Active allyship: microaggressions and discrimination in the workplace
Discover the meaning of ‘microaggression’ and how to be an active ally in the workplace and society.
Throughout the month of June, Alexisse Yoo (she/her), who is a rising third-year undergraduate student and the Careers Centre’s EDI Intern, is writing a blog series on EDI-focused topics and issues in the workplace. This is the third post in that series. To read her first post, visit: Celebrating Pride Month and identifying LGBTQ+ inclusive employers. To read her second post, visit Employee resource groups (ERGs) and inclusion.
Pride Month is a time to centre and amplify LGBTQ+ voices while celebrating together. But as we reach the end of this month, let’s discuss some actions that allies (straight and cisgender supporters of the LGBTQ+ community) can take in the workplace and beyond to foster more equitable and inclusive spaces for queer individuals. Fostering these environments requires intentional actions by allies, which includes confronting microaggressions and discrimination in the workplace while also continuing to educate oneself.
Microaggressions are the intentional or unintentional invalidations and subtle offensive behaviours that people in marginalised groups experience constantly. This term originated to describe people of colour’s experiences with these invalidations and behaviours, but the term is now used more generally across identity groups to capture these experiences. As always, we must remain mindful of intersectionality and the increased marginalisation that queer and/or disabled people of colour face in the workplace and society.
The University of Massachusetts identifies some common types of microaggressions that queer people face. These can include assuming stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people or referring to queerness as a “lifestyle.” Other harmful behaviours can include asking inappropriate and intrusive questions about queer people’s bodies or sex lives, and misgendering or deadnaming people.
It can be difficult to actively demonstrate allyship, especially as many of us have acquired unconscious biases throughout our lives. It takes conscious effort to adjust language, behaviours, and actions, and we will all make mistakes at some point. In these cases, it is especially important to fully acknowledge the mistake and use it as an opportunity to learn and develop.
How to be an active ally
Practice active listening and amplify LGBTQ+ voices
- As much as straight and cisgender people may empathise with the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, allies cannot understand the full reality of living as queer people. Therefore, it’s especially important to listen to and uplift members of the LGBTQ+ community rather than speaking for or over them.
Educate yourself independently and proactively
- Although many people in the LGBTQ+ community work tirelessly as educators and advocates for equity and inclusion, LGBTQ+ people in your life are not obligated to devote their time and energy to educate you.
- However, don’t be afraid to ask respectful questions or access resources that have been specifically developed for allies.
Respect boundaries and consider whether a question is inappropriate or intrusive
- Queer people do not owe anyone explanations or answers about their bodies, sex lives, or identities.
- If a queer person chooses to educate others about their experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, they are doing this independently and generously, but it is not something you are entitled to.
Confront instances of homophobia and transphobia in the workplace
- If someone in the workplace is either unintentionally or intentionally misgendering or deadnaming a colleague, call out this behavior.
- If you observe this behaviour, you might say, “Sasha uses they/them pronouns, and it’s important to respect their gender identity by using those pronouns.”
- Afterwards, you can privately check in with the colleague who was being misgendered or deadnamed to see how they are doing and to learn how best to support them.
Include your pronouns in email signatures and share them when introducing yourself
- Normalise sharing your pronouns by including them in your email signature.
- In a meeting, it can be helpful to state your own pronouns first and then ask a colleague which pronouns they use.
Don’t out someone who has come out to you
- If someone has chosen to share information about their sexuality or gender identity, they are demonstrating their trust in you. Just because someone has come out to you does not mean they are out to everyone in their personal or professional life.
- Make sure to check whether they are out in the workplace and whether they are comfortable discussing their sexuality or gender identity with others.
Learning to be an effective and mindful ally is a process, and these changes are not quick or easy in many cases. What is most important is to treat corrections or mistakes as opportunities to learn and become better allies. If you need to report a microaggression incident to the University of St Andrews, use Report and Support, which allows you to report anonymously or seek an adviser’s support.
If you’re interested in being an active ally and confronting microaggressions in the workplace, you can consult these resources for more information: