Every year during Pride month, many companies routinely change their logo to rainbow colours.
But are some companies making false promises and simply ‘Rainbow washing’?
Rainbow washing is ‘the act of using or adding rainbow colours and/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, etc. in order to show progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credibility) - but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.’ (Source)
At the very least, a work environment should allow your LGBTQ+ colleagues to be open and feel comfortable doing so, without fear of judgement or discrimination.
So we sat down with our teammates, who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, to have an open conversation about their experiences and their advice around creating a supportive work environment.
Here’s what they had to say:
Pride month is more than a celebration of the past and what we’ve achieved, it’s about looking into the future and seeing what still needs to change. It's about inclusivity and communities coming together. It should be something that’s constantly evolving and adapting, so people need to continue to educate themselves.
So Pride is an important thing to do and have, but the support shouldn’t have a time slot. It’s common for companies to focus on inclusivity for a certain group of people for a period of time (i.e. pride month or black history month). After that time’s up, the support dies out, nothing comes of it and no changes are made. We need to break this cycle.
Everyone needs to learn to disconnect a person and their sexuality. It’s not an identifier. A person's sexuality has nothing to do with how good they are at a job and if that person is having their sexuality targeted, is your duty of care to speak up. Not because it's a professional environment, but because nobody should be judged on something that has nothing to do with anything else.
35% of LGBTQ+ workforce have hidden or disguised that they are apart of the community at work because they were afraid of discrimination. (Source)
I can relate. I only came out (to everyone) at work 3 years ago for that exact reason.
In my opinion, the change has to start at the top. DE&I is so important, but how can you have an inclusive hiring environment and make decisions to support the LGBTQ+ community, if you have no one from this community advising you? These open conversations are important BUT don't just leave it up to your LGBTQ+ employees to educate you, be proactive.
It would be amazing to see more people from the community on senior leadership teams or advisory teams to have an input on companies' hiring strategies or company policies. But most importantly seeing someone in a company at this level will inspire people and they’ll have a mentor.
It’s great hosting speakers & showing support during LGBTQ+ history month and proud month, but there’s more to being an ally than just showing your support on social media. Leaders need to filter inclusivity down to create an environment where people feel safe and comfortable being themselves. I’m very lucky to be in a working environment where my colleagues see me and are proactive throughout the year to understand how they show support as an ally.
I used to be terrified about coming out. I worried people would think of me differently and it’d be harder to succeed in a workplace.
But now, I think the complete opposite. I am so comfortable being gay. I see it as my superpower. Today, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is classed as being diverse, and for now diversity is my superpower - But I hope one day soon it won’t be because it’ll be so ordinary.
I think it really makes a difference in my work life too. Because I am so open about my sexuality, I feel I’m able to develop stronger relationships with people. I’ve had people open up to me about the LGBTQ+ community, their daily struggles and mental health issues - which they might not have done if they hadn’t known I was gay.
So, hiring a diverse team is really important. I work in a company alongside others in the community and it has definitely helped to have the additional support and advice from someone who can relate to you.
Make sure you have training sessions on inclusivity and LGBTQ+ specific workshops throughout they year, not just during the Pride month. This is also a great way to raise awareness. For example, earlier this year, Few&Far booked a LGBTQ+ speaker, Andreena Leeanne, to come in and share her experience of coming out and how to be more aware of it. She was so passionate and her story was really interesting. Hearing others' experiences and having these open conversations is a great way for people (whether you’re a part of the community or not) to be more empathetic.
It’s frustrating when companies use being inclusive as a USP. That’s something that should just be there, regardless. You shouldn't have to win it. They should focus on creating space for open communication.
In my past work experiences, I’ve been concerned about fitting in. I’d make a real conscious effort to make them think I was straight, and it’s tiring to pretend to be someone you’re not. You almost live in fear of being called out.
Of course, you may not know someone feels this way, but that's why constant effort to make a safe environment is key. So a self-aware leader can make a huge difference. Something as simple as not showing favouritism or gravitating towards a certain type of person, as this can isolate others and put pressure on them to fit in. Instead, interact with everyone in the office, show equal interest and appreciate what makes people unique.
Having a ‘buddy’ system and a person you can talk to can help. I’ll always remember a colleague of mine, Luke. He was one of the first people I came out to in a work environment because he was open-minded, showed a genuine interest in me and would ask questions to learn about the gay community. He was really supportive and always said he was there if I needed someone to talk to, instead of always shutting with his views. It made work a lot easier for me, knowing that I always had that one person who I could go to.
Be more like Luke.
It’s clear there’s work to be done by all of us. So, here are five key takeaways you can encourage and implement in your our workplaces and day-to-day lives: