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Why allyship is so important for true inclusion at work


‘’It’s important to know people have my back’’

Feeling safe to be our true selves is just as important at work as it is in our everyday lives, which is why an inclusive and supportive environment is essential for all of us to live and work well and to realise our full potential.

At Umicore, we believe that inclusion is something everyone can contribute to, which is why we believe allyship is so important. Anyone can be an ally, by actively supporting colleagues in the LGBTQIA+ community, taking time to understand and learn, and using their voice to promote inclusion and equality. And, of course, allyship is not restricted to LGBTQIA+ — allies can also support colleagues from different racial, ethnic and religious groups, people with disabilities – anyone who may feel marginalised and faces barriers in society.

To find out more about allyship, we talked to two colleagues who played an active role in forming our successful Queer at Umicore Yammer community, which provides a safe space where colleagues who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community can share experiences and support one another. It’s also a space where many more colleagues in Umicore can get involved as allies.

Active support, not silent acceptance

Sophia Verbrugghe, Team Leader Research & Development, who helped to set up Queer at Umicore and identifies as queer, says: ‘’Having the support of allies has been quite instrumental for me. I’ve always been vocal on issues, so it’s very important to know that people have my back. The same applies in the workplace. You need to know you’re safe speaking out on something, or being your authentic self, without feeling like you’re taking a risk. That’s why allies are so important, as they provide active support, not just silent acceptance.’’

Sophia adds that the Queer at Umicore community and having the wider support of allies ‘’has given me an opening to mention to colleagues that I’m queer in an easy way, without feeling like I’m bringing it up out of the blue. Sometimes, it feels like I constantly have to come out to new people, so having allies, and the safety of the Queer at Umicore community, is important for me.’’

Using privilege for a purpose

Arik Puls, Senior Business Strategy Manager, has been actively involved in the Queer at Umicore community as an ally since it started. He says an important aspect of allyship is for people to use their ‘’embedded advantage’’ – or privilege – for a positive purpose.

He explains: ‘’I identify as a cis heterosexual male. I’m white, from a western country, well-educated and on the young side of middle aged. You could say I’ve got all the advantages in the bag, right? I want to use this position of advantage for a positive purpose. Helping to set up Queer at Umicore and showing my support has been an important way for me to be an ally. There are manifold ways of allyship, but for me it boils down to showing a genuine interest, taking the time to increase your knowledge, whether it’s checking out the Queer at Umicore Yammer page, or taking part in a webinar. It’s also about speaking out instead of staying quiet, and making sure you listen and acknowledge that everyone’s experiences are different. That’s particularly important when you’re in a privileged position, because not everyone has had the same experiences in life as you.’’

Arik says a good guide for allyship is to be ‘’intentionally inclusive’’ and says the use of gender in language is a good example: ‘’In German, it very much matters in the grammar if you’re talking to a male or a female. If you try to make a text gender-neutral, it can be more complicated. I’d like to see people argue less about how it makes it more difficult for them, and instead think from the perspective of how it makes it better for someone else. Every little helps.’’

‘’Engaging in the conversation makes it bigger’’

Sophia says becoming an ally doesn’t need to be difficult – it can often simply be a question of taking part in conversations. ‘’In the LGBTQIA+ community, we’re a minority, so if our voices are the only ones, they won’t be heard by everyone. But if we can amplify our voices by having a community of allies around us that can be very powerful. Just engaging in the conversation can make it bigger.’’

Sophia acknowledges that being an outspoken ally is not always easy. ’Our company has many sites worldwide and cultures are different, even between here in Belgium and where Arik is in Germany. Some countries are not so open to LGBTQI+ topics. That makes it even more important for people who are in a privileged position, like myself, to make our voices heard. You have to start somewhere, and over time, that culture of inclusion, acceptance and allyship will hopefully spread.’’

She adds: ‘’Even here in Belgium when I told people inside and out of work that I was helping to start the Queer at Umicore community, there was some friendly concern for me, and how it may affect my career. The fact that concern is there, even if it is well intentioned, shows there is still work to be done.’’

Looking ahead, Sophia and Arik say the Queer at Umicore group hopes to attract more active members and allies, especially when it comes to engaging with harder-to-reach employees with less access to digital communication.

What is an ally?

An ally is often defined as someone who is not a member of a marginalised group but wants to support and take action to help people in that group. Allyship in the workplace is crucial for inclusion and equality. The most widely used definition comes from Nicole Asong Nfonoyim-Hara, the Director of the Diversity Programs at Mayo Clinic. She says “when a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group’s basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society.”  Source: Inclusive Employers