AB Thinks  →  21st June 2022

Loud and Proud: The do’s and dont’s of corporate Pride

Adam Collins and Madi Bruce
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June has somehow rolled around once again, and Pride month is upon us. Across the UK, members of the LGBTQ+ community will come together in celebration of the rights they fought so long to attain.

You may have noticed the corporate landscape is awash with rainbow-coloured logos, products and merchandise this month. As more and more brands jump on the ‘rainbow bandwagon’ across Pride month and in the run up to the UK’s main parade in London, the debate regarding corporations’ use of this symbol of the LGBTQ+ community – and the rights it continues to fight to defend around the world – is more important than ever.

From living up to your espoused brand values, to ensuring colleagues can bring their whole selves to work, we explore the rise of corporate Pride and suggest some ways that brands can support the cause without taking it over for their own purpose.

Why do we celebrate pride?
To support Pride fully, first we need to understand the origins of the celebration and why it’s still such an important date in the LGBTQ+ calendar 50 years later.

The first-ever Pride march took place the year after the Stonewall riots of June 1969, which served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement worldwide. Laws prohibiting same-sex relationships, gay people from joining the military, having children, or getting married, among many others, have been fought vehemently by the community across the decades since.

Fast forward to today, while homosexuality has been decriminalised in most countries, the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community continue to be under major threat.

There are many places around the world where homosexuality is still criminalised, in extreme cases punishable by death. Even in those places that appear to espouse ‘equality’, these rights are not a given. For example, Florida’s ‘Don’t say gay’ policy aims to restrict schools from teaching students about homosexuality, and the introduction of legislation that allows medical professionals to actively discriminate against people who are transgender.

It’s for these reasons that millions continue to celebrate, protest and show Pride each year.

Pride at work: Yay or nay?
We’ve seen everything when it comes to corporate Pride celebrations: some successful and some that have received huge backlash.

On the one hand, it’s encouraging that organisations are acknowledging their LGBTQ+ colleagues and the wider community, but when businesses may be aligned with anti-LGBTQ+ politics, simply adding a rainbow flag to their logo for June as a tick-box exercise, the waters get a lot more murky.

Especially with the rise of social media, consumers and employees have become an increasingly discerning audience, who will dig deeper to find out what’s behind a brand’s rainbow banner – and hold brands accountable on public platforms based on what they find.

Below is a quick roundup of some token gestures that we think need to be wiped off your Pride comms plan, as well as ways your organisation can integrate Pride into your culture year-round.

Do: Be honest
Every company is on a journey to becoming more inclusive, embedding equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the fabric of the business at the policy and process level.

There’s a way to go ahead, and it’s important to be transparent about where you are in the process.

Small steps matter, so be truthful about where you are on your journey, set intentions publicly and make an honest commitment to continue pushing forward.

Do: Start somewhere
Every movement starts with a small step. It’s better to start somewhere than stand still figuring out how to make the leap to becoming a truly inclusive workplace.

Simple tweaks such as mandating pronouns in email signatures can go a long way to making colleagues feel seen, respected and included. While adding pronouns to email signoffs isn’t particularly cutting edge, the way Innocent has publicised this policy change – acknowledging it’s a small step and that they have more work to do – is a good example of corporations doing it in a way that doesn’t come across as such obvious rainbow washing.

Another great place to start is by taking time to investigate inclusive language and the ways it can revolutionise your internal culture, asking colleagues to familiarise themselves with the way they speak day-to-day, and how slight tweaks can make all the difference.

For many businesses, starting somewhere has meant showing they celebrate Pride through rainbow colours across social media – if you’re doing this, be sure to have ambitious plans to push forward on your EDI journey, as rainbow washing has diluted this messaging.

Do: Show up for the community
Pride is a celebration, but it’s also a month of reflection and action. Pride is a protest. Your LGBTQ+ colleagues will be taking part in marches and celebratory street parties. They will likely be donating to vital causes doing the work within the community to further establish and secure the rights of every LGBTQ+ person across the world.

Take time to learn about how your organisation can do its bit to support charities and causes that will make a difference in the lives of your employees and the community all year round.

Explore these resources below to begin making real change:

Don’t: Limit your Pride Month campaign to a rainbow logo
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a huge rise in buzzwords such as ‘rainbow capitalism’ and ‘rainbow washing’, which refer to businesses profiting from symbolic support of the LGBTQ+ community without doing anything that benefits the movement.

One example of this is applying a rainbow-coloured overlay to your current company logo across your social media while ignoring any active obligation to promote inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. This demonstrates what is referred to as performative allyship or performative activism.

Performative allyship can be defined as allyship to gain social capital versus a true devotion to the cause. In comparison, an authentic allyship comes from genuine support which stems from taking initiative.

Don’t: Lean into stereotypes
The LGBTQ+ community is so diverse, and that diversity should be reflected in your marketing language and imagery. Don’t rely on stereotypes to guide your campaign.

In general, it’s standard to include diversity of all kinds, be that race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc year-round. Representation is an integral part of any campaign and the more inclusive, the wider your audience reach.

Don’t: Rely on LGBTQ+ colleagues to plan Pride
Another one worth noting, not all LGBTQ+ people will want to take a central role in promoting Pride at your organisation or feel responsible for driving the business’ efforts in this space.

Leaders must step up and take this opportunity to shout about why diversity and inclusion matter to them, the company and society in general. Plan events, get guest speakers in, invite members of the LGBTQ+ community to sit on a panel and discuss where they think things could be improved upon, and show an authentic interest, initiative, and care.

Everyone wants to be included and everyone wants to be represented, be that in life or the workplace. Make sure you go just that little bit further for your own colleagues and you’ll have a happier, healthier workplace.

If you’d like to discuss your EDI initiatives and how we could help, contact us.

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