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Consider Yourself Invited

By Rebecca Sweet, PhD, MSL @ GSK Vaccines | Immunology | Medical Affairs | Clinical Research | Content Creator | Artisan Coffee Fan


Have you ever known what it feels like to feel like you are "other?" Have you ever looked around you and not seen anyone who looks remotely like you? If the answer is yes, have you ever benefited from the support of an ally? I truly believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of allies.

“An ally is any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole.”

Sheree Atcheson - Forbes Magazine

I had been working with GSK for three months when I learned about Spectrum, GSK’s LGBT+ employee resource group. It was the first time I was invited to be an ally.

Before this, as a woman of colour in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), I was always the one who felt like I needed allies. In truth, until I started learning about how to be a better ally, I didn’t realise the important role that allies had played in supporting me. It was such an eye-opening moment.


Don’t be afraid to take the plunge

I am lucky to have a diverse spectrum of friends and never for one moment considered myself to be a person with whom my LGBT+ friends felt uncomfortable. However, I felt oddly nervous when I was beginning my journey to being a purposeful ally.

It was quite daunting to think about what I could possibly do as an individual to help create a safe and inclusive workplace where my colleagues would feel comfortable bringing their best selves to work.

I can imagine that is a thought that goes through lots of people’s heads when considering allyship and could be a real blocker, but it needn’t be.

It’s an ongoing process, to be honest, but here’s what I learned so far, largely thanks to the resources from Straight for Equality and courses from LinkedIn Learning:

  1. It’s okay if you don’t know everything and sometimes make mistakes. Acknowledge the learning and go forward with new knowledge.
  2. Connection is vital. Let people know that you are a safe person to talk to about how they are feeling if they are ever feeling isolated or unsure about whether or not they can bring their full self to work.
  3. Check your privilege, and sacrifice that for those you support. Do you see your own image highlighted but not others? Speak up so that we represent those who we see around us and those who we hope to serve in our work. Only through diversity of thought, inclusion, and belonging will we develop a work culture that celebrates all of us and produces the best outcomes for the important work we seek to do every day.

Celebrating difference

Integrating thoughts from diverse team members is not easy. It’s actually much easier to hire people who are just like you and who will always agree with how you want things to go.

However, everything worth fighting for is never easy. We will do our best work and have better outcomes if we make the effort to be more inclusive.

If you recognise that someone is different from you, that’s a great start. Take five minutes for coffee together (virtual works too!). Learn about your colleagues. Hear their stories. See the world from a different perspective.

At the end of the day, do you really want to work with people who are all exactly the same and just like you? My answer is no. And I’m forever grateful for all of the people who have invited me to be a part of their teams, who value my diversity of thought, and if I haven’t met you yet, I can’t wait to learn something new about the world by seeing it through your eyes, so I can better understand what work still needs to be done.

It doesn’t take much. Here are some concrete steps you can take today:

  • Show a visible sign of your allyship, for example, wear a rainbow lanyard or pin badge; it’s an easy way to signal to our LGBT+ colleagues that you are a safe person.
  • Have a think about who you know, and how they add diversity to your world.

  • Recognise your unconscious biases. It’s okay if they’re there. Recognising them is the first step.

Some of the most impactful moments that I have experienced in my career have been when allies have simply shared the following sentiments. Why not give it a try:

“I see you and I want you to feel included.”

“I don’t ever want you to feel like who you are is putting you at risk, or makes you less likely to succeed.”

“Just because you don’t see yourself reflected in the role that you want, I don’t want you to feel like you don’t belong there.”

Join me. Be that ally that someone doesn’t even realise they need. Consider yourself invited.

*This is a personal piece and the opinions and views stated are my own.

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