Workplace Guides: Straight Allies

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Line managersStraight allies at every level | Top ten tips 

Senior Managers

Straight allies in senior leadership positions throughout an organisation have similar motivations to those at the top of an organisation for pursuing gay equality at work.

"I've got three young children so a big driver for me is wanting them to grow up in a world where acceptance is the norm and discrimination simply is a thing of the past. Also, at the early stages of my career, 15 to 20 years ago at another bank, there was a lot of sexism in the City. Comments would fly around and I'd feel quite uncomfortable. And speaking from personal experience, in that environment I became very quiet, very introspective, not wanting to stand out, not wanting to say anything and not wanting to draw attention or potentially risk any more comments. So I think when you relate that to what we have now in the LGBT community, I really think we need to understand how that can affect people and that's why focussing on these issues is really important to me." Kathryn Hanna, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs

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TIP: Offer to become a mentor for lesbian, gay and bisexual employees

"The motivation and passion doesn't come from a legal requirement to produce fair policies. It comes out of a deep sense of justice and my conviction that it's just not fair that people are disadvantaged just because they're gay. I'm very conscious that we still live in a very homophobic society and despite all the legislation and the pronouncements from politicians, the evidence of homophobia is there all the time." Professor Sheila Hunt, Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery and Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, Cardiff University

Straight allies in senior leadership positions have a key role in transforming their organisation's commitment to gay equality in the workplace into  practical, measurable action across departments.

"I think cultures absolutely start at the top. How best do I cascade this down? Well firstly through personal example - what I do and say and how I behave. Secondly by my and other senior leaders' engagement with those within the service and the direction I can give to subordinates. And thirdly by putting in place the culture of education to ensure that people understand the need for inclusivity." Vice Admiral Charles Montgomery CBE ADC, Second Sea Lord, Royal Navy

"We as leaders in the business, by doing the right thing, by demonstrating the right behaviours and by showing that we want to create an environment where  people can be themselves can have a great impact. Having leaders who understand that they're seen as leaders and who recognise the length of the shadow they cast is vitally important. People watch everything you do so it's critically important that you're demonstrating the right leadership behaviours." Chris Murray, Member of the National Grid Leadership Team and CEO, Xoserve Ltd.

"Every year I meet the new intake - about 400 students in a lecture theatre - and it's often said 'you may be sitting next to the person who'll become your best friend and they'll look out for you and you might even end up marrying one of them.' I came in just as that was being said and I stood at the top of the steps and said 'and by the way, did you know that Cardiff is a gay-friendly University and you might be sitting next to the person who you'll have a civil partnership with.' It came back to me later that two or three people in that group are gay and they were actually overwhelmed that somebody in my position could very openly in a big lecture theatre say something like that." Professor Sheila Hunt, Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery and Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, Cardiff University

Equally some feel that they have a responsibility to advocate for gay equality at work amongst their own peers.

"My view is you lead within a peer group in exactly the same way as you lead subordinates: firstly by example, secondly by what you say, and thirdly by a process of education. Every interaction is as much about communication as about education. With your peer group, one just has to do it a little more subtly, lest it sound as though you're trying to hector." Vice Admiral Charles Montgomery CBE ADC, Second Sea Lord, Royal Navy

"My position in the business means that I can say what I believe is right without being concerned about any consequences - that is precisely the environment we want to create for everyone." Chris Murray, Member of the National Grid Leadership Team and CEO, Xoserve Ltd.

"Since January, at every big external meeting I've said 'there are two things you need to know about this University: we're now in the Stonewall Top 100 and the University has received the Athena Swan Bronze Award in recognition of its success in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET). I use every opportunity to make sure that key stakeholders and people of influence like Executive Nurses, Chief Executives of local health boards and anyone else I meet get this message, which I see as a clear statement of the University's culture." Professor Sheila Hunt, Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery and Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, Cardiff University

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TIP: Hold line managers to account about what they are doing to make the workplace more gay-friendly

Straight allies in senior positions believe that communicating clearly to their teams or departments the importance of gay equality at work is central to their role. They feel that their position allows their messages to be more tailored and personal.

"This is a people issue and while it's important to articulate the business case, I think it's also important to make the 'treating people properly argument'. I use emotional language and I always make it clear when I talk to people that it isn't a matter of 'these are things we have to do because the law says we have to do it'. This isn't political correctness - it's simply about treating people properly and being a good manager. You've also got to show that you're willing to act and to do things as well as make a statement. You've got to follow it through with action to show that you're willing to put a bit of time into it or sometimes put some money into it." Mike Eland, Director General, HM Revenue and Customs

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TIP Don't be afraid of saying the wrong thing, just ask gay colleagues and friends for advice

In addition they feel that their role as senior straight allies is to encourage employees to take practical steps to make the workplace more gay-friendly.

"The other day a person whom I mentor, who is on the LGBT Network committee, asked that I promote the LGBT focused diversity training session 'Out in the Open'. I sent a message out to the broader division citing my own experiences and encouraging people to attend to help make our workplace more inclusive. Three hours later I received a note indicating that 30 more people from the division had signed up to the course subsequent to my message." Nicholas Crapp, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs

Straight allies in senior leadership positions also have an important role in holding line managers to account.

"People know very clearly where I sit on the issues and that's important because I expect them to set the same example. That filters down to team leaders and smaller groups of people who are interacting on a daily basis. I expect them to understand how the organisation thinks on issues of LGBT and diversity. I expect them to be trained and to understand the kinds of non-inclusive behaviour that can influence how somebody may feel about the organisation." Kathryn Hanna, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs

"It's about making sure that managers know they're held accountable for diversity. You've got to use both carrot and stick in my view and at times be tough with people. It's just like managing anything else in that respect." Nicholas Crapp, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs

Straight allies in senior roles also feel that they are better placed to support lesbian, gay or bisexual staff than those at the top of the organisation. They do this by actively supporting networks, mentoring individuals or providing line management support to employees.

"I chair the LGB+ student group, because they also need a champion at my level who respects them and can help to steer them through the university systems and processes and the HEI culture so they find a way to be heard and get what they want." Professor Sheila Hunt, Head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery and Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor, Cardiff University

"I'm actively involved in mentoring LGB employees. I offer myself to the Pride Network and to broader groups, and a lot of people reach out to me just for a different voice. My role is not necessarily to guide but to listen, and if I can give employees some different perspectives I definitely will do that." Clare Fuller, Vice President for Servicing, American Express

"I believe my role is to facilitate the LGBT community to blossom and grow so when there are issues that they bring forward, I will help them address them by shaping them into the right format to be discussed. Last year we ran an LGBT Across Europe Forum. I hosted that for the two days because I wanted to spend the time to understand what was on their mind, the issues that they faced, and what help they needed to remove those obstacles and get to the next level." David Cornick, Vice President of Business Partners & Mid-Market for NE Europe, IBM

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TIP Help your staff become straight allies too by coaching them on how they can make a difference

Developing open and constructive relationships with gay colleagues can help straight allies to grow in confidence and allay anxieties about 'getting it wrong.

"I think everyone's always a bit scared that they'll mess up. Certainly it took me a little while to get over this fear of saying the wrong thing. When I took on the role of LGB executive sponsor I said 'look I'm really scared I'm going to get stuff wrong, use the wrong words and offend people.' But my colleague on the staff network said 'I know you, I know you right to your soul, and if you say something wrong it's because you just didn't know.' So I was reassured that I couldn't mess up, and having that in mind made me bolder and more confident. Once you've got over that, it's a lot easier to have those conversations with people. I've realised that you can always ask forgiveness and people are very good at knowing when it's genuine." Amanda McKenzie, Executive Committee member and Chief of Marketing & Communications, Aviva

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