To the leaders of our companies:
As I write this in June 2020, issues of racial injustice are deeply impacting the black community following the murders of George Floyd and countless others. The systemic racial discrimination and inequality that continue to plague our society have our communities and workplaces activating their responsibilities to drive change.
It’s also Pride Month, a critically important time for me as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Pride Month is often known for its parades and rainbow flags, but 51 years ago, the movement got its start following protests and riots led by trans women of color in New York City. This moment feels particularly poignant—and the time for everyone, including employers, to put a dedicated focus on allyship.
“Ally” is one of those words that has a full suite of meanings and connotations. And recently, it has been used a lot. At Fidelity, we believe allyship is all about embracing one’s individual power to drive change. It’s the recognition that regardless of your role, you have the ability to make an impact for the better.
We believe allies are people who challenge the status quo; remove barriers so everyone can share their best talents; support and promote people with different backgrounds; and, above all, approach their colleagues with empathy and respect.
Now, more than ever, it is critical that companies and their leaders establish themselves as allies or risk alienating their employees, customers, and the broader society. And yes, promoting allyship very much feels like “the right thing to do,” but it’s also a smart leadership and management priority.
Allyship Can Serve as Inbound Recruiting for the Talent We Need
The LGBTQ+ community can be a difficult group to intentionally recruit, as our “differences” are not necessarily visible or broadly discussed at work: Almost half (46%) of LGBTQ+ workers in the United States are closeted in the workplace.
When companies share their equality practices and act outwardly as allies, diverse talent is more likely to seek them out as an employer of choice. We know that employees with differences are critical in helping companies understand their diverse customers and providing solutions and services that resonate. In not acting as an LGBTQ+ ally, companies are alienating talent that can help serve their customers.
Respected Employees = Productive Employees
As a nonbinary person, I will never forget the day I first heard a member of our senior leadership team use my correct pronouns (they/them). It didn’t come naturally to him—for the first few months we worked together, I would often hear him refer to me as “she.”
It took an effort on his part to refer to me as “them.” But this small acknowledgment and behavior shift from someone so senior meant the world to me. In that moment, I felt seen, respected, valued, and able to contribute the best of my talents without inhibition.
Employees report feeling exhausted from spending time and energy concealing their sexual orientation (17%) and gender identity (13%)—and those feelings of exhaustion can prevent us from contributing our best work. A culture of allyship can help leadership get the best out of their people.
Allyship Is Simple and Free
At Fidelity, we are creating a more diverse and inclusive work environment through “Simple Starts.” We look for opportunities to make incremental behavioral adjustments that create more inclusive environments and help our employees act as allies. Eventually, these behaviors become firmwide habits that help drive progress at scale.
Our “Simple Starts of Allyship” include seeking out mentor/mentees with backgrounds different from your own, sponsoring and promoting the work of your underrepresented colleagues, redistributing project work, modifying your language (i.e., no longer referring to groups of people as “guys”), and defining your sphere of influence.
None of these behaviors involve new programs—they’re adjustments in day-to-day business processes that add up to progress. These behaviors resonate beyond the LGBTQ+ community and will create an ecosystem of allyship across all elements of difference.
Ultimately, members of the LGBTQ+ community wish to see themselves in leadership. Today, fewer than 0.3% of Fortune 500 board directors are openly LGBTQ+. If leadership doesn’t yet reflect us, we ask that they stand by us and support who we are.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Authenticity always comes down to intent. Are you willing to listen and learn? Are you willing to let that community lead and take your direction from them? If so, simply get started.
Cate Ashley is a Senior User Experience Designer at Fidelity Investments. They also are the Global Co-Lead for Fidelity’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group.