These are the two titles I hold at Kohler. The first is how most people know me. The second surprises almost everyone. Honestly, it surprised me at first. Why would someone who is a cisgender, straight man be the sponsor for a LGBTQIA+ group? What do I know about the challenges facing this community or where to even begin to drive change?
I’ll tell you.
Several years ago, before Kohler PROUD was formed, I found myself at a leadership seminar on workplace diversity. I remember looking around the room and realizing I was the only straight, white male there. I shared my thoughts with the speaker afterward, telling him “I am realizing the great need for people like me to be in the room, as we are such a large part of the problem.” And, you know what he said? “You’re right.” That’s when he introduced me to the term ally. Allies are an important part of the equation and come from all races and all walks of life. People who are allies are not only helpers, but also have a common interest with those they desire to help. Ally is a verb.
After this meeting, I was asked to be the executive sponsor of Kohler PROUD. I was taken aback, and at first, I said no. I supported the LGBTQIA+ community, but this didn’t feel like my space. I wouldn’t know where to start. But, sure enough, the PROUD members echoed the diversity speakers’ sentiments. “That’s exactly why we need you—to learn from us, to be our ally and our advocate, and to help us inspire others to do the same.”
That’s when it clicked. I wasn’t, or didn’t need to be, a LGBTQIA+ community expert. But amplifying a message? Building a team? Devising strategies? Those things I could do. My role was not to be the expert—it was to listen to our members, learn what needs to be done, and help them navigate and communicate across the company. And that’s how a cisgender, straight man became the executive sponsor of Kohler PROUD.
It is a role I’m honored to hold, and one that challenges me to be a better ally every day—to drive progress within Kohler Co., our community, and my own implicit biases. All three have come a long way, but there is still much work to be done. Did you know that LGBTQIA+ individuals consistently face higher risks of anxiety, depression, and suicide than heterosexual and cisgender people? They also experience higher rates of substance abuse and homelessness? Rejection, exclusion, bullying, discrimination, and hate are still a very real part of the LGBTQIA+ experience, and it is simply unacceptable.
The importance of being an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community cannot be overstated. Not just during Pride Month, but every month. We must each bring our unique perspectives and abilities to the table to make change any way we can. Here’s a few key ways that I’ve learned to be an effective ally (and you can, too!):
Pride Month is the anniversary of a riot and as such is a good reminder that there is more work to be done—and that this work cannot just happen in June of each year. So don’t wait for someone to approach you or for your leader to encourage it or for a specific program at work. We must hold each other accountable for the small, consistent, in-between moments that will create real change.
Diversity, equity and inclusion make our teams, workplaces, and world better, and I’m honored to do my part as an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community. What can you do?