SFE YP Blog: Tips on how to be an ally

Will Labate is a Senior Consultant and UK LGBT+ Network Lead at Capco, a global financial services consultancy, and an SFE YP Committee member.

Growing up as a gay man in New York, I have seen the benefits that allies bring to my own community, and I have taken those lessons to support other communities that suffer intolerance or discrimination.

“An ally is someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group but who takes action to support that group.”

I have always been interested in learning about how I can get involved in promoting greater equality for the LGBT+ community. From joining the LGBT+ society at university to campaigning locally for LGBT+ rights, I advocated for issues which impacted me personally. It was during this time when I noticed others who did not identify as LGBT+ being present and actively pushing for change to fight against injustice. I soon learned about the concept of allies through meeting these individuals who, although an issue did not impact them personally, pursed policies and actions which supported other communities and accelerated the pace of change.

It was in 2014 when I finished university and met my Glaswegian partner that I decided to relocate to Scotland. After starting my career in financial services with Capco’s graduate programme, I encountered the importance of allies once again. I quickly got involved in Capco’s LGBT+ employee network, Pride@Capco, after learning about the firm’s Be Yourself At Work culture. Fast-forward four years, I have seen many positive steps towards an even more inclusive culture at my firm, from the introduction of policies that benefit transgender employees, to events which discuss how best to support those coming out at work.

I have stepped up as a member of the community, going from an LGBT+ network team member, to becoming the UK LGBT+ network lead for Capco. Here, we have sought to run initiatives and events from an intersectional perspective, looking at issues that face not just the LGBT+ community but also race and gender. Through this journey, I have seen time and time again allies who go beyond just showing up by supporting the agenda which the networks are pursuing and being advocates for change themselves.

All firms in Scotland are at different points in their diversity and inclusion journey and progressing at different speeds. Many have integrated diversity and inclusion into their company’s values and strategy while others are just starting to recognise the importance of supporting a diverse employee base. No matter where your firm is in this journey, here are three ways that you can personally take on the role of an ally to support your colleagues and encourage wider change in your firm which can also help inspire change in the wider industry.
  1. Support Your Firm’s Diversity Networks: Even if you are not a member of a diversity network at your organisation, they need and will appreciate your support. I keenly remember a few years ago when Capco marched in its first-ever Edinburgh Pride, how encouraging it was to have not only the LGBT+ network members present but also so many allies joining us as well, giving us a much greater presence. This support is key and will help the network amplify its impact and extend its reach outside of its core group of members. In addition to participating in events or initiatives, it is important for senior managers to find ways to ensure these networks have the wider firms’ support, budget for their activities and are included in wider discussions in areas from recruitment to HR.

  2. Foster an Inclusive Environment: It should not be a surprise that employees who feel valued and supported at work also perform better. Creating this inclusive environment should start with your own actions. It is important to not be a bystander and call out all forms of overt discrimination if you see it by challenging inappropriate behaviour. However, creating an inclusive environment goes beyond this. I recently attended  training at Capco where I learned how my unconscious bias can be challenged when making decisions and interacting with colleagues. I highly encourage you to enrol in any inclusion training your organisation offers. If these are not available within your firm, there are a wealth of resources online and it might be helpful to highlight the need for this type of training to your learning and development business partner.

  3. Push for Policy Change: A firm’s diversity policies are where staff can really be supported and empowered to maximise their potential. It is important to think about the unique circumstances of these diverse groups which might cause a gap in a policy or practise of a firm. Is our family leave policy inclusive of all different types of families? Do our recruitment practices hinder hiring individuals of a certain race? While this may sound like an area for senior managers and HR professionals to look at, there is no reason why the wider employee base cannot be allies themselves in the policy arena. Many firms perform consultations and surveys on their employees before they change policy. It would be useful to think about what might be missing or even ask a colleague what they would like to see improve at your firm. There are also lessons to be learned from other firms in the industry, many of which may be exploring new policies or initiatives to support their own staff.
If an organisation or an individual is at an earlier stage in their inclusion journey that is fine, it is the progress along that journey that matters. Companies need to avoid getting stuck as being ‘performative allies’ with surface-level activism without proper actions to support and empower staff. Speaking to other members of diversity and inclusion networks throughout the Scottish financial services industry, I see many companies pursing objectives which genuinely support diverse communities of employees. Keeping the focus on forward-looking improvement through substantive actions will help firms avoid  stagnant or tokenistic diversity and inclusion strategies.

I hope my tips give some points to reflect on about being a supportive ally. Even if there is not a situation where you are directly asked to be an ally, a proactive ally will often be appreciated and encouraged. Go to a diversity network event, donate to a network-led fundraiser, attend  diversity training, and put this knowledge into practice by supporting the initiatives of your networks, firm and industry to empower diverse staff. It is through this collaboration where allies can help all communities create a stronger and more diverse workplace and wider financial services industry in Scotland.