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The importance of work allies

Jun 23, 2020

Allies play a crucial role in the careers of LGBTQ+ people. Daniel Turley explains the difference they can make to an LGBTQ+ individual’s working environment.

“I moved to Dublin with my girlfriend.”

I had just started a job in a Big Four accounting firm, and that was my answer to intrigued colleagues that wanted to learn a bit more about the new guy at work. To anyone that knew me outside of work, this was very clearly not true. For one, I didn’t have a girlfriend; two, I am a gay man. However, when faced with a meeting room of partners, managers, and rugby lads, I choked – I didn’t want to give so much away about myself so soon. Saying “my boyfriend” seemed too controversial and “partner” would be a dead giveaway.

My experience is not that uncommon – a Vodafone survey conducted by Out Now noted that 78% of LGBTQ+ individuals had hidden their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their life. This was mine.

A second coming out

Over the coming months, I slowly started to set the record (un)straight. To say that I received a positive reaction is an understatement. The responses were a mix of delight, compassion, and outright confusion – primarily as to why I felt the need to lie in the first place. I wondered that myself. What was clear for me, though, was how lucky I felt. Lucky that I had such a warm reception to my news, and lucky that I worked in a firm that was so supportive of its LGBTQ+ individuals.

Management had always made it clear that discrimination would not be tolerated in the firm; however, it was the actions I saw beyond the non-discriminatory practices. I was amazed by the additional support that was on offer – a non-LGBTQ+ partner made efforts to introduce me to other LGBTQ+ leaders in the firm, and significant efforts were made to support LGBTQ+ Pride Month every year. With my firm, I got to walk the Dublin Pride parade, and I did it with a partner in the firm and her kids.

Allies

When I first joined the firm, the term ‘ally’ was a relatively new concept to me. I hadn’t thought of non-LGBTQ+ individuals in this way until then, but the firm had a network available to LGBTQ+ employees and allies. My experience with the network showed me how much of a difference good allies can make to an LGBTQ+ individual’s working environment.

There is no one way for someone to be an LGBTQ+ ally. Allies, like gender, can fall on a spectrum, and all types of ally-ship can be equally valid when coming from the right place. This may take the form of marching in Pride parades, actively identifying and removing discriminatory practices from office culture or wearing rainbow colours.

However, I also see significance in quieter forms of ally-ship. Some of the most poignant experiences I have had in the workplace have come from conversations with colleagues who aren’t necessarily familiar with the concept of what it meant for me to be gay. Allies have been there to share their experiences, speak of their LGBTQ+ family members and provide understanding. They have also been there to course correct conversations when necessary. These conversations have proven to be insightful, thoughtful and – most importantly – respectful. (They have also proven to be low-key hilarious. One fella still can’t believe that I am not physically attracted to Kelly Brook, but he’s getting there.)

I’ve since moved to a different organisation. This time around, I was gay from the first moment it was relevant to the conversation. My confidence going into a new working environment as myself this time and not as a straight man comes from the inclusivity at my first firm in Dublin and the allies I found within it.

Daniel Turley is a Financial Accountant in BioMarin and on the Chartered Accountants Ireland Young Professionals committee.