In this month of Pride, the aim of businesses should be to focus on the celebration and empowerment of the LGBTQ+ community whilst not forgetting the perennial responsibility we have to raise awareness of the discriminations faced by the community worldwide.
In April 2021, Q.Digital, the largest LGBTQ+ media company in the U.S., surveyed nearly 1,000 of its LGBTQ+ readers concerning their attitudes about brands that create products for Pride. If a company has a Pride or LGBTQ-inspired product, the top three most important things readers felt the company should also do were:
- Have strong pro-LGBTQ+ internal policies
- Contribute to an LGBTQ+ charity or non-profit
- Advertise in LGBTQ+ media
Joseph Williams (foreground), CEO and Co-founder of Clu, and Cayelan Mendoza, CTO and Co-founder
So, with these thoughts in mind for all Pride activity, not just products, as an entrepreneur or small business owner what can you do to celebrate Pride? Firstly, you are in a unique position to help. You need ego and humility to be a successful entrepreneur, but we don’t have all the answers. It is in all our best interests to create cultures where people feel set up for success, that feel special for everyone. We have the great benefit of being able to ask for help and ideas and then have the dexterity to adopt these changes in a way that big organisations don’t.
More than ever, tapping into the vast skills dominant in underrepresented and overlooked communities makes tangible business sense. Supporting underrepresented communities is not just about meeting diversity and inclusion goals, it’s also about access to great talent and growing your business. Small organisations have the agility and risk portfolio to be more progressive. Therefore, with one or two progressive policies, they can easily gain the attention of in-demand talent.
Past decades have seen significant progress towards equal rights (legally) for LGBTQ+ people. But despite this progress, in recent years there has been a gut-wrenching rise in hate speech and hate crime targeting our community. These sustained and well-organised attacks deliberately mis-characterise the fight for the social equity of LGBTQ+ people, with a particular focus on our Trans siblings and their identities. The reality is that people in the community, especially the Trans community, still feel unsafe. More so than ever, as with all workplace minority communities, we need to be showing up with more purpose than we have done previously, as the threat to existence and equity remains very present for our Trans and non-binary siblings and it is not backing down.
A report in 2020 showed that currently 114 countries do not legally protect people from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is very common for LGBTQ+ individuals to hide their identity at work, with estimates that as high as 59% of working LGBTQ+ individuals have never disclosed their identity in the workplace which leads to them feeling like they can’t be themselves at work.
Many LGBTQ+ staff, and trans people still face anti-LGBT discrimination and even bullying at work. In their report ‘LGBT in Britain’, Stonewall found that almost one in five LGBT staff have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year because they’re LGBT. One in eight Trans people have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year because of being Trans. Almost one in five LGBT people who were job seekers said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity while trying to get a job in the last year. We desperately need to improve these statistics and you can play a vital part in moving the working world forward in these areas.
More than ever, we need to support charities and human rights organisations dealing with the fallout of this targeted hate campaigning. Even if your budget is small, allocate it to these organisations and donate as much as you can to help with practical support for those who need it most.
What does it look like when a company celebrates Pride with authenticity? Here are a few examples of what to do and what not to do.
Companies can do small things to express their support and start important conversations, especially in parts of the globe where LGBTQ+ rights are still lagging the Western world. In 2016 HSBC painted the lions guarding their Hong Kong building rainbow-coloured as part of their “Celebrate Pride, Celebrate Unity” campaign for LGBTQ+ rights, and more recently they have been lighting up their building up for Pride. Even though it is an international city, it is one that is divided about gay rights, and this has sparked much needed debate.
Employees are increasingly taking a stand over ‘rainbow-washing’, virtue signalling and empty promises without substantive change or genuine support for the LGBTQ+ and Transgender communities. The latest company not to back up its words with action and so has been threatened with walkouts from its staff is Electronic Arts (EA), whose staff believed that rainbow-washing the EA logo, after openly refusing to issue a statement of support, is nothing more than a hypocritical marketing ploy and not a genuine supporting effort.
In contrast some companies have taken the lead to have proper policy and education. Coles in Australia, who have at least 900 team members who identify as Transgender or gender diverse, have recently announced that transgender and gender-diverse staff of the supermarket chain will be entitled to up to 10 days of paid gender affirmation leave. Target announced that they would be allowing Transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponded with their gender identity – and faced a boycott following this – but continued to pledge support for the LGBTQ+ community, showing their commitment to inclusivity.
These large policy changes may be out of reach for smaller companies but, as we talked about above, think about what you are doing on a smaller scale to help. Make sure you have the correct policies in place, make the workplace as inclusive as possible and have an open-door policy so staff can easily express any shortcomings.
If you say you are an ally, show up and add your voice and most importantly challenge the campaigns destroying and taking lives from our community across our country and continent.
This Pride month please don’t trivialise our existence and lived experiences to just glitter, rainbows, and cupcakes. We need your support and intervention. Make sure that in all your efforts during Pride month you are not just doing things to earn PR brownie points and to further your brand image, but that all your efforts are going towards initiatives that change the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people for the better. Try to find ways to recognise and respect every facet of our community’s reality in your discussions and celebrations, as well as the fun bits.