Businesses need to get beyond the commercial aspect of the Gay Pride march to create more inclusive cultures.
London, the epicenter of all things cool is experiencing an unexpected heatwave and explosion of technicolor, more specifically rainbows can be found in shopfronts, t-shirts and even Costa coffee has replaced it understated logo with a splash of color. The burst of color reminds us Gay Pride is about to take center stage and this year it’s bigger than ever. This year the London event was estimated to attract over a million people with similar marches occurring across the country. Businesses are taking bold steps to show their support either by participating in the parade or by responding by offering carnival inspired clothes.
When the spending power of the LGBT consumer segment is estimated to hit US$3.5 trillion per annum, according to LGBT-capital, this is not a market to be ignored. The diverse range of corporate sponsorship, from Barclays Bank who is the headline partner for the fifth year running to Tesco, law firm CMS, Amazon, Delta Airlines and PWC demonstrate a broad range of sectors supporting Gay Pride in London and across the UK.
James Allan, Executive Sponsor for the LGBT group in Barclays Bank describes how most companies will invest in sponsoring Gay Pride when they have built a strong track record internally, ‘colleagues first before Pride, you need to show a track record to promote what you are doing’. He goes on to ad it makes a lot of sense for companies to align themselves with the Gay Pride march as it has an amplification effect and the impact is huge.
For some companies products are a fantastic way to announce they are joining the party, this year Marks and Spencer has unveiled a rainbow sandwich along with sponsorship to Gay Pride events across the United Kingdom. But there are warnings to companies that see an opportunity to exploit the events through selling merchandise without financially supporting the event or groups associated with the LGBTQ+ community with activists calling out offenders on social media.
More still needs to be done in organizations
Whilst celebrating Gay Pride is a fantastic first step in building awareness, the real challenge comes in creating an inclusive culture, where employees and colleagues feel safe to be completely authentic. Companies often share this aspiration but they don’t realize the barriers they create to enable their people to be themselves. The data around the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace shows more needs to be done. Stonewall stats show one quarter (26%) of lesbian, gay and bi workers are not open about their sexual orientation.
The LGBTQ+ agenda is up-front and center in the diversity and inclusion space and Stonewall is doing a great job in its annual benchmarking of inclusive companies in the UK. The conditions are ripe for change with companies responding to market demands, stakeholders keeping the pressure on and internally members of the LGBTQ+ creating platforms to raise their visibility and help colleagues understand how they can create a more inclusive environment. What’s going on in organizations is the crux of this issue, once the euphoria of the parade has worn off, there is a strong chance individual will revert to a hiding their identity to avoid bullying or aggressive behavior.
One in five lesbian, gay and bi employees have experienced verbal aggression because of their sexual orientation whilst at work and this comes from colleagues, customers or service users. Data from Stonewall also showed 42% of trans people are not in their preferred gender role because they are worried it will threaten their employment status. It’s perhaps even more shocking to find 41% of 18-25-year-olds went back into the closet when they started their first job based on research commissioned by Vodafone. The sensitivities around this group mean these figures are likely to under-report the real situation.
Building an inclusive culture
So how about replacing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with an opportunity to talk and find out more? To ask questions, to be comfortable to share your curiosity and challenge your own assumptions. When working with organizations who have strong LGBTQ+ networks the most common feedback centers online managers being scared to ask questions for fear of offending. Stonewall has created an effective way to address the ignorance gap by creating the Allies programme with specific actions to tackle ignorance as well as harassment associated with sexual orientation.
James Allan from Barclays Bank identifies three sectors that need to be addressed in building an inclusive culture for the LGBTQ+ community, starting with colleagues and the internal culture, followed by customers and then the wider community. Programmes creating opportunities for more conversations and training for middle managers along with executive sponsorship provide the opportunity to build a more inclusive culture.
The first step is to create more awareness and build curiosity to find out more about colleagues and create a space where members of the LGBTQ+ feel pride about themselves and their place of work. Businesses connecting with Gay Pride can no longer afford to pull out the rainbow bunting just for the run-up to the carnival, they need to create cultures where colleagues feel valued and safe to share their true identity 365 days a year.
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