How Business Can Support Inclusiveness and Change
I think I’m a realist, but there have been a few times in my life when I’ll admit, I’ve been a naïve idealist. Like in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, I thought racism would end. In 2015 when the supreme court ruled that gay marriage was legal, I thought gay people would be accepted. In 2020 when COVID struck, I thought our country would put our differences aside to save precious lives. And again in 2020 when George Floyd was killed, I really, truly thought racism would finally end this time.
Of course, none of those things happened and we continue to live in a world of racism, bigotry, antisemitism, boycotts and bullshit.
Right now, almost 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are making their way through state legislatures. Aggressive boycott tactics against companies that support the LGBTQ+ community are underway (hello Bud Light and Target). There are blatant, violent threats being made against LGBTQ+ people and allies (particularly the trans community). Television and political personalities are declaring their pronouns to be ridiculous things like “U. S. and A.”, “The Great MAGA Prince” and “Shut Up.” Both, the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) have issued travel advisories for LGBTQ+ and Black people traveling or relocating to Florida.
On one hand, you could resign yourself to what’s happening and think that it’s always been that way. But if you take a step back, you can see that what we’re experiencing is a waning fight. The last gasps and desperate measures of a vocal minority threatened by progress and in fear of what they don’t know. It’s two steps forward and one step back.
But make no doubt, there is progress. In 2022 in a nationwide survey conducted by Gallup, 20% of Gen-Z self-identify as LGBTQ+ compared to 2.7% of Boomers. As a reluctant Boomer, I see it with my Gen Z kids. When I went to my high school prom in 1978, boys and girls went together on dates. This year, in my daughter’s room, getting ready for her prom there was 1 straight girl, 1 bisexual girl, 2 lesbian girls and one trans boy. They went to the prom as a tight group of friends. That’s normal. Times are changing. And we’re not going back.
Against a backdrop of anger, fear, threats and violence, coupled with a momentous shift in culture to a more diverse and inclusive country, Pride 2023 feels more connected to its original roots than ever: a protest and a demand for equal rights and basic human respect. And a celebration of our history, our progress and the trailblazers who paved the way to where we are today – from Marsha P. Johnson and Harvey Milk to RuPaul, Laverne Cox, Billy Porter and even Pete Buttigieg.
But 53 years after the first pride march, we’re still fighting the battle and, in some ways, it’s bloodier than ever (both literally and figuratively) – a war being carried out against individuals, companies and brands. And I believe the fight will go on for 53 more.
As one of the owners of an LGBTQ+ and Black owned agency, between Pride and Juneteenth, we have a lot on our minds. But first and foremost, on our agenda is staying positive and keeping the momentum going – for our people, our culture, our company, our clients and our community.
Here are a few things you can do to stand strong and take action to support the LGBTQ+ community:
- Be Values-Driven – Know what you stand for inside and out. Create zero daylight between your company and culture (what you do for your employees and customers), and what you say and support externally. Consumers (particularly young ones) support brands that have strong, consistent and authentic values. And don’t try to rainbow-wash with a superficial effort if you’re not taking care of your people. And when you take incoming for what you believe (and believe me, you will), stand strong to your values. Bud Light and Target capitulated, and they are paying the price from both sides.
- Be Visible – Provide options for your employees to self-identify, without exceptions, by auditing HRIS platforms making sure they provide sexual orientation, gender identity and pronoun options. Include your DEI policy, including your commitment to LGBTQ+ workers on your website, social profile, on job descriptions, hiring specifications and your employee handbook.
- Be Equitable – Provide equitable employee benefits, taking into account specific needs for LGBTQ+ workers, including healthcare, retirement, insurance, family medical leave, etc. Also, ensure equitable hiring practices by actively seeking out LGBTQ+ candidates by using diverse recruiting platforms, using inclusive language in job descriptions while interviewing candidates. And, invest in training and mentorship for LGBTQ+ employees. We started The Project 47 Pledge as an industry-wide commitment to mentoring LGBTQ+ talent for one hour per month for a year. So far almost 70 agencies have signed on.
- Be Intolerant – Implement and enforce a 100% intolerance policy, including anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies toward LGBTQ+ employees. And, recognize and respect the coming out journey, giving people the space and support to come out at work on their own timing and terms.
Progress is slow, but steady. I’m hopeful (maybe even naïvely idealistic) that if we keep our focus and are persistent, we’ll continue to take those 2 steps forward.