How to be an LGBTQ ally at work: In conversation with Alex Minter

By Robert Half on 27 June 2022

Across the globe, LGBTQ+ communities are celebrating Pride Month. It’s a timely opportunity to consider how workplaces can become more diverse, how recruitment practices can evolve to encompass greater diversity, and what all of us can to be an LGBTQ+ ally at work.

We recently shared a coffee with Robert Half’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion(DEI) Lead, Alex Minter, to chat about workplace diversity and inclusivity through an LGBTQ+ lens.

Can you start by telling us more about your role as DEI Partner?

I’ve been heading up Robert Half Australia’s internal talent acquisition function since 2018, and since then my role has evolved to the point where around half of my job is dedicated to DEI.

I believe talent acquisition and DEI are inherently linked disciplines. Incoming personnel shouldn’t be hired in our own image and we need to break free from affinity bias. DEI practices ensure we are continually reaching a new pool of talent and being an innovative business. That’s good business practice as there’s no shortage of research showing an inclusive and gender diverse workplace benefits from enhanced productivity, retention and wellbeing. Conversely, when people don’t feel included they will leave an employer.

We also know that Gen Z talent have a particular preference for ethical and inclusive organisations. So this approach is fast becoming critical for hiring managers in order to attract a new pool of skilled talent.

DEI isn’t just about paying lip service though. The bar is sitting higher for managers to live and breathe inclusivity. This sets the tone for all employees, and creates top-down inclusion.

Related: Ready to build a stronger company culture? Find out the role DEI can play in a strong company culture.

What does Pride mean to you?

In the early stages of my career I was very conscious of how people perceived me, and how my identity could shape or work against my career progression.

Going to my first Pride March in London in 2013 was a prominent moment of my life. I felt I could be openly gay, surrounded by 1.5 million people across the spectrum of sexuality, who were all celebrating my existence.

Yet on other days of the year, I felt somewhat closed off, or anxious or reluctant to speak about my personal life. I would use neutral phrases as much as possible to avoid aligning myself to the LGBTQ+ bracket.

Today, I can celebrate the opportunity to be myself and be completely natural. It makes me feel more comfortable in my own skin. LGBTQ+ is not a lifestyle. It’s not the same as being a keen cyclist, it’s an identity. And while you may be in the minority, having the support of the majority can represent a meaningful change. Finding allies and building allyship can make you feel supported.

In your opinion, why is Pride such an important celebration to honour?

Stonewall and the initiation of Pride marches mark a watershed moment that sparked a meaningful change around attitudes to the LGBTQ+ communities. As the movement has spread and grown, this has led to organisational change and social change. I identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, and frankly, without those changes, I question if I would be sitting here and having this conversation as openly as I am.

Some people view corporate celebrations of Pride Month as ‘rainbow washing’ – how do you respond to that?

While every little effort normalises an important conversation around LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace, we really need to look past the logo to see what organisations are doing and how we can measure successes and areas for improvement. It’s a good reminder for companies to regroup on their progress year-by-year through the lens of:

  • Inclusive hiring, strategy and internal policy change;
  • Education and awareness – which is the number one facet to drive throughout the year;
  • Highlighting lived experience in the organisation – this is the most powerful means of moving the needle, and to do this we need to break stigmas or assumptions;
  • Advocacy from leadership – making leaders accountable makes it easier to move the dial on change. In instances where leadership may be a homogenous unit, it’s worth exploring the benefits of reverse mentorship to share the lived experience.

It’s important to bear in mind that we are not just LGBTQ+ in June. It’s all year round, so allyship should be an all year round exercise. My hope is that ultimately there won’t be a need for Pride Month, it will just be a natural state.

Top three things every professional can do to be a better ally in the workplace?

  • Engage – if there is programming to encourage allyship, then find the time and make the time and be present. Seek out more education and training. It is both unfair and exhausting for the minority to carry the burden of championing change and educating their peers. This is a shared responsibility.
  • Challenge your own assumptions – have conversations, be open to the initiatives available. Remember it’s okay to make a mistake if you learn from it and aim to do better in the future.
  • Speak up – we don’t realise the weight behind microaggressions. So call it out, or encourage your peers to participate in ENG chapters.

What would you say to someone who believes being part of the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t have anything to do with work?

I would encourage them to open the conversation to lived experience. If you are in the majority, it can be easy to overlook or underestimate the reality of the situation that your peers go through every day to bring their full self to work.

I also see this attitude as an opportunity for education. When we allow homophobia and transphobia within the workplace, it is easy for microaggressions to pile up. Our goal is to make Robert Half a positive workplace for all, so it is important to raise the collective inclusive culture.

What films or shows can people watch to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community?

For anyone in the business community – particularly those in leadership roles, a documentary titled White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch is definitely important viewing. It charts the rise and fall of an unapologetically exclusionary brand, and it drives home in a very palatable way why it is important to have DEI in an organisation – and why those that don’t will ultimately fall behind.

The world has changed and key issues are making their way into organisational structures.

For anyone who doesn’t understand why we’re pushing the envelope with DEI, watch this documentary. It shows the damage of a homogenous culture and affinity bias being played out in real time.

To finish, you’re currently setting up a local Robert Half employer network groups to support DEI within our community — can you tell us about that?

Robert Half has a range of DEI programs that have been shaped around the interests and priorities of our employees. During Pride Month in June 2021, we introduced ‘BELONG’ with a mission to advocate for LGBTQ+ employees and allies by creating networks, community and growth opportunities. BELONG aims to create a safe and inclusive environment for all people in the LGBTQ+ community and their allies to bring their whole selves to work.

Fundamentally, we have several key goals in mind. The first is to move the needle on policy, pronoun usage, and removing gender language from internal policies. We also want to equip our employees to navigate conversations relating to gender and sexuality. We are introducing more programming to speak to local LGBTQI areas of interest, and create more networks for LGBTQ and allies to connect with each other and external bodies within our communities.

It’s about normalising being able to bring your full self to work. Diversity data is measurable but inclusivity is more of a feeling. And if you can bring your full self to work you are more likely to remain with a company for a longer time

At the same time, we have to be mindful of not burdening underrepresented groups with additional responsibility. They are already in the minority, and can fall behind in their day job if they are shouldering the weight of driving internal change.

Related: Find out about Robert Half's commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.

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