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‘Pride Year’: Kill Corporate Rainbow Washing And Paint The Town With Pride All Year Round!

pride year

With Pride just around the corner, rainbows are rammed down our throats left, right, and centre, but what’s the real purpose of Pride in the working world, and why is it important all year round?

It’s June 1st and suddenly every company’s logo is a rainbow, and they’re all posting about the importance of Pride. Companies suddenly care about the LGBTQ+ community but, don’t worry, just for June…

Rainbow washing is when rainbow imagery is used, particularly by a company and during Pride Month, “to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality (and earn consumer credit), but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.” In other words, it’s when a company shows itself as supporting the LGBTQ+ community by doing something insignificant like slapping a rainbow on something for its own monetary gain rather than to raise awareness and advocate for the cause.

As June creeps round the corner, out come the rainbows, but by July they’re all back in the closet and the LGBTQ+ community is no better off. So, why does rainbow washing matter, and what can companies do instead to make a difference?

Rainbow washing matters because it trivialises the serious issue of LGBTQ+ rights, making Pride performative rather than about really making a difference. The company thrives, while the LGBTQ+ community continues to suffer.

LGBTQ+ people continue to feel unsafe and the statistics show why. In 2021, LGBT+ anti-abuse charity Galop found that “64% of respondents had experienced anti-LGBT+ violence or abuse.” This abuse continues in the world of work. A report by Stonewall in 2018 found that “35% of LGBT+ staff have hidden that they are LGBT+ at work for fear of discrimination.” Additionally, 18% have received a negative response from colleagues for being LGBTQ+. As a result of this abuse, fear of discrimination, and an overall lack of safety, LGBTQ+ people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems.

More must be done to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ people in society, and particularly in the workplace. We spoke to three LGBTQ+-focused business owners, who explained the personal and professional importance of Pride to them and what companies can do to paint the town with Pride all year round.

Speaking on the issue of safety, Gina Battye, global psychological safety consultant and trainer, recognises that we all wear masks, but stresses that the LGBTQ+ community has “more masks, baggage and layers” due to the struggles it faces on a daily basis. She explains this through the concept of psychological safety, an area that she specialises in. “Psychological safety creates a work environment where individuals and teams can thrive and achieve their full potential.” Battye created The 5 Pillars of Psychological Safety to model this: Self, Social, Collaboration, Curiosity, and Creativity. “When you have a psychologically safe environment and people feel safe to bring their whole self to work, people communicate and collaborate effectively and a culture of curiosity and creativity is cultivated,” she explains. In short, when people feel safe, they thrive, so not feeling safe is one of the main reasons LGBTQ+ people often struggle in the workplace.

LGBQT woman

Alex J. Lynam, founder of Beyond the Binary, which helps schools, companies, families, and individuals around inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community, adds to this concept of psychological safety through the process of dynamic risk assessing.  They explain that as individuals we’re always doing this subconsciously, but for the LGBTQ+ community, it is “ramped up even further, and it’s fuelled with adrenaline [and] anxiety, making sure the spaces that they’re taking up are safe.” Lynam describes this process as exhausting, offering some examples of questions that LGBTQ+ people might be faced with: “Am I safe?” “Where’s the nearest exit?” “Who am I sitting with?” “Can I tell them I’m in a same gender relationship?” “Can I tell them I’m non-binary?” and so on.

Lynam says that this constant cycle and potential lack of safety for LGBTQ+ people often causes them to hide part of themselves. “One of the things that queer people will do is avoid personal conversations [such as] coming out to a group of people because they are scared that they might be judged [and] coming up against that discrimination.” They explain that as a result of this, queer people are “losing productivity and creativity,” as being in this constant state of anxiety means they often don’t feel safe and therefore less likely to thrive in the workplace.

But, don’t worry, to create a rainbow we need some sun too, so that’s where the solutions come in. Companies, in particular, have work to do to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ staff, increasing productivity and creativity, and consequently maximising the overall success of the company. There is a rainbow of ways this can be done – and yes, probably a pot of gold at the end too.

Firstly, bringing Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (or EDI) to the forefront of businesses is a must. It not only helps create a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, but benefits the businesses too by enabling them to thrive and thus be more productive and creative at work. But now we know why it’s so important to paint the town with Pride all year round, the question is how can companies do so?

“Businesses should actively work on communication,” says Battye. She highlights the importance of providing employees with “the tools they need to deal with different scenarios they face at work,” including awareness of inclusive language, conveying a clear message, and active listening. She also says that staff should be trained on “managing conflict, dealing with microaggressions [and] having difficult conversations.” Regarding having difficult conversations, she stresses the importance of establishing “safe spaces to have conversations that matter.” Lynam reaffirms this, emphasising that businesses can help create safe spaces by “having open conversations [and] asking how [they] can be more inclusive.”

Moreover, Battye discusses the significance of inclusion and intersectionality in the workplace. Companies often find it difficult to navigate such big topics and bring them into the workplace, but Battye gives us some advice. She highlights how “a change of language can create a shift,” explaining that when she changed the name of her trainings to ‘Authentic Self training’ or ‘Bring Your Whole Self to Work,’ therefore dropping the ‘LGBTQ+’ “significantly more people attended.” This makes it accessible and perhaps less intimidating for everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Also, people are often afraid of getting things wrong, so a more generic training might feel less daunting. Lynam stresses the importance of allowing people to get things wrong, saying they “give people full permission to get things wrong, so they can get it right – so that we can move forward.” As a result, LGBTQ+ issues can be discussed with a much wider audience who might not have otherwise attended, thus having a greater impact and creating a bigger difference in society.

woman with red background

In terms of intersectionality, Battye says to “think of people as individuals, and focus on how you can create a psychologically safe environment for everyone.” Dani Wallace, award winning public speaking coach and leader of the I Am The Queen Bee Movement, addresses the importance of intersectionality by saying, “Businesses need to actively seek out training from the right people…and then actively make changes – not rainbow wash and host a one-off training as a tick box exercise.” She gives her business as an example of how this can be done: “[we] actively seek out queer and marginalised communities so that other members of the queer community can see themselves on stage.”

She also explains how they have “actively invested in training and experts, so we make sure that we pay people to help us with sharing this information,” and they then use this information effectively to make changes, including ensuring they have gender neutral toilets and declaring on their website that they are an inclusive, queer-friendly, and trans-friendly space, so that “when people are looking for events, they can see they are welcome in the first instance.” Dani finally addresses the unfortunately inevitable difficulties faced in this sphere related to ignorance and bigotry. She says that if people are inappropriate, they encourage them to invest in their education and “if it is not for them, then they are not for us! It’s important that we make sure that everyone who works with us [is] aligned.”

As we can see, feeling unsafe in the workplace is a serious issue for the LGBTQ+ community and rainbow washing reduces its seriousness by trivialising it. Ensuring the safety of the LGBTQ+ community enables them to thrive at work by being more productive and creative. Companies must focus on communication, training, inclusion, and intersectionality to help create a safe space for everyone and, more importantly, paint the town with Pride all year round!

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