Pride flag blowing in the wind

How does it feel to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and working in the construction industry? What if you haven’t yet had the confidence to come out to your colleagues, or are facing discrimination on site? What if you feel like you never really ‘belong’ in your company, or even in the industry as a whole?

The aim of LGBTQ+ allies and advocates is to step into the shoes of their LGBTQ+ colleagues, understand the challenges they face and promote greater understanding of their needs and concerns. Ultimately LGBTQ+ allyship can lead to positive change and greater diversity and inclusion in the construction industry.    

What does ‘LGBTQ+ ally’ mean?

As the focus has increased on diversity and inclusion in construction, many people within the industry are becoming LGBTQ+ allies or advocates. In this voluntary role, workers from outside the LGBTQ+ community take it upon themselves to actively support LGBTQ+ colleagues, who may be feeling vulnerable or unable to truly be themselves at work. LGBTQ+ allies champion diversity and inclusion within construction, and lead initiatives to raise awareness of the issues members of the LGBTQ+ community experience on a daily basis.

Allyship programmes can be informal or a structured part of a company’s diversity, equality and inclusion policy.

LGBTQ+ allyship in the workplace: Onsite

Whether it is the construction site itself or the company offices, being an LGBTQ+ ally in the place where you work is incredibly important. It is here that LGBTQ+ members of staff will feel the negative impact of any discrimination, misunderstanding or unconscious bias, and will most be in need of an understanding colleague.

Educate yourself

One of the key things an LGBTQ+ ally can do is to educate themselves about LGBTQ+ issues and the challenges that people face to be confident in their identity.

Read up about construction workers’ individual stories, like LGBTQ+ activist Christina Riley, or visit the websites of organisations like Stonewall. Go on a Pride march, be part of a Pride festival and talk to LGBTQ+ friends or colleagues. Learn about LGBTQ+ history through books, films, TV documentaries and podcasts. For the construction industry, sometimes it is the buildings themselves that can tell the most powerful stories.

Promote inclusivity

LGBTQ+ allies have a range of opportunities to make their workplaces more inclusive.

You can encourage senior leaders at your organisation to create transition policies, offer pronoun options for employees, or make inclusion a part of induction programmes. Making diversity and inclusion more visible on a company’s promotional material or website would make potential employees more confident about applying for a job there. You could ask to run a Pride-themed event or write a blog post for the company website about inclusive language.

Many people want to be more welcoming for LGBTQ+ colleagues but are unsure how to be. They don’t know if they will cause offence by saying a particular word, or by practising ‘unconscious bias’. This is when we make unfair judgements of people because of ingrained ideas and attitudes. Allies can help by educating their colleagues and giving them tips and guidance on best practices.  

Support LGBTQ+ Events and Initiatives

LGBTQ+ allies and advocates help to organise Pride-related events. Pride month is celebrated in June of each year. It doesn’t have to be a march or parade – it could be a discussion, workshop or talk by an LGBTQ+ employee or external speaker. You might even be able to decorate your building or office in the rainbow colours!

Stand up to discrimination and amplify LGBTQ+ voices

Discrimination can be direct and indirect. A same-sex couple not receiving the same parental leave as a heterosexual couple would be an example of direct discrimination. Any policy, procedure or practice that seems to treat people equally but excludes or is actually disadvantageous to people with a protected characteristic (according to the Equality Act of 2010) is classed as indirect discrimination.

When discrimination occurs, LGBTQ+ allies can champion the rights of those colleagues who are affected, provide evidence if needed for any legal case and highlight the issues within their own organisation or the wider world.

Being an ally of the LGBTQ+ community: Off-site

London Pride

LGBTQ+ allies can really have influence if they get involved in activities outside their own company, organisation or local area. That is when real change can occur.

Support LGBTQ+ networks and organisations

LGBTQ+ networks are ‘safe spaces’ where people can share their experiences and express any concerns they have about the way LGBTQ+ workers are treated in the construction industry. Networks like the LGBT Foundation, Architecture LGBT+ and Building Equality organise events, provide support and raise awareness of issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community.

As Lilly Connors, communications lead of Network Rail's LGBTQ+ network ‘Archway’, has said: ‘LGBTQ+ networks have a massive contribution on the wider LGBTQ+ community … they can also have an impact just by existing. Standing up and saying we are a network of LGBTQ+ colleagues in this industry and we have so much to offer.’

Advocate for policy change

One of the most important things an LGBTQ+ ally has the power to do is become an advocate for change in the industry. Suppose allies feel particularly strongly about an issue that affects LGBTQ+ colleagues. In that case, they should be able to raise it through appropriate channels within their organisation, as well as highlighting it to policymakers, their local MP, campaigning groups and, if necessary, local and national media.

Engage in allyship and educate others

Allies can use their experience, knowledge and skills to encourage their colleagues to do the same and become LGBTQ+ allies. At the very least it is a chance to educate others in the industry about equality, diversity and inclusion. 

Help change the construction industry for the better as an LGBTQ+ advocate and ally with Go Construct