How will your actions speak louder than words?

By Richard Jeanneret

EY Vice Chair and Regional Managing Partner – US-East

Regional leader of the largest Region. Member of the Americas Executive Board. Seasoned transactions and capital strategy partner. Husband. Father. LGBTQ+ advocate

5 minute read 5 Oct 2020

Research from Out Leadership shows the need to move from LGBT+ ally to advocate in order to cultivate more inclusive work environments.

In brief

  • Allies create a safe environment for LGBT+ employees through their words and behaviors, which in turn supports an inclusive work environment for everyone.
  • Research conducted by Out Leadership points to the need for organizations and individuals to commit to increased allyship, action and advocacy.
  • The EY Ally2Advocate program helps cultivate LGBT+ allies and encourages them to move from intention to action.

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)+ people still face social exclusion and discrimination — just for being themselves. In a time of greater uncertainty and potential isolation, the impacts of prejudice and bias faced by marginalized communities around the world are even more amplified.

That is why today, allies have never been more important. Visible LGBT+ allies create a safe environment for LGBT+ employees through their words and behaviors, which in turn supports an open and inclusive work environment for everyone. When people feel included and like they belong, organizations thrive — employees are more productive, motivated and engaged.

However, there continues to be a gap between intention and action when it comes to LGBT+ allyship.

To better understand the impact of allyship on the LGBT+ community at work, we collaborated with Out Leadership, the global network for LGBT+ business leaders and companies, to launch a global study: AllyUp: Ally is a Verb. The findings unpack the inconsistency between identification and action when it comes to allyship, inspiring both hope and a need for action.

“I hope the findings of AllyUp™ motivate companies to actively engage their LGBT+ allies,” says Rich Jeanneret, EY US-East Region Managing Partner and Executive Sponsor of Unity, the EY LGBT+ network, in the Americas. “Diversity and inclusiveness are everyone’s responsibility. Allyship should create environments where people feel not just supported, but like they truly belong and can flourish with pride.”

The state of allyship

The AllyUp study found that workplace ally programs have moved the needle on LGBT+ inclusion, with 56% of non-LGBT+ respondents identifying as allies and 83% of employees who say they support workplace and state protections for LGBT+ individuals.

However, that support hasn’t translated into a work environment where LGBT+ employees feel they can afford to be out. In fact, 58% of LGBT+-identified employees say they hide their identity from coworkers and supervisors. What’s more, 70% of LGBT+ employees engage in covering behaviors, such as changing their speech, appearance or behavior in order to downplay or draw attention away from their sexual orientation.

The research also uncovered that nearly half of self-identified allies (49%) are considered “fence-sitters” — those allies who do not consider taking action to be part of an ally’s job. They might think passive forms of support — such as not asking personal questions of their LGBT+ colleagues, not partaking in jokes at their expense or showing no hostility toward them — are characteristic of allyship.

Fence-sitters

49%

Of those who identify as LGBT+ allies do not consider taking action to be part of an ally’s job

This apathetic approach comes at a cost to LGBT+ employees and organizations, with 36% of LGBT+ workers saying they would consider relocating to a more inclusive state to comfortably live and work.

These findings suggest that companies still have a long way to go in cultivating allies who will help to create a culture of belonging for LGBT+ colleagues. It’s clear that for LGBT+ individuals to feel more comfortable being out at work, allies must commit to more visible allyship, action and advocacy.

From ally to advocate

Organizations that are looking to build LGBT+ allyship can clarify expectations and provide guidance, education and tools to advance inclusion across their workforce.

To create lasting and positive change for LGBT+ inclusion, the AllyUp research team identified three levels of action:

  • Individuals — educate and engage coworkers and are willing to take the risks that active allyship implies
  • Companies — “activate” both allies and LGBT+ individuals to create inclusivity within their walls and to serve as an example of inclusivity beyond their walls
  • Business leaders — commit to being seen and heard as LGBT+ advocates on a consistent, collaborative and compounding basis in order to promote equitable practices in the larger community

At EY, we have been on our LGBT+ inclusion journey for more than 25 years. The EY LGBT+ network, Unity, was created in 1995 and now includes thousands of active members worldwide. Unity has long cultivated the support of colleagues outside the LGBT+ community, recognizing that allies can help foster the culture of belonging that makes LGBT+ professionals feel like they can be themselves at work. However, we recognized that more could be done to give allies concrete tools on how they could support the LGBT+ community.

In response, we launched Ally2Advocate (A2A), a self-directed ally development program collaboratively developed by LGBT+-identified people and allies. Offering an interactive journey of self-education, A2A helps to empower allies with knowledge about the LGBT+ experience and provides practical tips on how they can expand their advocacy and lead inclusively as individuals and as part of the EY organization. As allies complete the activities in each level, they move through four badge levels, advancing from Ally to Advanced Ally, then Ambassador, and finally, Advocate.

Across EY, Ally2Advocate has set a new standard for cultivating ally relationships and engaging employees on diversity and inclusiveness.

More than 1,100 EY professionals have completed A2A, creating a directory of self-identified LGBT+ allies across the US and professionals of every rank and service line who have pledged to take action and speak out on behalf of their LGBT+ peers.

As the Executive Sponsor of Unity in the Americas, I am passionate about allyship and advocacy. My personal journey began when my youngest child came out as transgender. This experience encouraged me to see the world from a different lens and to really think about what allyship entails. Since then, I’ve vocally advocated for LGBT+ rights, both within EY and at the local, state and federal levels. In 2018, I co-led EY support of the Freedom for All Massachusetts coalition, seeking to uphold transgender nondiscrimination protections. I’ve also testified on Capitol Hill in support of federal legislation to enforce workplace protection for LGBT+ Americans.

Allyship is more than these big actions and advocacy doesn’t have to mean engaging in public policy. It’s also how you show up every day. At EY, all leaders are encouraged to be visible allies and model that behavior for their teams. And those behaviors work for engaging people on teams beyond LGBT+ diversity — to gender, race, abilities, veteran status, background and more.

We also emphasize the importance of inclusive leadership behaviors that cultivate a culture of belonging. For example, building authentic connections with empathy and curiosity and checking in with colleagues about how they are doing, both personally and professionally, can have a big impact on increasing belonging for all.

Diversity and inclusiveness are everyone’s responsibility. Allyship should create environments where people feel not just supported, but like they truly belong and can flourish with pride.
Rich Jeanneret
EY US-East Region Managing Partner and Executive Sponsor of Unity, the EY LGBT+ network, in the Americas

Allyship across differences

Cultivating an inclusive culture is especially important in today’s environment, where amid the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has diminished a sense of allyship, especially among non-LGBT+-identified workers. While 56% of non-LGBT+-identified people described themselves as allies prior to the pandemic, now only 36% do.

We don’t yet know how offices and physical workplaces will look throughout the coming months or years. But we do know that digital connections will be more important than ever before. Organizations should assess how they communicate with teams, and especially how they engage groups that may feel unheard.

In the midst of a health crisis with broad-ranging impacts, we are also facing long-standing challenges as a society and grappling with issues of social inequity, racism and discrimination. This only reinforces the need for allies who will stand up and support all voices at the margins. Our study on the importance of allyship applies across conversations around racism, nationalism and xenophobia, and more. However, it’s important to remember that allyship is authentic when it is centered on education, action and amplifying the needs and voices of the community it is aimed to support.

At EY, our proud LGBT+ community and allies are critical in raising our collective voice in solidarity with all of our people across differences, especially our Black colleagues and communities, which are facing continued discrimination and racism. Now, more than ever, it’s important that we unite to drive positive change.

Summary

In today’s world, amid challenges brought on by a global pandemic, social inequity, discrimination and bias, it’s never been more important to be an ally for underrepresented communities, including the LGBT+ community. In a new study with Out Leadership, EY explores the state of allyship at work and how moving from intention to action as an ally, through words and behaviors, helps to create open, safe, inclusive environments where everyone can feel a sense of belonging.

About this article

By Richard Jeanneret

EY Vice Chair and Regional Managing Partner – US-East

Regional leader of the largest Region. Member of the Americas Executive Board. Seasoned transactions and capital strategy partner. Husband. Father. LGBTQ+ advocate