LGBTQ Allies Play Key Role in Creating Inclusive Workplaces

Pride month another opportunity for allies to show support
When the Supreme Court upheld protection this month for LGBT employees under the Civil Rights Act, Angie Coderre of US Foods heard the news first from a company vice president. “It says something that one of the first people who wanted to celebrate with me was a coworker,” she said. Still, rollbacks of protections for transgender people during the same week provide a stark reminder that the struggle for equality continues and allies are critical.
LGBTQ Allies Play Key Role in Creating Inclusive Workplaces
There will be no in-person Pride Parade in Chicago this year due to COVID-19, but Angie Coderre, US Foods Manager of Analytics for Merchandising, and many others are still celebrating Pride Inside. Coderre is shipping Pride gear to colleagues at home and encouraging US Foods folks to use Yammer to celebrate. But the most public effort hosted by the US Foods Pride Alliance Employee Resource Group (ERG) has been an Allyship and Antiracism Workshop.
“We wanted to be relevant and support another marginalized community experiencing an especially difficult time right now,” Coderre said.  “We connected with the US Foods Black Resource Group to say, ‘We want to take this on. We’ll do the work and ask you to weigh in and let us know if we have your blessing.’”   
Coming out, stepping up
When Coderre was engaged and then married in 2015, and began to come out more fully at work, she encountered more allies, as well as colleagues who were closeted, or partially closeted. The experience prompted her to work with US Foods to found an LGBT Employee Resource Group. The group has since grown in size and influence and Coderre has further developed as a leader through the experience.
Relationships of trust
The US Foods Pride Alliance has forged stronger relationships and trust, enabled executive sponsors to find their voices and helped individual managers find new ways to listen to and support LGBT team members, Coderre says.  “It certainly feels like collaboration to bring about real change and business growth.”
A recent study by Out Now marketing consultants titled LGBT Diversity Show Me the Business Case, reports that the U.S. economy could save $9 billion annually if organizations had more effective diversity and inclusion policies for LGBT team members. Or if they implemented existing policies more effectively. Savings would be driven by increased job satisfaction and decreased health concerns among LGBT employees who report workplace stress, anxiety and work-related complaints related to hiding their identities on the job.
Employers would also benefit from lower legal costs related to discrimination lawsuits and the negative public image association with such claims. LGBT team members who are openly out with their colleagues are also more likely to remain with their organization.  
Hallmarks of inclusion
Company policies are the first thing Coderre looks at to evaluate an inclusive workplace. “Number one is seeing benefits and discrimination policies that include sexuality and gender in the company handbook,” she says. “That’s affirming and sets the stage for inclusion.”
Senior Director of Training and Development for Church’s Chicken, Felicia White, agrees.
“An inclusive work environment for LGBTQ members means a safe workspace where you can bring your whole self to work. It could be as simple as placing pronouns on the employee badge in addition to name and title, or having non-gender restrooms. Creating a space of ‘normalcy’ for all team members creates a motivating and inclusive culture,” she adds.  
Advice for allies
An added benefit of the Pride Alliance at US Foods is that it provides a resource for all employees. “Well-meaning people are often fearful that they don’t know what to say or what questions are okay to ask,” Coderre explains. “We not only support LGBT colleagues, but help all of our coworkers with education and ally training.”
Pride Alliance members have also provided critical support to colleagues struggling with the gender and sexuality journeys of their children and other family members.
One of the best ways to express care and love for those different from you is to educate yourself with existing resources, according to Coderre. “A lot of feedback LGBT people hear is, ‘I can’t keep this all straight.’ To that, I say try. Don’t give up. As allies, we are committed to making ourselves uncomfortable and having difficult conversations.”
White also suggests not focusing on the sexuality of LGBTQ members or their coming out but rather on learning about their full lives. Coderre concurs, saying, “All LGBT people are on their own journey. Some are comfortable fully out. Others might have reasons outside the company that they do not want to be fully out at work. That needs to be respected.”
Allies can also help by speaking up when they hear and see things that are disrespectful. And, they can build bridges to managers and others who appear less comfortable around LGBT employees. “You can help facilitate those connections by inviting your manager or peers to join you in casual conversations with someone being left out.”
Support for the journey
In addition to her US Foods colleagues, Coderre has found deep support and welcoming mentors within WFF. “There is something particularly special about the WFF LGBTQ Community of Interest,” she explains. “When you combine the LGBT connection with shared professional experience, it provides an extra level of camaraderie.”

Sign Up For Newsletter

Stay connected and learn about the latest news and events in our community!