Lead­er­ship Fo­rum: The Role of the LGBTQ + Ally

Four se­nior ex­ec­u­tives re­cently gath­ered at the Rot­man School to discuss “How Al­lies Can Ad­vo­cate for LGBTQ+ Em­ploy­ees”. Fol­low­ing are high­lights from the panel dis­cus­sion. Compiled by Karen Chris­tensen

Rotman Management Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Ken Fre­deen, San­deep Tatla, Deb­o­rah Richard­son and Jen­nifer Tory

A panel of se­nior lead­ers looks at the chal­lenges and re­wards of be­ing an ally for LGBTQ+ em­ploy­ees.

Ken­neth J. Fre­deen Gen­eral Coun­sel, Deloitte LLP

AGO, when I was asked to be on Deloitte’s AL­MOST TEN YEARS orig­i­nal di­ver­sity coun­cil and to be the ex­ec­u­tive spon­sor for its LGBTQ net­work, I felt hon­oured. Although I have fam­ily mem­bers and friends who are gay, I soon re­al­ized that we had lots of work to do in be­com­ing an in­clu­sive cul­ture for mem­bers of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity.

As a straight man, there are some who see what I did as a coura­geous act, but it never felt that way to me. There were some whis­pers that I was gay, but that didn’t bother me. I am still asked some­times, ‘What is your vested in­ter­est in do­ing this?’, and I hon­estly don’t have one. It all starts from my be­lief that in­clu­sive­ness means a more sta­ble and suc­cess­ful so­ci­ety and econ­omy. The fact is, an in­clu­sive busi­ness will be more suc­cess­ful in at­tract­ing and keep­ing the best tal­ent — which makes for a pretty com­pelling busi­ness case. The great thing for me is, as a straight, white, typ­i­cally-abled, mid­dle-aged guy, the ex­pec­ta­tions for me are pretty low — so be­ing pas­sion­ate about the im­por­tance of in­clu­sion al­lows me to ask a lot of ques­tions.

I re­ally be­lieve that to­day, you can’t be a great leader un­less you un­der­stand, prac­tice and pro­mote in­clu­sive­ness. And it’s not just about the LGBTQ com­mu­nity: Un­less peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are part of the in­clu­sive­ness equa­tion, you can be nei­ther an in­clu­sive leader nor cre­ate an in­clu­sive work­place.

Men have a crit­i­cal role to play around in­clu­sion, as do women. To­gether, we need to work to ad­vance those who are ‘not like us’, so that the play­ing field is equal for every­one. It is not enough to agree with this in prin­ci­ple: You need to be pre­pared to say it out loud and to be vis­i­ble about it.

I want young peo­ple to know that the most im­por­tant thing for them is to be true to them­selves about who they are and what they are pas­sion­ate about. Busi­nesses to­day are look­ing for di­verse thinkers with dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences who are pas­sion­ate and re­silient, to suc­cess­fully con­front the chal­lenges we face. LGBTQ em­ploy­ees will flour­ish in this en­vi­ron­ment and bring suc­cess to their em­ploy­ers.

In the end, it is about vis­i­ble lead­er­ship, call­ing out b*llsh*t when needed, and pro­vid­ing men­tor­ship, coach­ing and spon­sor­ship. We also need to un­der­stand that peo­ple are on dif­fer­ent lev­els on the in­clu­sion lad­der. We have to be sen­si­tive to that and ed­u­cate and sup­port peo­ple by re­mov­ing the fears they might have. The good news is, peo­ple join­ing our com­pany to­day are join­ing a much more in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment than just a decade ago.

San­deep Tatla As­sis­tant VP, Global Head of Di­ver­sity & In­clu­sion, Man­ulife

have al­ways been very im­por­tant IS­SUES OF EQ­UITY AND IN­CLU­SION to me. In my day-to-day work, I have the op­por­tu­nity to lend my in­flu­ence, power and priv­i­lege to en­sure that those who may not have a voice are heard.

Over the years, the riski­est things I’ve done are not the ac­tions that I’ve taken, or mak­ing changes to pol­icy, or talk­ing in front of groups. It’s been more about the one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had with lead­ers who, for ex­am­ple, in meet­ings, have made in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments, or said some­thing (of­ten, not on pur­pose) neg­a­tive. The first time I did this, I was ex­tremely ner­vous about it, but each time af­ter that, when­ever I’ve talked to a se­nior leader about these is­sues, they have been in­cred­i­bly open to the feed­back.

Most peo­ple don’t in­tend to be ex­clu­sion­ary, so when you call them on it, they of­ten breathe a sigh of re­lief. Lots of peo­ple are grap­pling with LGBTQ lan­guage. They don’t know what to say or how to say it. When I open the door to these con­ver­sa­tions, it’s amaz­ing how open peo­ple are. Be­ing an ally doesn’t al­ways have to be about big, bold ac­tions. At Man­ulife, we talk about be­ing ei­ther an ac­tive or a pas­sive ally, and there are plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for those of us who just want to dip our toe in the wa­ter.

As a vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity, I live a very spe­cific ex­pe­ri­ence, and from that per­spec­tive, I re­al­ize that I will never truly un­der­stand the ex­pe­ri­ence of an LGBTQ per­son; but I can cer­tainly try my best to em­pathize and learn, and that’s how I ap­proach it. That is why I of­ten de­fer to mem­bers of the com­mu­nity. I’ve also learned that some­one may ‘come out’ in the work­place once, but then, there are mul­ti­ple other times through­out their ca­reer where they have to do it again — whether it be with a new boss or a new team mem­ber. It’s very im­por­tant to al­low each in­di­vid­ual to dic­tate their own jour­ney. Even as an ally, you can’t speak for them or as­sume that they are ready to have a con­ver­sa­tion in pub­lic about par­tic­u­lar things.

Peo­ple who think dis­crim­i­na­tion and ha­rass­ment no longer ex­ist have just never ex­pe­ri­enced it, and as a re­sult, they’ve got blind spots. Be­ing an In­dian woman, my whole life has been as an out­sider look­ing in. I also know that there are lots of other out­siders look­ing in, and I can ap­pre­ci­ate that. Just be­cause I have that ex­pe­ri­ence, it doesn’t give me carte blanche to say that I un­der­stand some­one else’s ex­pe­ri­ence.

In some ways, it’s eas­ier for a vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity like me, be­cause there is no hid­ing the fact that I am In­dian. When I’m ap­ply­ing for a role, peo­ple can tell im­me­di­ately from my name — and ei­ther they want me there, or they don’t. But for in­di­vid­u­als who are mi­nori­ties in ways that we can’t see, there is al­ways an in­ter­nal strug­gle go­ing on, day in and day out.

Deb­o­rah Richard­son Deputy Min­is­ter, Min­istry of Indige­nous Re­la­tions and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, Prov­ince of On­tario

com­mu­nity, there is a lot of fo­cus on TYP­I­CALLY, WITHIN THE LGBTQ the ‘LG’, and the rest of the com­mu­nity is left be­hind. Within my own space at the Deputy Min­is­ter’s of­fice, we have a trans­gen­dered col­league, and this was a real learn­ing op­por­tu­nity for us. We sud­denly re­al­ized that there was no avail­able wash­room for this per­son, so we had to have one in­stalled. Push­ing the bu­reau­cracy about what con­sti­tuted ‘ap­pro­pri­ate sig­nage’ turned into a pretty big deal. Even peo­ple who were try­ing to be help­ful would use the term ‘trans­ves­tite,’ be­cause they just didn’t un­der­stand the lan­guage. Push­ing back on that, as a leader, is very im­por­tant. There have been other in­ci­dences where I have to call out my own boss or other Deputy Min­is­ters around a num­ber of is­sues in­volv­ing the Pride Net­work. It’s never easy to have these con­ver­sa­tions, but it is crit­i­cal.

As an ally, I am ba­si­cally ‘lead­ing with per­mis­sion’. You can’t just be­come a cham­pion for peo­ple and charge ahead: You need to make sure you are do­ing what they want you to do. That re­quires two key at­tributes: Em­pa­thy and self-aware­ness. Lead­ers of­ten want to take charge, but I can’t think that my ex­pe­ri­ence of dis­crim­i­na­tion as an indige­nous woman is the same as any­one else’s. I do think that for peo­ple from marginal­ized groups, it’s eas­ier to iden­tify with each other, be­cause many peo­ple from priv­i­leged groups don’t even be­lieve that dis­crim­i­na­tion or racism still ex­ist.

It is ab­so­lutely vi­tal that we be­come com­fort­able call­ing out be­hav­iour and in­ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage, and not be afraid to do that. That re­ally starts to change the tone in a work­place cul­ture, es­pe­cially when the per­son do­ing it is in a se­nior po­si­tion. The On­tario Pub­lic Ser­vice Pride Net­work of­fers a course on how to be­come an ally, and it teaches three prin­ci­ples: First you must stand be­hind the in­di­vid­u­als be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against. That means or­ga­niz­ing events that peo­ple can speak out at, and tell their own story, and we’ve done a num­ber of these across the On­tario Pub­lic Ser­vice. Sec­ond, you must stand be­side these in­di­vid­u­als — at­tend­ing the Pride Pa­rade, or go­ing to dif­fer­ent events that are im­por­tant to the com­mu­nity. And third, you must stand in front of these in­di­vid­u­als, which means us­ing your in­flu­ence to ad­vo­cate for continued progress on in­clu­sion.

Whether it’s in­stalling trans­gen­dered wash­rooms or cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive space so that peo­ple feel com­fort­able com­ing out, it’s re­ally about lead­ing with per­mis­sion, not just be­ing a ‘rene­gade ad­vo­cate’. It takes courage to be an ad­vo­cate for marginal­ized groups, be­cause you’re fight­ing against the sta­tus quo — par­tic­u­larly in the big banks and within gov­ern­ment, where rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the se­nior ranks is not as in­clu­sive as it should be.

Jen­nifer Tory Group Head, Per­sonal and Com­mer­cial Bank­ing, RBC

20 years ago, my role proWHEN I STARTED LEAD­ING LARGE GROUPS vided the op­por­tu­nity to meet peo­ple from all walks of life. Once you are in a lead­er­ship role, I be­lieve it comes with cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. I was hon­oured and hum­bled when, early in their jour­ney, a cou­ple of my close col­leagues came out to me, and I was able to help them take steps to come out more broadly, open doors, and pro­vide a plat­form where they could make a dif­fer­ence in­side the firm and out in the com­mu­nity.

Years ago, when I was work­ing in a re­tail bank­ing en­vi­ron­ment that em­ployed thou­sands of peo­ple, the em­ploy­ees wanted to sig­nal that our work cul­ture was a wel­com­ing place. They had heard about a ‘rain­bow ini­tia­tive’ that was started some­where else, and they wanted to try it. So, we put rain­bow stick­ers out­side the of­fices of peo­ple who gave us per­mis­sion. To our sur­prise, some­one ac­tu­ally went to the press and said, “Look what they’re do­ing at RBC!” It took real courage to con­tinue the ini­tia­tive, and to make peo­ple un­der­stand that we wanted to cre­ate an in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment where every­one could feel com­fort­able bring­ing their whole self to work.

As an ally, you also have to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties to bring oth­ers along with you. If you want to cel­e­brate Na­tional Com­ing Out Day, it’s not just about send­ing an in­vi­ta­tion out, but ac­tu­ally reach­ing out to in­volve se­nior peo­ple so that they, too, are seen as al­lies, and em­ploy­ees know that the en­vi­ron­ment is in­clu­sive and safe, as it re­lates to ca­reer pro­gres­sion.

If you don’t cre­ate that kind of open en­vi­ron­ment, you won’t have peo­ple will­ing to come and talk to you about their in­di­vid­ual sit­u­a­tions, or how they’re feel­ing in the work­place, be­cause they won’t per­ceive you as be­ing open to that dis­cus­sion. One of the most crit­i­cal things we can do is reach out to peo­ple at all lev­els and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for every­one to be more open and com- fort­able with each other, and share their ex­pe­ri­ences.

When I first started in my role as head of Greater Toronto re­gion, I knew that TD Bank al­ready had a prom­i­nent po­si­tion in the LGBTQ com­mu­nity. We had not done any­thing wrong at RBC — we just hadn’t done any­thing vis­i­ble enough to re­ally demon­strate our com­mit­ment to the com­mu­nity. So, one of the first things I did was to in­vite a group of com­mu­nity lead­ers in, to get their ad­vice on the type of sup­port we could pro­vide. We didn’t just sup­port the com­mu­nity with our dol­lars, but also through vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties for our em­ploy­ees, which cre­ated vis­i­bil­ity and demon­strated that RBC it­self was an ally.

Many LGBTQ em­ploy­ees have no in­ter­est in be­ing po­lit­i­cal: They just want to come to work and be treated with the same re­spect as every­one else. Peo­ple have said to me, ‘I don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to go to large events, or speak out about is­sues re­lated to the LGBTQ com­mu­nity. That’s not for me.’ Sup­port­ive al­lies ac­knowl­edge that our job is not to put pres­sure on some­one to ‘come out’; it’s to re­spect the fact that, in a some­times ho­mo­pho­bic so­ci­ety, peo­ple also have the right to not come out. As an ally I to­tally re­spect that and am there to fol­low your lead: Let me know how I can sup­port you, and I will do what­ever I can.

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