When I came out as gay, I used to joke that there were three responses you get every single time. The first is that someone they love is gay: “My cousin/BFF/ex-boyfriend/pick the connection is gay!” The second is that they tell you about the last time they did something to support gay people, like go to a parade or hang a flag in their yard.
The third? They tell you about that one time they did a different kind of gay thing, whether it was kissing someone of the same sex or a story that’s far more awkward to hear about in your first interaction.
It’s funny but not really a joke because it actually happens. I’m telling that story not to shame the straights, but to say I appreciate that people take the time to try to let me know I’m safe with them. It’s not always easy to read between the lines of a comment or question. I have a tendency to assume it’s not safe based on *gestures broadly at America* and headlines.
What Makes An Ally An Actual Ally?
No matter how awkward the coming out response is (especially the third one), I know it’s an attempt at active allyship. The verb part. The part that means we have to do something when we see something going wrong.
So often, people wear the ally label without doing the work to create a world where people can just live safely. Especially when it comes to being an ally in the workplace, I believe most people are worried about how it makes them look to correct and explain concepts to others instead of how it makes people feel when things go wrong – whether it’s misgendering or another mistake that makes someone feel like less than.
Those are people like me. People searching for any subtle cue to know they can belong with you. Whether it’s a t-shirt, a flag, or pronouns in an email signature, these seemingly small gestures for you come with a deep side of relief for me.
Being A Successful Ally In The Workplace
As HR and recruiting leaders, we have the opportunity to educate and grow that active allyship with subtle and not so subtle work that sets everyone up to belong. Here are a few ways to be a better ally in the workplace:
- Educate yourself. Read books. Watch videos. Ask questions of experts. Be curious about identity.
- Training for all managers on pronouns. Understanding starts with education – not education you have to opt into, but education that sets a standard for leaders and exemplifies that belonging value you have posted all over the wall.
- Hang up a rainbow flag. Not for one month a year, but all the time at your physical location. I know this might seem like a gesture, but when I drive past a small business in rural America with a rainbow flag, I instantly feel good. Doing that in a small community sends a message to people.
- Talk to HR technology vendors. Explain to your HRIS and ATS vendors you want pronouns and expect them to adapt to society. Remember, you’re the customer. You can make demands.
- Address issues. One of the worst subtle cues is when we report issues with misgendering or inequitable healthcare and nothing happens. These issues need to be addressed directly.
- Ask questions. Resist assuming what other people need. Employee surveys can provide insight to help people convey what they want. But don’t forget the important part: following through.
Allyship isn’t just the “woke” thing or something we do during June at Pride events. It’s also the small, subtle things that make a difference everyday. If you start small, the big things will matter that much more – because at the end of the day? Sometimes it’s the small things that matter the most when it comes to belonging.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.