Allyship during LGBT+ History Month

Inspiring LGBT+ allyship amongst staff is one of the key aims of the LGBT Plus Staff Network; it is also amongst the Network’s most popular initiatives. An ally is a person who doesn’t identify as LGBT+ but believes that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people – and others who don’t fit the majority experience of gender and sexuality – should have complete equality and equity of opportunity. (We want to point out that an ally can also be someone who is already in the LGBT+ community but wants to be an ally to people from other/all parts of the LGBT+ spectrum—allies are a broad collective!) Allyship can help to create a safe and supportive environment where LGBT+ staff and students feel valued and included.  

The training 

With all of this in mind, LGBT+ History Month was the perfect opportunity to expand the reach and ally membership of the LGBT Plus Staff Network (these members of the networks are known “LGBT Plus Allies” and are invited to partake in the Network’s regular activities). So, in the last week of February, we ran two online workshops aimed at introducing allyship and talking through some ways staff can become effective allies for LGBT+ colleagues at the University of Reading. The workshops were one-hour in length, were discussion-based and explored the following topics: 

  • What is an LGBT+ ally  
  • The case for LGBT+ allyship at Reading and in the United Kingdom 
  • Strategies for how you can be an effective ally 
  • How to get involved in events, activities and projects to promote diversity and inclusion at Reading 

The sessions were advertised to staff who are new to LGBT+ allyship or are interested in beginning their allyship journey. We had around 20 attendees over the two workshops.  

During the workshops, participants contribute to three activities. The first two are aimed at stimulating thoughts around what an ally is and what that means to people and the second asks what allies should actively do. Below you can see some of the words that were produced in the word clouds in response to the activities: 

This image has the question 'What is an ally?' at the top and below it are words that workshop participants submitted via Menti, a polling software. The larger the words appear, the more they have been submitted by people. The biggest words in response to the question, "What is an ally?" include: understanding, supporting, and advocate.

Image 1: The result of a Mentimeter poll in response to the question, “What is an ally?” asked during the Introduction to LGBT+ Allyship workshop. 

The larger the words appear on a word cloud correspond to how many times they were submitted. So, a larger word would have been submitted multiple times by different respondents. The most popular responses to the question “What is an ally?” in one of the sessions were: understanding, supportive, and advocate. Friendship was also a popular response, as was the sentiment of being non-judgemental. 

The second question asked, “What does an ally do?” and people were encouraged to think of which activities allies might do to support LGBT+ people: 

This image has the question 'What does an ally do?' at the top and below it are a collection of words that workshop participants submitted via Menti, a polling software. The larger the words appear, the more they have been submitted by people. The biggest words in response to the question, "What does an ally do?" include: question and educate.

Image 2: The result of a Mentimeter poll in response to the question, “What does an ally do?” asked during the Introduction to LGBT+ Allyship workshop. 

The most common things that people felt allies do were to: question, educate, and support. There was also an active element to allyship evident in respondents’ answers around being active in creating a safe environment for LGBT+ people and calling out negative behaviour. 

The session then went on to explore key issues faced by LGBT+ people in the workplace and how this could impact their mental health to stress the imperative of why we talk about LGBT+ allyship at work. Then, participants are introduced to a method of challenging inappropriate behaviour or language towards LGBT+ people and provided with resources to take their allyship forward. 

Reflections from Participants

“I thought the training was very good – for me, I’ve always considered myself an LGBT ally, but I had never joined the LGBT Teams site. I want to support my colleagues but was worried if I joined the site I would somehow be invading a ‘safe space’ for them that hadn’t been set up with me in mind. However, following the training I have joined the LGBT Teams site so that I can find out more about events/issues etc and am glad that you [Ceara] and Michael made it clear that the site was open to allies as well as LGBT staff.” 

  • Tasha Easton, Governance Office  

“Thank you to Ceara and Michael for an engaging and informative session! The training provided lots of practical advice on how to be an LGBT+ ally, both at work and outside of it.  I recommend this session to all staff at the University, as everybody can benefit from learning about the ways they can contribute towards creating a safe and inclusive space for everyone.”

  • Phoebe Homer, Student Communications

Reflections from the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor 

Being new to the University of Reading, delivering these sessions for me was a really good way to see how confident people who self-select into these trainings feel about their ability to be effective allies. The threats that LGBTQIA+ people face in the workplace are real and for me makes it fundamental to pursue active allyship where I can which, in my case, means being able to co-deliver these workshop sessions with the Lead Ally, Michael Kilmister. 

I am so grateful to those who came and participated in these allyship workshops through your reflections and contributions. As with most workshops of this kind, it is usually people who are already interested in the challenges LGBTQIA+ people face that attend. My focus for future workshops will be encouraging those who are less familiar with the struggles of LGBTQIA+ people and the impacts of these struggles at work to come along to the sessions. Hopefully, this can be one way of embedding the knowledge of LGBTQIA+ people’s challenges and the approaches of effective allyship for inclusion and justice more comprehensively across the University. 

Reflections from the Lead Ally 

This is not the first allyship session I have had the pleasure of facilitating, but these latest sessions incorporated a few key changes that moved the focus from information to discussion and action. The word cloud activities provided a low risk barrier for people to get involved in the session and begin to orientate themselves with key allyship concepts and activities. It was also reassuring for participants, reaffirming they were already carrying out allyship in their contexts; they just did not necessarily know it! The final activity we asked participants to engage in – setting a goal for the next 12 months – hopefully gave participants a sense of purpose. We suggested this could be highlighting they are an LGBT+ ally in their email signature or attending and volunteering at events. For me, performing allyship values – i.e., actively engaging in the task of making our contexts and communities inclusive environments where diversity and difference are celebrated – is at the core of allyship. (For the record, my nominated goal was writing for #DiverseReading; a goal I’ve met with this blog post!) 

Where to next? 

Are you hoping to become a better ally? One of our attendees and colleagues, Phoebe Homer from Student Communications, has written a fantastic blog post on how to be an LGBT+ ally, covering terminology and what to do if you make a mistake, what you can do to become an ally, and resource for support for LGBTQIA+ people at the University. 

If you would like to join the LGBT+ Staff Network as an Ally or would like to request a workshop for your area, please contact Lead Ally Michael Kilmister or Ruvi Ziegler, LGBT+ Staff Network Chair. 

Blog: Working for action in LGBT+ inclusion

From Dr Al Laville, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, University of Reading: 

Stonewall has played a huge role in the history of fighting for equal rights for people of all sexualities and genders. The University has worked closely with Stonewall for many years, and we will continue to work with them in the future. 

One of Stonewall’s successes has been the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, a metric for LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace. This has provided a useful yardstick to help organisations across the UK to measure their efforts to become better places to work for everyone. The University of Reading was awarded Top 100 Employer status in 2019 and 2020, and achieved a Silver Employer award in 2022. These achievements were made possible by partnership working with Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) at many events and initiatives including at Reading Pride and co-delivering our Bi inclusion training.  

The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index is updated every three years, and we have been an active part of conversations about how the index can improve, better reflecting the efforts of organisations to work towards equality. After providing feedback to Stonewall, the University has decided to pause our involvement with the index in 2023.  

We felt the Index can be overly-prescriptive, with positive actions highlighted more through a ‘tick-box’ exercise of activity, rather than genuine institutional improvement. For example, we run a detailed programme of activities for our senior leaders, which we believe provides the best environment to bring about meaningful cultural change; yet the Stonewall Index only recognises the activities of senior leaders by their attendance at specific events. We don’t think this reflects genuine leadership towards LGBT+ inclusion. 

We also felt that the current Stonewall index is inflexible in its reporting dates; evidence for the Index must be drawn from a strict 12-month period, whereas we know that genuine change comes from long-term action plans. Yet we feel these longer-term plans and activities are not adequately recognised. 

It’s important that we judge ourselves openly, but we need to be confident that we are testing the right measures. That’s why, after discussions with the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board and the LGBT+ Action Plan Group, including representation from across the University, the LGBT+ Staff Network and RUSU, the University has decided to pause our membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme.  

We want to better support meaningful LGBT+ inclusion at the University of Reading. That’s why from today, we are launching a new LGBT+ inclusion initiative fund for 2022/23, with funding earmarked for inclusion projects, open to University staff and students. These projects will support the wider University LGBT+ Action Plan, and further advance LGBT+ inclusion for all our community. We urge anyone interested to find out how to apply for the LGBT+ inclusion initiative fund. From 2023/24, the LGBT+ inclusion initiative fund will be combined with our annual D&I initiative fund. 

We want to continue to work with Stonewall. We’ve spoken to Nancy Kelly, chief executive of Stonewall, about our concerns with the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. As a result, we have been asked to work with Stonewall in their strategic review of the index, which we will be happy to do in the coming months. We hope that this will lead to a scheme that will reflect good practice, encouraging more action and less bureaucracy. Once that is complete, we would be happy to revisit our formal membership of Stonewall’s scheme. 

From Sheldon Allen, RUSU President, and Jem Mckenzie, RUSU Inclusion & Communities Officer:  

We recognise the benefit that the University has received over the years from membership of Stonewall, and how this has previously proved beneficial in their work to be an open and tolerant workplace for all. However, at first glance, pausing our membership might not seem in keeping with this and we have sought to understand the rationale behind it. We attended a call with the Chief Executive of Stonewall to hear more about plans moving forward and Allán has explained the decision and provided some helpful context around why the decision was made. 

We are pleased that the University will launch a new fund that will be ring-fenced for staff and students to access funding to support LGBT+ inclusion and initiatives. We’ll be hosting Student Pride on 28th February, and we will work with university colleagues for LGBT+ History Month. We hope to see the partnership between RUSU, and the University strengthened, with more opportunities to capture student voice in this work.  

As the students’ union at Reading, we will always scrutinise the decisions of the University and speak up in the interests of all students. We hope the University continues to engage with Stonewall and will consider returning to its membership in the future if it is in the best interests of all students. 

From Dr Ruvi Ziegler, chair of the University of Reading LGBT+ staff network: 

The LGBT+ staff network is continuing to advance its educational mission by holding training sessions for members of staff. Our next sessions take place in February, a special time in the LGBT+ calendar, marking LGBT history month. We will be holding a Bi inclusion training (on Monday 6 February between 3-4pm), a Trans awareness training (on Tuesday 7 February between 1-3pm), and LGBT+ Ally trainings (on Wednesday 22 February and Thursday 23 February between 1-2 pm) to which all colleagues are warmly invited. We are also excited about the potential activities that the university’s funding commitment to support colleagues LGBT+ inclusion could facilitate, and strongly encourage colleagues to submit proposals.