My Ally & Me: Oli and Char.

Updated: Oct 20

Oli Birbeck and Char Srahan from Dr. Martens share their Queer Allyship success stories; from navigating challenging conversations at work together, to establishing an elevated sense of trust and empathy between colleagues.

An image of Oli who is non-binary - they are white, and they have blue eyes. They have short dark hair in a buzzcut. They're wearing a black and white tie-dye t-shirt


Oli's Allyship story...

In February 2022 I started at Dr. Martens, joining as the only trans and non-binary person in the office. Navigating conversations about transitioning and my non-binary identity before my first day was a bit anxiety inducing, but welcomed by HR. I had a sense of safety in my manager to support me, as I had built a relationship with them over zoom. When I eventually joined, my manager left the business. I wasn’t sure whether I’d find the same relationship with someone who understood my identity, that I could talk to about my gender and related conversations.

Meeting Char at DM’s completely elevated my experience at work. I get small compliments of “your beard looks sick” when 3 new hairs appear on my chin; to checking in on me after important healthcare appointments. Char acknowledges situations that might be uncomfortable and is thinking about my experience too. She makes time to chat with me when I’m having a rough day. I’m openly trans but that doesn’t mean I want to talk about it to everyone at work. Char is someone I can be completely open with - I don’t get questioned, only hyped up. We joke that someone needs to deflate my ego after I’ve hung out with Char. It’s comforting I can bring my true self into work when I’m with Char.

Initially, Char put trust in me, opening up about her queer identity and more personal chats. It created an environment where I could be vulnerable, and I trusted her way of handling conversations. Her use of non-gendered and inclusive language was an instant connection and safe space for me. Asides from the deeper stuff Char’s always there for us to act completely ourselves and have a silly time.

I think the gratitude for Char is felt by many people at our work. She listens and takes time to understand, regardless of her own experiences. She sets the bar high and is an example we can all learn from.

I didn’t expect to come into the workplace and find this level of support. Starting as an ally at work, now a close friend in my personal life that I completely trust.



 

Char's Allyship story...

To me, being a good ally is about hyping others up and creating a psychologically safe environment in which they can thrive and show up entirely as themselves, no matter where they are in their identity journey. I’ve always been a mega ‘feeler’ or an empath, and this means that when others are happy, I also feel bursting with the joys of life. However, when someone else is low, I feel flat. So, for example, when Oli is feeling confident in themselves, I too feel really good, and it’s SUCH an honour to share in that. If I can even slightly create an environment for that feeling by being a good ally, then my work here is done!


I’m not sure there’s such thing as being a bad ally. I think as long as you’re trying your very best to support the people around you, especially those that might need backing a little more than others, then you can sit tight knowing your allyship matters. I also think it’s important to say that as an ally, it’s really OK to make mistakes, be transparent about them and strive to do better next time (whilst encouraging others to do the same).


By championing allyship at work, we’ve started to see the people around us trying so much harder to use gender-neutral and inclusive language and we’ve felt empowered to float the idea that one day, we de-gender our products. Of course, people have slipped up and made mistakes, but between us we’ve made a really concerted effort not to squirm at this, but to use it as a springboard to educate people. There’s nothing lovelier than feeling inclusivity spread like a wave across our colleagues.


The best part of being an ally to Oli has been seeing them come out of their shell and gain confidence, allowing others to see in them what I get to see. It’s been so fun to see others experiencing their incredible and irreverent humour, fresh ‘hot takes’ and unreal style. I’m so stoked that many others celebrate them like I do… and they’ve become quite the office celebrity! That’s the thing about allyship, you get to play a role in exposing what is so magical about your friend to everyone else, and that’s priceless.


It’s vital to say that our relationship is a total two-way street: I’ve tried to help Oli where I can, but their presence in my life has been a game-changer. They’ve helped me with my queer identity, and they’ve made me feel bolder than ever about who I am.


All in all, being a good ally is about radical openness, seeking vicarious joy through others when they’re at their best and even when it feels hard, doing your very best to love and support others around you, with all your might.


 

Oli Birbeck (they/them)

Oli is a trans & non-binary musician, activist and is currently working their first role in DE&I at Dr. Martens. They are actively fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and equality, as well as leveraging queer voices in music. As the drummer of headboy, they are currently working on releasing a new EP with their band.


Char Srahan (she/her)

Char currently works in the Culture space as a Culture Specialist at Dr Martens. In the last year she’s worked passionately on projects such as Pride, International Women’s Day and World Mental Health Month, focussing on sharing people’s unique perspectives - especially of those from minority or marginalised backgrounds. When she’s not talking about shoes, she also fiercely advocates for mental health and social justice.


 

About the 'My Ally and Me' story-telling series:

At We Create Space we always aim to lift and amplify the voices of our global queer collective of change-makers. However with this story-telling series we wanted to give LGBTQ+ leaders the opportunity to bring an ally into the conversation and explain how their valued support has shaped their personal and professional journey.


 

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