Out & Equal hosted a webinar on July 12, 2017, entitled “Perspectives on LGBT Workplace Equality in Canada,” as part of our bimonthly global webinar series. The panel provided insights into Canadian business’ LGBT inclusion efforts, and at the end, audience members had a few questions that panelists were unable to answer. We have included the answer to those questions below from Kimberley Messer, IBM’s North American Business Development Executive for Workforce Diversity and LGBT Markets, and Eric Leonard, Voice of Customer Business Analyst at Xerox Canada and Co-President of GALAXe Pride at Work.


If my organization wants to support the LGBT community at our agency but we are unsure how to allocate resources since we don’t know how many people are LGBT (and considering that people may be afraid to identify as LGBT or as an ally due to potential discrimination), how do you suggest we encourage self-identification?

Kimberley Messer: It is important to create an environment where people can be free to be their authentic selves. This not only benefits the individual, it also benefits the organization to have high functioning employees who are able to bring all of themselves to work versus trying to cover who they are. Companies need to create LGBT inclusive policies and practices to establish a foundation that will build the trust and confidence that the organization is committed to inclusive values. Measuring diverse populations in an organization is most successful when the employees feel a high level of trust. They need to understand why the organization is asking for self-identification and how the data will be used. A self-identification tool is an important component of a broader diversity and inclusion strategy.

Eric Leonard: I would say that continually creating a workplace that is a “safe space” for employees, where they feel comfortable to be themselves, will lend itself to employees feeling comfortable to self-identify. Role model behavior and authentic leadership is critical as well. I think communication is another key element—telling employees the reasons why it is crucial to measure and track diversity and inclusion is imperative.


Many companies view ally programs as having the most room for growth as well as the ability to achieve change. Where do you suggest starting to build an ally program?

KM: One suggestion might be to organize a small internal event where you invite members of your workforce to a lunch-and-learn to learn about what being an ally means, why allies are important, and to hear a couple of personal stories from managers or senior leaders in your organization on why they consider themselves allies. Many of our colleagues, who do not identify as members of the LGBT community, don’t even know what the term ally means. Once you host the event, it is a great launching point for a broader initiative. There are many resources online on ally programs and you should also feel free to reach out to any of us on the webinar who would be happy to speak on this topic.

EL: The comprehensive, instructor-led ally module that we developed and rolled out to Executives includes some of the best practices and recommendations from role model organizations like PFLAG and HRC. Tailoring those recommendations and best practices for our work environment has been effective. A tool that we also included in our module, which is easy to implement in the workplace, is appropriate and inclusive terminology. A major component of our Ally 101 module for Executives is engaging in dialogue and discussing different scenarios. Our online version of the ally training is simply a streamlined version of the Executive model, and is an equally effective means of training and becoming an even stronger ambassador for inclusion.


Were your ally training programs developed by your companies individually? Is there a way to leverage materials already available or do we have to “start from scratch”?

KM: At IBM we did build our own training module and it was just refreshed in 2017 with new content. For companies looking to hit the ground running with an ally certification program, IBM can help with that. If you are intending to build your own, IBM is also happy to provide an overview of our program.

EL: I would encourage you to do some benchmarking with different organizations and other LGBT advocacy groups, as there are many ally training resources already available that could be incorporated into your company’s training. I would ensure your training has clear learning objectives, which helps not only the trainee, but also guides the training development.