Workplace Guides: Straight Allies

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Line Managers

This section includes:


Line managers as straight allies

Straight allies with line management responsibilities play an essential role in driving gay equality at work and the primary motivation, again, is often personal.

"From my point of view it's about sleeping at night - being comfortable with how you've managed a situation and dealt with it. You owe individuals that, but you also owe it to yourself." Elaine Prescott, Team Leader, UK Border Agency

"I've seen friends hiding away because they didn't know what reaction people would have to their sexual orientation. It must be really difficult and for people who've had the courage to come out it's like a weight lifted off their  shoulders. So I've always tried to encourage that in staff I manage who I feel have tried to put a protective coating around who they are." Pam Hoey, Sales Manager, Lloyds Banking Group

Line managers have seen first-hand that an equal working environment is a good way to get the best from people.

"How can we possibly, as an organisation, encourage our staff to give us all that they've got, without creating the right environment in which they can do that? We know that people perform better when they can be themselves - so how can you have an authentic relationship with colleagues if you don't feel that you can be yourself when you're at work?" Lucy Malarkey, Head of Neighbourhoods, Gentoo Sunderland

"You get the best out of people if they're happy. If they feel afraid to be out, to talk openly or they feel they have to be careful about what they say or, even worse, if they fear 'banter' or discrimination - then they're not going to be happy and that will reflect on their work. So for me, as a manager, it's about making sure that your staff feel comfortable so they can be open about who they are." Justine Williams, Assistant Director, Barnardos Northwest

Good line managers feel responsible for setting an inclusive culture and tone among the teams they manage. They also feel they have a far more practical role to play than more senior straight allies.

"I think as managers it's not just about managing work, it should be about influencing people too. You still work with lots of people whose perceptions have never been challenged - but through education and by discussing issues when they happen, you can really see their behaviour changing. As a manager I feel I'm in a good position to do that within my team." Wendy Lister, Service Desk Team Leader, West Lothian Council

"There's a difference between those who say 'I'm here to tell you about diversity because they're making me do it to tick a box' and those who lead with conviction by saying 'I'm here to tell you about this because it's the right thing to do and I believe in it, and I want you to believe in it too, and these are the standards I expect." Pam Hoey, Sales Manager, Lloyds Banking Group

Straight ally line managers feel that using personal examples and stories helps colleagues to understand the issues  better and can help them to understand why gay equality at work is important for everyone.

"When I met my husband he was sexist, racist, homophobic - every 'ism' you can think of. But eighteen months ago he was on a float at Pride. I've challenged him, I've challenged his friends - and I use him as an example to talk about how attitudes can be changed. Colleagues find it amusing but it gets the point across that if he can do it, anybody can." Elaine Prescott, Team Leader, UK Border Agency

"I try to build good working relationships with the people that work for me - one where they feel they can talk to me about things. I discuss my personal life and I mention that one of my best friends is gay - I bring those stories out in a way which is perfectly normal to me. I think that can help people to feel more confident and comfortable themselves." Gareth Hall, Senior Manager, Accenture

Good line managers agree that the skills required to make a difference to gay equality at work are no different from those needed to be a good line manager in other circumstances.

"Any manager should respect their team as individuals and draw on the strengths that they put into the group and that's irrelevant of their sexual orientation. If you're a good manager then a degree of being able to put yourself in other people's shoes is what gives you the skills to do it but there are no particular skills needed regarding sexual orientation." Louise Pinchbeck, Regional Manager, Lloyds Banking Group

"If you don't know your team, then how can you possibly know what their strengths are? To know people you have to spend time with them, you have to talk with them and you have to let them express themselves, so the whole culture is about, as a line manager, recognising that individuals are just that and that a team is only as good as the people it's made up of." Lucy Malarkey, Head of Neighbourhoods, Gentoo Sunderland

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TIP: Talk openly about your lesbian, gay and bisexual friends and family at work

"A lot of people will say 'that's so gay' and I don't allow that to happen. I take that person away and I talk to them about it. I explain why it isn't acceptable - that there are gay people who work here and they're not going to find that funny. I'm aware all the time of what they're saying and they're aware of the boundaries now - you can see a real difference in the way that they're with people." Wendy Lister, Service Desk Team Leader, West Lothian Council

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TIP Challenge any homophobic comments or 'banter' firmly and immediately

Straight allies who are line managers know that they have to challenge any homophobic behaviour firmly and effectively manage resistance to gay equality in the workplace.

"Some staff had strong views about our Safe Zone LGB training - why was it being done and did they have to participate? I made it very clear that this is training that all staff undertake and explained the reasons why - it's about ensuring that everybody's treated fairly and that people feel comfortable in the workplace. I also made it very clear that this is how we expect people to behave when they're in the workplace." Justine Williams, Assistant Director, Barnardos Northwest

Many straight allies have lesbian, gay or bisexual people working for them and therefore have a role in supporting them, some of whom may need support to come out at work.

"People give their most when there's a social connection and I really think the little things a manager does have a greater impact on the individual than they realise. Someone's got to set the tone and, as a manager, in the same way as it's your role to stamp something inappropriate out, you've also got to be able to bring people into a team. That doesn't have to be a big grandstand thing - it can just be a chat by the coffee machine. I always make a conscious effort to ask what people are doing on the weekends and to bring them into the conversation by asking 'what did you and your partner do this weekend?' because gay colleagues may sometimes be reticent to offer that until actually invited into that conversation." Chris Light, Audit Senior Manager, Ernst & Young

"I have a gay member of staff who was a member of the LGB network group but I encouraged him to take on a greater role. In his appraisal we included an objective in relation to his involvement with the group and made sure that he had training opportunities to support this development. He first became a member of the executive board and then co-chair of the group. I think these have been good opportunities for him personally but also it's been good for the organisation to have his input. I feel I've behaved as any line manager should and that's simply to provide their staff with a supportive fulfilling environment in which they're able to be themselves." Tina Barnes, Programme Manager, Citizens Advice

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TIP If a staff member wants to come out be clear you will support them

Good line managers agree that it's important not to be afraid of making mistakes. Talking to gay colleagues is an easy way to check they're getting it right.

"You don't always use the right terminology or say the right thing. Having a safe environment helps, where people can point things out and you can learn from others. I've certainly learnt from spending time with people from the LGBT network group - I've widened my knowledge of the issues gay people can experience within the workplace." Justine Williams, Assistant Director, Barnardos Northwest

"I've probably said inappropriate things in the past, but being informed is important and I try to get people to  understand that questions are part of that. You might say the wrong thing, but if you say it in a well-meaning way, then most people will understand that it's a question that's coming from the heart." Lucy Malarkey, Head of Neighbourhoods, Gentoo Sunderland

"I don't think the skills you need to be a good line manager of gay staff are any different. People bring different qualities to the team and it's about understanding that you're there to support people, because to get the best out of your staff you really need to allow them to be themselves and to feel comfortable in the workplace." Justine Williams, Assistant Director, Barnardos Northwest

"I'm only a little manager, I haven't got a lot of power but the things that I'm able to change I certainly will do all the time. I live my life like that, because I fundamentally just want life to be better for everybody. For me, it comes from the heart. I can't bear to see a person being destroyed because of something that to me is completely natural." Wendy Lister, Service Desk Team Leader, West Lothian Council

"I've got alliances within the regional forum and I'll seek support from them, because I know they'll be happy to share ideas or listen and tell me 'that might work, that might not work.' Having that informal support and guidance helps me to feel more comfortable if I'm thinking 'I could get this wrong' or 'What's the best way of addressing this?'" Amanda Stuart, Children's Service Manager, Barnardos

Many line managers feel that being a straight ally is both personally and professionally rewarding.

"It shows that you can organise things and get work done. Personally I've learnt tonnes from getting to know so many different people and the values that you learn from doing this sort of work can't help but rub off and help make you a more rounded person. You become more appreciative of people's individuality and the different skills that they bring." Alan Wootton, Team Leader, Environment Agency

TIP Explain why gay equality is important to you in team meetings, inductions and supervisions

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