As the Pride schedule for 2019 draws to a close, businesses around the world could use the end of the celebrations as a prompt to consider their approaches to inclusivity and difference, writes Philip Browning, copy director at global creative business Moving Brands. Here, he considers the questions leaders need to ask – of themselves and their teams – to foster acceptance across every level of their organisations.
With the 21st-century corporate boardroom still unrepresentative of the rich variety of society, nurturing an open culture of tolerance, respect and support has to last longer than a six-week campaign.
Of course, it’s no surprise that so many brands jump on the Pride bandwagon. A movement that stands for solidarity with difference across society is a passionate and crucial cause, so it’s understandable that a business may want to align itself with that kind of positivity.
Rainbow flags – in shop windows, online banners or sponsored vans on Pride marches – are transient. The influence that leadership teams and board-level decision-makers have on their workforces are enduring.
There’s been a significant backlash against some corporations that have slapped something colourfully Pride-ish next to their logo and then removed it once the celebrations have ended.
So let’s forget rainbow-flag window-dressing and consider some action.
A 2018 report found that only nine Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation and/or gender identity as diversity criteria in their nomination and governance policies. Fewer than 0.3 per cent of Fortune 500 board directors are openly LGBTQ+.
Then, if there is no real dialogue between boardrooms and those within the workforce who identify differently, no wonder this breeds discomfort or even unrest.
At Moving Brands, we’re trying to ensure that everything we do is founded on principles of positive acceptance. This includes the clients and suppliers we work with, our culture in our four studios and even what we buy. To get there – and we still have a way to go – we’re asking questions that are often uncomfortable.
What is the reality for minority employees?
The workplace can be a minefield for LGBTQ+ people, whether that’s having to come out in every new job; navigating awkwardness around the whole marriage, kids or family set-up; or fielding well-intentioned questions from colleagues who are trying to educate themselves (“When did you realise you were gay” Answer: congratulations, that’s the 2,000th time I’ve been asked that question. “Can we go shopping together?” Answer: no, of course not).
Sexuality is, of course, just one example of difference. A first step for business leaders should be to conduct an honest and objective review of how people across an organisation experience life as an employee.
Staff without any obvious “challenges” are, of course, easier for leaders to manage. While they remain unaware of how some individuals experience the workplace, leaders have no sense of what problems might be affecting their people, from mild irritation to crushing isolation.
Consider how this would affect anyone other than that (rarer than you may imagine) creature: the non-disabled, cisgender, straight white man with golden mental health.
What should a policy of acceptance consider?
If more businesses are slapping a rainbow flag on their logos, it implies that they are claiming “acceptance” in their workplace, but do they have the policies to ensure that this embraces and nurtures all the wonderful differences that make up a fulfilled and efficient workforce?
Fundamentally, it’s about building an environment where no one gets called a “shirt-lifter” or a “mentalist”. And it’s about recognising just how nuanced “difference” is. The work a business must do in this respect starts at the induction stage, but it must continue as people tell the business what they are experiencing.
A policy of acceptance also has an impact on how colleagues interact. An assessment of every “touchpoint” in the business is critical.
At Moving Brands, we’re only at the beginning of this journey.
What should be done after the assessment?
Much of the above can be supplemented, or even led, by input from across the organisation.
Of course, you need a culture of openness to encourage this. Acceptance is not an endeavour with a deadline or end point. It’s a commitment that continues long after the Pride parade has passed by.
If any of this becomes a struggle, there are university-accredited bias tests which can suggest which avenues to explore next. Look for the Harvard implicit bias test, for example.
Or consider embarking on a more comprehensive business design and culture transformation project, alongside a creative partner, which should include an assessment of how well an organisation reflects the general population, or at least its customer base.