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Are our leaders our most active LGBTQ Allies?

Dawn Hough, Director ACON’s Pride Inclusion Programs

This year the AWEI 2020 annual survey of employees working within organisations active in LGBTQ inclusion saw a response rate of 33,572 of which 20.21% (n6,787) identified as being of diverse sexuality and/or gender. This article summarises what this data tells us about our active allies (those who actively support LGBTQ inclusion within their workplaces) and explores reasons as to why others may be more passive in their approach.

Active vs Passive Allies

There is a difference between active and passive allies. A passive ally may support LGBTQ inclusion initiatives, agree that it is important work and acknowledge the positive impact that LGBTQ inclusion initiatives are having on the organisational culture – but do they make a difference to the experience of LGBTQ people in the workplace? The answer is typically ‘no’.

It’s the visibility of active allies that makes the difference

In surveying LGBTQ respondents regarding the visibility of executive allies within their organisation and other allies within their immediate work area, the results were somewhat disappointing given the focus on allies within recent years.  Only 61% of 5,869 LGBTQ respondents knew of executive allies within their organisation and only 66% of 5,866 LGBTQ respondents knew of allies within their immediate work area.

These results made us question the impact that allies were having on LGBTQ people. While initially, it looked as if only 53.1% strongly agreed or agreed that active allies positively impacted their sense of inclusion within the current workplace, that number rose to 65.84% when we filtered only those LGBTQ people for whom active allies were visible. The more visible the active ally to the individual, the greater the sense of inclusion. 

Why aren’t people active allies if they support inclusion.

68% of all non-active allies are happy to support LGBTQ inclusion passively; which indicates that the support is there. 49.5% of people who were not active allies stated that they were just too busy. 45.3% stated that they just didn’t have any interest in the area. We may not be able to do a lot about this. However, the next two commonly cited reasons for not being an ally, we can do something about. 42.8% of people who were not active allies stated that they didn’t know enough about how to be an active ally and 34.6% stated that they didn’t know enough about why they should be one. So our next questions should be:

  • Will ramping up our education or resource materials for allies help shift people from non-active allies to active?
  • Are people thinking that being an active ally requires a significant amount of time? Is this what is holding people back? 
  • Are people aware of why allies are so important?
  •  Are we providing enough information on how time-poor people can be active allies?

We filtered the data by several key questions to determine just how supportive passive allies are. We compared those who neither agreed nor disagreed that they were active allies with those who disagreed or strongly disagreed. This is what we found:

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In summary:

  • Between 67% and 83% of all non-active allies supported the work of LGBTQ inclusion
  • The majority (55%-71%) believed that work in this area had a positive impact on the organisation’s culture
  • And more than half (52.9%-67.1%) believed that training in this area should be mandatory for all people managers.


We wanted to filter the data by various demographics to see if we could pinpoint any patterns in active ally support. For non-LGBTQ respondents, women were 19% more likely to be active allies than men (66% vs 47%) with their top two reasons for not being active stated as ‘don’t know how’ and ‘too busy’. While men also stated ‘too busy’ as being their second most identified reason, their top reason was identified as not having a personal interest in this area.

Interestingly, only 77% of LGBTQ respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they were active allies. Being too busy was their top reason for not being an active ally closely followed by ‘don’t know how’. 5% of LGBTQ respondents responded with ‘not applicable’. This begs the question of whether we need to provide any specific guidance as to how LGBTQ people can be allies for others within their community and how.


One of the most interesting findings for us was the clear pattern of declining active allyship once we start to move down traditional reporting lines. The further down the reporting lines, the smaller the number of active allies and the greater the number of those who disagree or strongly disagree that they are active allies.

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We could hypothesise from this data that visible inclusivity is more important, the higher we move up traditional organisational hierarchies. We have long spoken of inclusion being a valued leadership quality and the higher someone moves within traditional hierarchies the more important this behaviour becomes. If this is correct, then what we appear to be missing is the clear message of its importance as we move further down the line. Is the importance of inclusive behaviour (regardless of the diversity dimension we are focusing on) being communicated enough as a valued leadership quality or is it about greater accountability and reward for those people managers who exhibit these behaviours within our organisations.

Clearly there is still much to be done in terms of communicating the importance of inclusive leadership. Our leaders appear to understand and engage in this, we now just need to look at how we can filter that behaviour down the reporting lines.

For more information on AWEI2020 findings, visit:

© AWEI2020, Pride in Diversity, ACON,

Permission is given to cite any of the data within this factsheet providing the reference above is utilise

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