Celebrating Pride at work
As Pride events get underway in cities around the world, many companies will be looking for ways to celebrate the diversity of their workforce. There will be rainbow flags, there will be parties, there may even be a glittery unicorn or two. But it’s important to see beyond the frivolities and remember what it is we’re commemorating.
June 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising – one of the most important events leading to the gay liberation movement and the establishment of today’s LGBTQ community. It is a celebration of social and self-acceptance, the winning of hard-fought legal rights and freedom from persecution.
As an employer, it can be tricky to judge the balance between joining in the fun and making a serious commitment to be a champion of LGBTQ equality. Not everybody gets it right and there is unfortunately still a long way to go until equality is reached on all fronts. Missteps will be taken, and best intentions may be misconstrued, but the secret to success lies (as with so many aspects of employer branding and employee engagement) with authenticity.
Just as LGBTQ consumers are wary of buying rainbow-branded merchandise without knowing that at least a portion of their money will be going to support LGBTQ causes, LGBTQ employees and their allies will quickly see through the confetti showers if your positioning doesn’t ring true to their own experiences. Companies shouldn’t just celebrate Pride by throwing a month-long party; they should celebrate it every day by building an intrinsic and consistent sense of community – a community that empowers their employees to bring their full selves to work, no matter how they identify.
The best employer brands are built from the inside out and depend on staff feeling an emotional connection to their workplace based on what they encounter, observe, and feel on a daily basis. Likewise, successful employee engagement plays on moments that matter. But different things matter to different people and communities are made up of individuals – all of whom draw their sense of belonging from different things. And, naturally, not everyone feels comfortable celebrating their sexuality at work. A 2019 survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Glassdoor found that 53% of LGBTQ employees reported that they have experienced or witnessed anti-LGBTQ comments by co-workers. 47% of LGBTQ respondents said they believed being out at work could hurt their career and 68% felt their current companies could be doing more to support them at work.
So, how do you forge a more inclusive sense of community for your LGBTQ employees while avoiding it feeling like a box-checking exercise? There are lots of employers out there getting it right, with valuable lessons to share. According to Darren Towers, the executive director of the LBGTQ rights charity Stonewall, employers should understand that “no workplace is the same, so diversity and inclusion cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach.” He recently told CNBC that:
“Employers need to listen to the needs of their lesbian, gay, bi, and trans employees and collaboratively address the challenges they face. This means creating a safe space for LGBT(Q) employees to come together and discuss those challenges, then empower them and their allies to bring positive change”.
This is a sentiment embraced by progressive employers such as Accenture. They have employee resource groups in 45 countries and a global Ally program with more than 110,000 members. Their focus includes professional development, recruitment, promotion and retention guidelines, and equal benefits, including insurance coverage for gender affirmation surgery in certain countries.
In the US, IBM was among the first companies to include sexual orientation as part of their Equal Opportunities policy and extended domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees almost 20 years ago. PayPal refused to expand in North Carolina following the passing of the controversial House Bill 2, while companies such as Visa and Microsoft consistently score 100% on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.
In the UK, Stonewall named the international law firm Pinsent Masons as the country’s most LGBT(Q)-inclusive employer in 2019. As well as visible leadership support and a strong networking group that offers support and mentoring, they have crafted training for their HR department to remove barriers to employment for trans individuals and offer specific development opportunities for LGBTQ women to break what they term the ‘double-glazed glass ceiling’.
What seems to unite these organizations is the commitment of their leadership to create an environment that celebrates the diversity of their employees while also providing opportunities that encourage staff to socialize and collaborate. A diverse workforce that is comfortable collaborating and embracing different ways of looking at things leads to innovation – which, as we all know, provides competitive edge.
Key to this collaborative community is a sense of psychological safety or a feeling of being able to take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed. The best teams are the ones where people feel at ease being themselves and fully engaging with the challenge at hand.
So, this Pride season, take the time to consider how significantly you’re engaging with your LGBTQ employees. Can you authentically describe your organization as an inclusive community? If so, what are you doing to recognize those moments that matter and to tell your story to the outside world? If you’re getting it right, or you’re at least on the path to getting it right, it’s time to unleash the rainbow.