Be Open to Being an Ally

Early in my career I had an experience that changed my views on diversity, opening my eyes to the value of being inclusive and open.  As a young engineer in the early 90s (as my daughters constantly remind me that would be last century), the plant in which I worked in my first job out of the university was required to have off-site diversity training. This training was a response to challenges that the plant had experienced in the 80s with regard to valuing differences. Historically our plant was a pretty tough place for those “not from around here.” This three-day training brought together a cross-section of our multi-unit plant employees, and it was good to get to know a lot of my colleagues on a more personal level as we learned about our different perspectives.

The first day focused on gender and racial diversity. On the second day the topic of sexual orientation was introduced. Given the backgrounds of many folks in the room, this was clearly a more difficult topic for many to get their minds around. There were a lot of crossed arms and eyes staring at shoes as we got started.

The exercise we went through asked everyone to draw their impressions of what life was like being gay. As everyone started to complete the task, the tone in the room softened and most participants worked earnestly to think about what it was like to live as a gay man or woman at that time and in that place. As we went around the room to explain the results of our efforts, it was clear that everyone took the time to really think about their view and depict it on their flip chart.

When we were halfway around the circle of 25 participants, my friend Bob, who started as an engineer on the same day I did, began to explain his drawing. He shared in detail what his view was of what it was like to grow up gay and have to conceal who you truly are, and the conflicts that brought internally. What it was like to be a participant in a friend’s wedding and know that it was unlikely that you would ever be able to have a similar event. As he ended his explanation, he was asked the same question we had all received, “Where are you in the picture?” It was at that time that he took a decision that changed my views on the topic ever since.  His answer: “I am the gay person in the drawing.”

While societal views on inclusion of LGBT perspectives have begun to change dramatically in recent years, true inclusion requires individuals to be open to talk about their personal experiences and open to listening to other’s perspectives even when vastly different from our own. In having the opportunity to talk with my good friend (who, by the way, I had no idea was gay) about his experience growing up and listening to his story, many of my misperceptions were challenged. While we did not call it being an LGBT ally 22 years ago, I am glad that I was open to learn more and change my view as a result. I ask that others who might be inclined to shy away from being an ally be open to having an initial conversation. It might just change your perspective for the rest of your life.

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About the author


				

Since 2015, Mark Murray has been the vice president of Business Services for Celanese’s Acetyl Chain core, responsible for strategic planning and sales and operations planning for Celanese’s Acetyl Chain. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 daughters.

There are 16 comments. Add yours.

  1. Susan Rahe says:

    Thanks, Mark. Great message of getting to really know people as people – is generally positive for all involved.

  2. Randy Wilson says:

    Great story Mark! Can you imagine how this story could have gone if you made jokes or negative comments about people from the LGBT community in front of Bob? I’m sure there are employees in our company who wish there were more people like you who realize accepting those who are different doesn’t compromise but actually reinforces their core values.

  3. Kelsey Achenbach says:

    Thanks for sharing Mark! Great story, and I’m glad Bob had the courage to tell people his perspective. I hope that we continue to cultivate that kind of open culture at CE.

  4. Lucas Posada says:

    Being an Ally starts with smalls changes in our behavior and your story is a great example of how we can do this every day at work. Just being open and willing to learn more about someone else and their story is the first step in creating an inclusive environment.

  5. Pat Quarles says:

    Mark: I too have a “Bob” experience in my career. Prior to joining CE I had a member of my Staff who was gay. After many successful years at that company he retired early last year. We had a wonderful retirement party for him at a favorite restaurant and then on to his home for a few more beverages. That night at his home was the first time I met his partner. We’d worked together for 20 years. While I would have considered our workplace inclusive and Bob’s career success evidence of that; the reality was Bob was never comfortable involving his partner in the social side of his career. So Bob didn’t have the benefit of a fully inclusive work environment; and we were all worse off for it — his partner was awesome, I wish I had met him earlier.

    To me inclusion isn’t accepting differences, it is embracing them.

    • Randy Crick says:

      I love your statement Pat, “. . . inclusion isn’t accepting differences, it is embracing them.”

      I think that is a noble goal for all of us to aspire to, “embrace our differences”.

      I hope I can do this by being an Ally with the LGBT community.

  6. Jeff Brown says:

    Moving story, thank you for sharing.

    One important way to be a good LBGT ally is to proudly and openly show your support. The action to post your personal story in a public forum viewed by your colleagues in earnest fits the definition, you are a role model ally.

  7. Linda Mock says:

    Thanks to Mark and all of you who commented on this blog. My life is so much richer because of full participation from ALL of my friends and family.

  8. Sushant Hegde says:

    Very cool story, Mark! Thank you for sharing. I hope that we continue to cultivate that kind of inclusive culture at CE.

  9. Vince Notorgiacomo says:

    Excellent story Mark. Thanks for sharing. I wish more people could see the value that each individual has to offer.

  10. Rajeev Farwaha says:

    Thanks for sharing the unique experience with us at Celanese. I definately benefited from reading and learn from the prespective here!

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