Throughout Pride month, we’ve seen organizations around the world wave flags and rainbows in support of the LGBTQ+ community. But is this true allyship? How do we separate performative marketing from actions that are genuinely uplifting and supporting of LGBTQ+ people?
With an estimated 57% of people between the ages of 13 and 26 identifying as something other than heterosexual, LGBTQ+ equality is an issue that the business sector cannot ignore. And with the power to create change, organizations rightfully should be speaking out. Yet, this must be done in a way that truly supports the community.
Pride started as a protest. Led by Black, trans women, it was a movement for those most marginalized in society and a way for them to use their voices to ask society to do better. Today, Pride is marked in countries across the world, and, though it is more a celebration, it is a time to amplify LGBTQ+ voices, speak out against injustices and push for a more equal society. And the business sector has a vital role to play in this.
It’s no secret that the workplace is not immune to the oppressive structures that exist outside of it. In fact, in many circumstances, the workplace is guilty of holding up these structural inequalities. Yet, over the years, I have seen a shift in our culture. The workplace has become central to the fight for equality, from closing the gender pay gap to transitioning work policies. It has become accustomed for businesses to be doing their part.
And the business case for doing so is more than compelling. With 99% of LGBTQ+ people valuing a potential new employer’s track record and reputation for equality while searching for a new job, you cannot attract the top talent without investing in diversity and inclusion. On top of this, people who have to hide their sexuality or gender identity in the workplace can experience lower productivity because the experience is “stressful and debilitating,” according to McKinsey. For those who are out, 36% have experienced harassment and bullying. It only makes sense that businesses act to change this, and creating an environment where everyone is free to be themselves becomes beneficial for both the individual and the business as a whole.
Throughout Pride month and beyond, workplace equality must be included in the conversation. At the same time, we are seeing a critique of rainbow marketing. If your workplace is to authentically show its support, you must center LGBTQ+ voices. Your company must also be intersectional and focus on those most vulnerable in the LGBTQ+ community. Because by uplifting these voices, everyone benefits. Activities that benefit the community are a key pillar to this: Focus on charities and community groups that are already doing the work, as allyship is often about supporting a community to create change, not speaking over them.
Many platforms and spaces are already doing this effectively, and businesses that are taking the lead allow others to follow. My company, for example, held a five-day virtual Pride conference earlier this month. We offered moments for learning and celebration, as well as centering the ongoing necessity of workplace equality and inclusion. I observed another global virtual conference focused on LGBTQ+ inclusion and celebration in all aspects of education. Look for resources that create space for your organization to deepen its knowledge on becoming an ally.
Businesses can also look inward to their LGBTQ+ employees. Speak to them and ask what they need. Start with the LGBTQ+ employee resource group. If there isn’t one there already, perhaps think about how you could create one.
Looking internally also means analyzing your policies and language. Do you encourage people to share their pronouns in presentations and email signatures? Is your parental leave inclusive for same-sex and adoptive parents? Scrutinize your recruitment process and ask yourself if this is truly inclusive. Where you recruit from matters because if you are only looking in one place, the diversity of your talent pool is unlikely to change. Hiring diverse talent is only one step, though; you must make sure you have an inclusive culture where people can thrive. These may seem like business changes, unrelated to celebrating Pride. But Pride is not just a good time; it is about creating a more equal world. And without equity in the workplace, this becomes impossible.
Remember, LGBTQ+ people are who they are all year round. Pride month is important, but true allyship happens every day, not just in June. How an organization celebrates Pride will matter to their current and future LGBTQ+ employees, but it is also only one part of how they must show up for equality every single day.