation, this is hardly something that should be ignored from the point of view of equality."
Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor, Salford University

Many leaders have had experiences at work which have motivated them to be straight allies. Many also believe that playing a role in changing some of the experiences their gay colleagues have at work is incredibly rewarding.

"In a previous job, at a rather macho organisation, I was asked to take on a member of staff who was very bright but not doing very well. She was gay and I learnt a lot from her about how she felt in the workplace and how comments that were made really affected her performance. I was very struck by that and through supporting her and getting her integrated into the team I learnt a lot about what she had to deal with." Louise Goldsmith, Leader, West Sussex County Council

"If you start with quotas and targets you're missing the point. You need to sit down and listen to people's stories. For example, a colleague described to me this journey from being a person who was much more on edge to just being so much more relaxed about herself. She said that because of the network of support here, the culture and the way we work as an organisation, she's been able to drop a 'challenging' image. It's a privilege to have been involved in an organisation that helps someone go through that. If you get the opportunity to help improve just one person's life it's for the good. But we get a chance to do it every day." Bill Payne, Chief Executive, Metropolitan Housing Partnership

Those running organisations also believe that they have a responsibility, as a leader, to be a straight ally. Some straight allies believe that people in a position of leadership have a responsibility to make best use of that position.

"I think senior people have a critical role in setting the tone because people look to the leadership to understand what's important to the organisation. They look at what leaders say and do. And here at Goldman Sachs the championing of diversity comes from the very top and that's why people see that it's very important to us." Glenn Earle, Chief Operating Officer of European Businesses, Goldman Sachs

"You've got to have an organisation that's supportive and have senior people explicitly saying it too. That's so important because if you know that the top of the organisation agrees, then you feel so much more confident to say things at the bottom, which is often where it's taking place. So I think there's definitely a role for further leadership right from the top." Corey Dixon, Associate, The Parthenon Group

"If you're not pressing down on the problem then you're not making the most of what power you've got as a CEO. It's my job as a leader to stand up and say 'this matters - here is a sizeable minority of our workforce who're entitled just like the rest of us to be treated with respect and should have the confidence to be who they are in the workplace'. It's not about policies and procedures. It's what you say and how you behave." Bill Payne, Chief Executive, Metropolitan Housing Partnership

"I personally lead on fairness and equality for the whole organisation. I don't do that with burglary or murder enquiries for example. I feel strongly that I need to symbolically lead on this because it's my job to set the direction for the organisation. I've made it clear that it's up there with all the really important things we do - it's fundamental to our business." Alex Marshall, Chief Constable, Hampshire Constabulary

Colleagues take direct cues from how leaders behave and they are therefore central in setting the tone of their organisation. To many straight allies this means needing to demonstrate through personal actions that gay equality is important.

"I supported Gay Pride in August which was great. I joined the staff on our stand and I found it quite emotional because I was struck by the staff who said 'oh it's so fantastic you've come'. I wanted to send a clear message that 'I'm coming out to show my support'. Since the event I've put it in my blog and I've talked a lot about why I attended because I think those messages do permeate through. It's a really important way to show my commitment and to demonstrate how I believe the organisation should be." Louise Goldsmith, Leader, West Sussex County Council

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TIP: Make your support for gay equality public in publications, on your website or on your intranet

The unique position that leaders of organisations have means they have the power to create a platform for others, particularly gay employees, to be heard throughout the organisation.

"Leadership is about giving people opportunity. I can't speak on behalf of women, gay people and lesbians in the organisation. What I can do though is make sure that they speak for themselves and that their voice is heard. The objective is mine, however, which is a fairer and better environment and culture, but the message isn't simply mine alone." Bill Payne, Chief Executive, Metropolitan Housing Partnership

Straight allies running organisations know that they need to draw on talent from all sections of the population and therefore must create workplaces where everyone can be themselves. These leaders also understand that when inclusive conditions don't exist, the productivity of their staff is directly affected.

"I want the best people from across society; I don't want anybody excluded because they don't look right, or because their sexual orientation is an issue."
Alex Marshall, Chief Constable, Hampshire Constabulary

"If somebody is gay and wants come out but doesn't feel comfortable doing so, that says something about how they feel about the organisation they work in. It implies that they're not going to bring their whole persona into the workplace and into their engagement with colleagues. That isn't a good thing for the individual. And it isn't a good thing for the organisation." Glenn Earle, Chief Operating Officer of European Businesses, Goldman Sachs

At a time of financial difficulty business leaders are aware that their organisations need to be at their most effective. While there is often little cost involved in taking action to promote equality, the benefits can be significant.

"At a time when universities are under pressure we need to find the very best talent, and to do that we've got to remove stigma and prejudice, because otherwise we're losing out on the opportunity to find great people. The same goes for students. In a situation where we're under financial threat, equalities become even more important for survival." Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor, Salford University

Top leaders believe that one of their key roles as a straight ally is to communicate why gay equality is important in their workplace and to pass on a clear and simple message.

"I'm known as a passionate person so people realise that I do it because I believe in it and that enables them to buy into it. You've got to be able to communicate exactly what it's about and why you're doing it but I don't for one minute think you need to be gay yourself to back the fact that people should be treated equally. It's often a case of educating and opening people's minds to think 'would you like to be in this situation?' Rather than forcing it on people, you explain it and you get them to relate it to their own life - then it becomes much easier." Chris Hamilton, Chairman, Oldham Rugby League Football Club

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TIP: Lead or sponsor your LGB staff network

Straight allies also believe that messages coming from senior straight leaders show opponents of gay equality that they are out of step with the core values of the organisation.

"I've had grumbles 'why are we giving extra attention to people who're gay or lesbian?' And the reason is because we have a history in policing where our culture was not positive. We have to make sure that history is buried and that we're understanding and welcoming. My aim is always intellectual buy-in from those that are resistant - I think the worst thing you can do is to isolate and ignore them. I want those people in the training room, saying what they think. A successful encounter will be that they understand the work we're doing as an organisation, how this fits into their own role and that they understand how their colleagues feel if there are negative attitudes about." Alex Marshall, Chief Constable, Hampshire Constabulary

Top leaders recognise the limits of what they can do. Whilst they're not in a position to drive every gay equality initiative personally, holding senior management to account is one of their most effective tools to advance gay equality in their workplaces.

"I make sure line management absolutely understands that it's high on my agenda. People really look for consistency of messaging so I focus on the people and diversity agenda regularly with my management team. By inference I'm encouraging them to do their level best to adopt an embracing attitude to their staff." David Cornick, Vice President of Business Partners & Mid-Market for NE Europe, IBM

"Commitment to diversity is a core value for us at Goldman Sachs. Our performance evaluation of senior managers includes a diversity score card which measures the events and training sessions they attend and their participation in delivering training. Our senior managers are also measured on the contributions they make to diversity broadly as part of our performance review system which directly affects promotion and compensation." Glenn Earle, Chief Operating Officer of European Businesses, Goldman Sachs

"Why wouldn't I want to add more value from seven per cent of my colleagues? If all I have to do is to make sure they're treated with respect and dignity and allowed to be themselves, which isn't a lot to ask in this world, it's not a complicated conclusion to reach. And the loyalty that comes with it is immeasurable. You get more from your staff, it's totally free and it's given with good will." Bill Payne, Chief Executive, Metropolitan Housing Partnership

Formal structures help straight allies running organisations ensure the organisation's commitment to workplace equality for gay employees is put into practice.

"My symbolic leadership is backed up by a firm structure that's minuted and audited. I have an Assistant Chief Constable who leads on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. He has to promote equality and fairness in the workplace and I hold him to account on this - I set out what I want him to achieve and it's in his yearly appraisal. I chair the strategic group and I check that the tactical groups at the local level are achieving what they should be. I have these formal structures because I need a mechanism for regularly checking that we're still making progress." Alex Marshall, Chief Constable, Hampshire Constabulary

"We have very formal programmes to make sure we know who our employees are, what level they're at, what skills they have and how they can grow. I check how we're doing with our female, our ethnic and cultural populations and with people with a disability. I also make sure that we include people who are LGBT and that we're making efforts to find out how they feel about their development potential and the work environment." David Cornick, Vice President of Business Partners & Mid-Market for NE Europe, IBM

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TIP: Speak out with a simple message about why you are committed to equality

Many straight allies running organisations feel that their leadership has had a positive impact on how the organisation approaches equality and diversity.

"I realise the power of a senior person being visibly proud to be associated with the network - just someone in my position talking naturally about lesbian, gay and bisexual people - so I really use opportunities to talk about it. I've got it on my Managing Director profile, that's prominently displayed internally and externally, when I send messages and when I headline events, and when I've given presentations at universities." Glenn Earle, Chief Operating Officer of European Businesses, Goldman Sachs

"We made 60th in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which had a huge effect. We got the Stonewall Top 100 Employers logo on our emails as quick as we could because we need success stories and it's a metaphor for going up. I think that's significant because it indicates our intention not to tolerate discrimination, whether against LGBT people or on the grounds of gender, race, disability or anything else." Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor, Salford University

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