Pride month is over, and so is the season when companies loudly express their support for LGBTQ+ communities. Sadly, a large proportion of that is simply “rainbow washing” – aka the act of superficially backing the LGBTQ+ community, while not actually aligning your company’s values with the cause or, worse, actively harming the community behind closed doors by donating to anti-LGBTQ+ organisations.
Allyship shouldn’t just be a rainbow-coloured logo in your shop window or on your social feeds. Without some extra effort and meaningful action, a Pride flag will soon seem nothing more than a stifled gesture. Here are some actions any company can adopt to practise a year-round, genuine allyship:
The first and foremost step towards a diverse and inclusive workplace is establishing a zero-tolerance culture around anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment at the workplace. Any form of abuse should be addressed and handled with confidence, taking into consideration the effect it has on the abused. Some companies even include questions about diversity during the hiring process to filter out any candidates who might compromise a healthy ecosystem.
Pronouns are one of the simplest ways to reflect allyship with LGBTQ+ members. Apart from encouraging your team to add pronouns to their signatures, why not create opportunities for employees to share their chosen pronouns at the beginning of a team meeting during the introduction part or any other social situation? More importantly, every team member should feel comfortable enough to ask their colleagues about their preferred pronouns. The more we normalise the fact that we all come in different shapes, forms and identities, the less trouble we will have discussing issues openly at the workplace. As a plus, studies have shown that employees are more productive and relaxed when they feel safe and included as part of a close-knit team.
When hiring new employees, it could be made explicit that any sexual orientation and gender identity is welcome. Hiring managers can also be open to discussing any queries with confidentiality. Job descriptions can be worded to demonstrate inclusivity and support for the LGBTQ+ community, or any group that needs extra support, by going beyond the basics to attract top talent. An example of the “basics” would be applying gender-neutral policies regarding parental leave, adoption or pension schemes. Some companies go the extra mile to provide LGBTQ+ training to their employees or appoint LGBTQ+ allies. The Lego Group, for instance, cooperates with Stonewall and Workplace Pride to create better strategies for supporting their LGBTQ+ employees.
As well as conducting due diligence on suppliers (Do they represent LGBTQ+-supportive values? Is there any homophobic sentiment on their social feeds?) brands can actively seek out opportunities to support LGBTQ+ suppliers, be it an artist or a venue for an event. For example, Skittles’ Pride merch last year was designed by queer and trans illustrators, directly supporting small queer businesses.
No matter how hard a company tries to be inclusive and supportive, if an employee is facing challenges outside of work in any capacity, their mental health is bound to be affected. The workplace should be a safe space in which to discuss not only work-related but also personal issues, so establishing an inclusive mental health support scheme at work is vital. It’s best if the scheme is free or affordable and accessible to all; however, any guidance or extra support is helpful when a person is feeling ill-treated, insecure or stressed. As an example, Clifford Chance, this year’s top employer, according to Stonewall, has established an LGBTQ+ employee network (Arcus) that provides confidential support and safe spaces for its queer staff to build a community.
Avoid painting your logo rainbow-coloured in June (or at all) unless you truly believe and practise the above-mentioned points. If you’re not sure that you’re an ally yet, it means your company needs more work to truly align with the LGBTQ+ community. The problem with fake allyship is that it capitalises on vulnerable groups while monetising their cultural value during a certain period of time (eg. Pride Month). False allyship can have the unintended result of alienating the LGBTQ+ community from the period of celebration and angering many, while sustaining damaging stereotypes in the process. Rainbow washing can also cause lasting reputational damage to brands when their insincerity is called out.
Donating to an LGBTQ+ charity didn’t make it onto this list – ultimately, committing to just a single action is a frail attempt at allyship, especially for large companies with considerable resources. And, while donating money is inaccessible for some companies, everyone can make the extra effort when it comes to inclusive hiring practices, or standing up against anti-LGBTQ+ comments or actions.
For more tips on how to transform your company/workplace, read Stonewall’s suggestions.
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