How to be an Ally: 3 tips to help support colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community by Jim Shields

It’s PRIDE month in the UK and many of us will be reflecting on how we can be supportive and effective allies for the LGBTQ+ community. There are many ways you can be an ally and my attitude has always been that it makes no difference to me how you identify or live your life. I just see an individual and I will support you as I would any other person. 

 

I have lots of life experience when it comes to allyship. For example, a close family member of mine changed their pronouns, a family friend recently came out as bisexual and as a qualified fitness instructor outside of BAM, I have made lots of friends who are gay. I also won the 2021 GE AWARD FOR EQUALITY, DIVERSITY & INCLUSION which recognised the long-term commitment, vision and leadership that I’ve shown in improving gender equality, diversity and inclusion across the industry, something I am very proud of. 

I imagine there’s many people in this industry who would like to be supportive allies for the LGBTQ+ community but may be afraid of saying the wrong thing without meaning to. These are big discussions that society is still having so it’s understandable if anyone feels that way.  

With that in mind, here are 3 tips I’d like to offer, which I have found invaluable for being an effective and supportive ally: 

 

1.    Ask the question ‘What do you want me to do to support you?’ 

Let the person have the space and the power to let you know what being an ally looks like to them. Everyone is different and by asking this question you are letting them know that you respect their wishes and you are supportive of their life. It means you don’t have to make any assumptions which will put everyone at ease. 

 

2.    Approach the topic naturally and at their speed, get the communication open and in a friendly way. 

I have found that the best way to be an ally is to just start that conversation but remember to approach it in a natural way. If they don’t want to talk to you about it then that’s fine, but by starting the conversation you have let them know that you’re there for them should they need you. I believe it’s OK to make honest mistakes, and by having open conversations you can learn and grow from them. When I met with my family member who had changed their pronouns, I decided to start the conversation by saying I was sorry if I had misused them in the past, this led to an honest and accepting conversation and our relationship was stronger afterwards. 

 

3.    You can't know how another person feels, everyone’s experience is different, remember this. 

Don’t make assumptions about how someone feels about their life or how they’d like to be treated. This is linked to my first point and is important because as an ally you don’t want to push any preconceptions onto anyone. Treat this as a learning experience for yourself. By letting your colleague have the space and power to share their experiences with you, your communications and relationship with that person will thrive.
 

About the author

Jim Shields - BAM

Jim Shields

Operations Manager

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As Operations Manager, Jim provides leadership and support to the Ground Investigation, Laboratories, Drill & Blast and Engineering Teams at BAM.

He was instrumental in the development of the accredited BAM IPD (Initial Professional Development) Training Scheme with the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3). This scheme caters for those employees in the business who do not have Civil Engineering Qualifications but aspire to gain professional registration. Jim won the ‘Outstanding Contributions Award’ by the IOM3 in 2019.

Jim joined BAM Ritchies in 1986 as contracts engineer working on ground anchor projects. He progressed to Contracts Manager Ground Investigation, then Geotechnical Manager before becoming Regional Manager North. He became both a chartered engineer and chartered geologist in 1991, and a chartered scientist in 2020. Outside of his main job, he is a Board Member and Trustee of the Engineering Council and Vice Chair of the Register of Ground engineering Professionals Panel.