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Allyship in the Workplace: It’s Time to Come Out

By Eliana Jacobsen, Firm Director, Fall 2021


According to Gallop’s 2020 poll, a staggering 1 in 6 US adults between the ages of 18 and 23 identify as LGBTQ+ and that number continues to rise. Yet, the Human Rights Campaign reports nearly half of LGBTQ+ employees remain closeted at work.

This is hardly surprising when 1 in 10 of those employees report facing discrimination at work, that number higher among LGBTQ+ individuals of color and non-gender-conforming individuals.

How can this be true?

During the month of June, you couldn’t go two minutes without seeing a commercial featuring a gay couple and the copious use of the word “fabulous.” Rainbow-lined shop windows, colorful brand logos and inclusive packaging fill the horizon as far as the eye can see.

If the world’s largest companies are embracing LGBTQ+ rights openlysince 2015, why is the workplace still hostile?

No matter how much a company “rainbow washes” in the name of equality, or at least the perception of equality, it is only hollow marketing unless followed up by concrete action. Today, 77% of LGBTQ+ job seekers consider the company's reputation in the LGBTQ+ community.

Because LGBTQ+ individuals carry the trauma of being conditioned to hide their true identities in public, it can be extremely difficult to come out to coworkers, even if those coworkers have the best intentions in mind. It doesn’t have to be overt discrimination, although that still occurs in the workplace. Jokes, inappropriate questions and behaviors, misgendering at the expense of LGBTQ+ can be equally taxing. Just the fear of that behavior can keep a coworker closeted. Preserving the status quo is sometimes perceived as the safest option.

And when employees are not showing up as their fullest selves, their work and the productivity of your agency are suffering. LGBTQ+ employees are 3x more likely to leave their companies in the next year compared to their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. Non-out employees are less likely to go to social events, where networking and opportunities are passed around. They are more likely to face discrimination outside of the workplace which become threatening to their position, and that’s to say nothing about the added stress of hiding one’s identity while trying to keep up with paperwork.

So, how can companies go about creating a comfortable environment for their LGBTQ+ employees?

Here are some real actions that go beyond the typical rainbow sticker.


1. Come out at work, especially if you’re not LGBTQ+. It might seem silly to “come out” as an ally, but if you don’t, your LGBTQ+ coworkers will never truly know if they will be safe around you. The ambiguity causes undue anxiety. Come out first. Make it clear that you support the community. This can be as simple as hanging a poster in your office noting that you stand for equality.



2. Support LGBTQ+ goals. Throughout 2021, over 130 anti-trans bills, from bathrooms to girls' sports, were filed in 30 US states. Many of these bills unduly targeted one of the most vulnerable populations in our society - transgender youth. These bills and other anti-LGBTQ+ policies place a burden on LGBTQ+ employees and their families, making it difficult to focus on work, let alone show up to the office every day. If you care about your employees, you’ll protect them from legislation that further ostracizes them from society.

3 .Open up a spot at the table. - Diversity in many respects is key to a successful agency. If you want to know where the real problems lie, you have to talk to those who are experiencing them. LGBTQ+ leadership is proven to be beneficial to agency culture. 80% of LGBTQ+ employees are more likely to be out at companies where senior executives are out.


This list is far from exhaustive, but it does compile a few guiding principles when thinking about your agency DEI initiatives.

First, ask yourself what can you do about DEI? Take the time to think about your identity and how you can make the office a comfortable space for your coworkers. Second, put your money where your advertising is. Take a look at the political landscape and discern and what your agency can offer to protect minority voices. Third, invite new perspectives. So often, the uncomfortable questions and tasks become the responsibility of an already overburdened population. Invite them in without expecting them to educate and transform your agency. Presence along on the decision-making table is a good first step.

Lastly, educate yourself. Identities are intersectional and the ultimate goal is to make your workplace a space where everyone can bring their unique selves to the table.

Challenge your team to do so and watch as your agency begins to grow.

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