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The importance of allyship: A conversation with the Invesco Proud Network

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Pride started out life as a protest. In July 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, members of the gay community rose up against displays of police brutality. A year later, liberation organisations decided to commemorate the occasion with an anniversary march. And so Pride was born.

Today, over fifty years on, Pride has evolved into a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community. But there is still a lot to be fought for. The nature of that fight depends on where you are in the world. But a key theme for many in the community is the ability to be authentically themselves, without fear of prejudice or reproach. This can be challenging in many environments, not least the workplace.

Top-down support in the form of corporate policies and initiatives is essential, but a company’s culture is largely shaped by its employees. As such, grassroots organisations and business resource groups play an enormous role, as do allies.

At Invesco, our Proud Network (the IPN) is an active group whose activities create an open and supportive workplace environment. This Pride Month, we sat down with three members of the network to discuss the topic of allyship:

  • Victor Meyer
    Head of Investments Legal, EMEA, and Co-Chair of the IPN

  • Donna Xanthidis
    Senior Manager (Tech Infrastructure), and IPN committee member and ally

  • Neil Jeffery
    Senior Analyst (Tech Engineering), and IPN committee member

1. Why are allies important?

Victor: Allies give members of the LGBTQIA+ community confidence that it is safe to be themselves without fear of judgement or discrimination. Sadly, we still see prejudice against the community on a regular basis and allies play a key role in rejecting that prejudice and creating an inclusive environment.

Donna: Absolutely, allyship promotes education, awareness and inclusivity and can be a conduit for minority groups to elevate their reach and help voices be heard.

A common question that people ask is, “What makes a good ally?”, or “What practical steps can I take to show my support?” In answer to this, I would say that allies can lead by example with language and behaviour that supports an inclusive culture and authenticity.

Neil: I echo the comments from Victor and Donna. But I would also add that, without allies, we would still feel like a minority. The LGBTQIA+ community seems quite small compared to the total number of people working at the company, so having allies alongside us makes us feel like a larger group. There is strength in numbers.
 

2. How do you engage with allies and involve them in your activities?

Neil: We always invite allies to our events and include them in planning activities such as Pride Month. They are present at our regular meetings and have a voice.

Victor: It’s all about welcoming the enthusiasm of allies who want to be actively involved and giving them the opportunity to lead on initiatives that they feel passionate about. I am hopeful that this will snowball in time and attract more engagement.

Donna: I was welcomed by the IPN as an ally and have a place at the committee table. I have been working with the network to arrange socials and Pride celebrations and I partner to act in cases of inappropriate behaviour impacting the Proud community. It’s a privilege and an honour to have such an active role and acceptance in this network.

3. What would be your advice to organisations wishing to attract more allies?

Donna: Think about providing tools and resources that support allies. It can be overwhelming to know where to start at first. They might have a lot of questions they’re not sure about asking. Providing a safe space to ask questions without judgement is important and helps break down barriers. For example, you could provide guidance on how to address inappropriate behaviour, banter and jokes.

Neil: Something we tried here was an opportunity for people to ask "Is it okay?” questions. A portal or mailbox creates a safe space for people to learn through conversation. Of course, you will get different answers from different people. But at least it gives the opportunity for open dialogue without fear of recrimination.

Victor: Think about holding in-person events where allies can attend and engage in conversations about LGBTQIA+ topics. It’s often the informal discussions that generate ideas that lead to greater ally engagement. Last year we held a networking event and used a series of posters with LGBTQIA+ discussion topics to prompt conversations. It was a really effective way to engage with our allies.
 

4. What is your advice to someone who wants to become an ally?

Victor: Don’t wait to be asked. Check out the information and resources that are available to you and aim to learn more. Be active and present at events that allow you to get involved.

Donna: It’s not just about wearing a Pride badge or displaying a flag. It's about learning, listening and advocating.

  • Learn: Knowledge is power. Take time to broaden your understanding of the challenges, obstacles and biases the LGBTQIA+ community experience. Blogs, books and LGBTQIA+ news and media can help, but the best way is to join your local Pride network, show your support at events and connect with members.

  • Listen: Ask questions but do more listening. Most allies come from a background outside of the LGBTQIA+ community and it’s important to build trust. The most powerful question you can ask is, "How can I help?” Your network will tell you what they need from you as an ally.

  • Advocate: Use your influence. Encourage people to join in and attend events. Lead by example using inclusive language and, if you hear inappropriate banter or jokes, nip them in the bud.
     

5. What is one of the best allyship moments you have witnessed?

Donna: I have two that spring to mind. The first was when a colleague chose me as an ally to come out to as Transgender. It was probably one of the most humbling moments of my life. I can share this, as she is now out and proud.

The experience was new to me at the time, as it was for her. I didn’t feel like I was any help at all, but I think she just needed someone to listen. Saying it out loud to someone at work for the first time made it easier for her to talk to other colleagues and, bit by bit, we saw her emerge.

The second moment occurred when the Proud network received comments and questions marketed as "healthy discussion”. Really, they were inappropriate comments and microaggressions with the potential to damage the place of safety the network provides. Allies stood in solidarity with the network and used their influence and contacts to remediate the issue through respectful education and discussion. 

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