Allyship and Inclusion: A Call to Arms in times of Polarised Politics

As a trusted partner to organisations across civil society and the public sector, Starfish has the privilege of working with change makers and thought leaders who directly influence the very fabric of society. Be that through campaigning and lobbying, direct interventions and outreach or transformation within the machinations of government itself, our clients are forces for good in this world.

With this privilege comes responsibility and Starfish recognise more than ever in these times of increasing polarisation that we have a duty and opportunity to advise and counsel those who deliver change on how to do so meaningfully, authentically and inclusively. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion are more than abstract concepts to us and using our platform to foster a more welcoming climate for marginalised people – be that through our recruitment activities, our advisory services or thought pieces like this one – is a core tenet for Starfish and one we are deeply committed to.

As Pride Month 2024 draws to a close, Starfish would like to offer some reflections on how, as both individuals and as organisations, a greater focus on year-round allyship and inclusion can be embedded into our actions so we can use the public profile and influence we have to counter the rising tides of exclusion and discrimination when it comes to gender identity and the broader LGBTQ+ Community.

Republican or Democrat? Conservative or Labour? Indian National Congress or Bharatiya Janata Party? African National Congress or Democratic Alliance? Wherever you look, 2024 is a year of election after election, held against increasingly polarised political landscapes. One side says the grass is green, the other claims its rival will charge you for it to be dyed red. But this polarisation isn’t just the travail of party politicians – arguments rage all around us, social media is ablaze and print journalism continues to fan the flames.

A community where this phenomenon is particularly, acutely felt is the LGBTQ+ community, the community that I call home. Without playing marginalisation ‘top trumps’, queer communities find themselves on the receiving end of a horrific amount of societal, and physical, violence.

Transphobia in particular (used as an umbrella term to denote the discrimination faced by those who are transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary) has found itself a la mode. Indeed, for a group that, in the UK that makes up only 0.5% of the adult population[1], trans[2] people find themselves in the news and public commentary nearly every single day.

Sadly, the list of occurrences of trans people being a political football is a long and painful one.

These examples and many, many more have sparked a decline in support for trans people. In 2016, 58% of respondents to the British Social Attitudes survey agreed with the statement “a person who is transgender should be able to have the sex recorded on their birth certificate changed if they want”. In 2023, that number dropped to 24% – a marked drop. Similarly, between 2019 and 2022, 18% less people described themselves as “not prejudiced at all against people who are transgender” – a decline of nigh on 1/5th.

However, even with this worrying drop, 64% of people still declared this lack of prejudice. Sixty-Four percent. With some [very] liberal extrapolation of this data, this would mean circa 43 million people in the UK are, at worst unbothered by trans people. Even if only 1 in 10 of this grouping would consider themselves allies, that’s nearly 4.5 million voices fighting for the rights of the circa 300,000 trans people in the UK. That’s fifteen allies for every trans person in the country.

Yes, this statistical analysis certainly wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny if submitted to an academic journal. But what it does show is the immense potential of allyship and inclusion in these times of polarised politics.


As an individual, you might already consider yourself as an ally.  If so, thank you, welcome, bienvenue. Allies are always welcome. However, please remember that allyship isn’t just adding pronouns to your email signature, it isn’t just changing your company’s colours in June.

Allyship is the energy you put into the world, the approach you take to embracing, uplifting, supporting, commiserating and celebrating your fellow human beings. It’s not performative, it’s not transactional. It is authentically and wholeheartedly showing up for the marginalised.

When nearly 1/5th less of the UK population would declare themselves not prejudiced against the trans community, the allies that remain are crucial and their voice needs to be louder than ever. Their love needs to be stronger than ever. Their support more authentic than ever.

In practice this could look like:

  • Check on the queer people in your network – give them space to be heard.
  • Fight for the queer people in your network – challenge transphobia, don’t play things down as ‘banter’ or just a joke.
  • Be inquisitive and educate yourself – want to know how queer folx you know identify, what their story is, what the queer community’s story is.
  • Encourage your friends, your family and anyone who will listen to do the same. Bringing others into the movement fights the backslide towards intolerance.

If the media and the political class are fuelling prejudice, then allies can fuel the winds of change. Allyship. It is the most powerful thing you can do.


I would posit that, as much as Duolingo and other marketing innovators like Mind and Ryanair might like us to consider them almost human entities through their [often] brilliant (and perhaps frequently unhinged) TikToks, businesses are not individuals.

Yes, they hire individuals, and those individuals can use their position, their platform and their voice to carry out acts of allyship, but how often is such action down to the goodwill of individual ‘activists’, delegated to an ‘EDI Officer’ or solely platformed during Pride Month or Black History Month? I will leave these questions rhetorical, but I think a lot of us from marginalised communities would provide a rather cynical answer…

And yet, as I sit and type this, I can see a City of London Corporation building, flying, not only a pride flag, but the updated Intersex Inclusive Progress Pride flag, out the window of our office. Someone took the time to review and purchase the most recent iteration of the pride flag. Someone decided to go above and beyond and rather than using an old rainbow flag, decided to ensure anyone walking by would see the chevrons representing intersex and trans folks and people of colour, as well as the traditional rainbow.

Now, this may all be a happy accident that I am reading too far into. However, for arguments sake, let’s say this was deliberate. This summarises the above and beyond attitude to inclusion that queer and specifically trans people, need to see from businesses and organisations across the board.

I’m not saying that all a company has to do is buy a new flag and all their sins will be absolved, far from it. Inclusion must be active and authentic, just as allyship cannot be superficial and performative. However, it is when organisations take the time to question themselves, to question their actions and to question the systemic and societal structures in which they operate, that is when inclusion can be a truly radical force for good.

In practice this could look like:

  • Taking an actively inclusive approach to recruitment to ensure your team has a range of lived and professional experiences rather than being homogenous.
  • Committing to inclusion at every level of an organisation. This is not an overnight thing nor something at odds with meritocracy. It means foregrounding training and development opportunities to nurture talent from underrepresented groups and being amenable to appointing based on transferable expertise rather than narrowly prioritising solely sideways movers/established leaders.
  • Challenging your clients and customers. Especially for those of us in the talent industries, we have a duty to call out inappropriate comments/behaviour and tokenistic approaches.
  • Support queer colleagues and take a proactive approach to best practice. Create policies (such as a Transitioning at Work or Inclusive Parenting Policy) and educate colleagues (on the importance of inclusive recruitment for example) as point of order, not as a reaction to welcoming your first queer colleagues.
  • Share responsibility throughout the organisation. Rather than delegating inclusion activities to a junior HR professional, ensure that there is ownership across the organisation.
  • Focus on inclusion throughout the year. LGBTQ+ people exist all year long, not just in June. Celebrate queer excellence, commemorate those who have gone before us and be inclusive every day.

Whilst these points are obviously much easier when we think of larger organisations with budget to spare, this doesn’t mean that SMEs and the microbusinesses of this world don’t have a role to play or that they can’t make an impact.

At this scale it might look more like:

  • Ensuring your advertising literature is inclusive in nature and is neither deliberately nor accidentally discriminatory
  • Partnering with LGBTQ+ organisations through sponsorship, through attending events or through engaging with LGBTQ+ marketers/influencers
  • Listening to feedback from your users/customers. Are there new products that might help the queer community? Are there small tweaks to your approach that might support or uplift a trans customer base?

If businesses adopt a ‘thinking above and beyond’ approach to inclusion and keep themselves on the front foot, then they can authentically and legitimately make a difference in fighting the normalisation of marginalisation and discrimination of trans people and the broader LGBTQ+ community.

Inclusion. It might just be the most powerful thing your organisation can do.

Please reach out to Elisha Savidge, a Consultant in our Board Practice, if you would like to discuss this article in more detail.


[1] According to 2021 England and Wales Census data, 0.5% of the population aged 16 years and over reported that their gender identity was different to their sex registered at birth

[1] Trans is used as an umbrella term to indicate the inclusion of gender identities across the spectrum, including but not limited to those who are transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary.