How to Avoid Rainbow-Washing This Pride Month
Reuben O'Connell
4 minutes
June 7, 2022

Every June we see the same conversation playing out: large corporations sponsor floats and change their logos to rainbow colours for Pride month. Then, inevitably, a handful of companies are called out for making a show of Pride without offering any tangible support to LGBTQ+ communities, or their own LGBTQ+ employees.

This is what’s known as rainbow-washing.

There’s an ongoing debate around rainbow-washing itself. For some, it’s positive that LGBTQ+ people are now included in corporate culture – which hasn’t always been the case. And ultimately, these companies are geared around making money, which Pride does. The ‘Pink Pound’ is worth an estimated £6 billion to the UK economy each year. It’s to be expected that supporting Pride comes with an alternate agenda for large corporates.

Yet, getting it wrong can be costly. Pride is not only a celebration but an annual reminder of how far the rights of LGBTQ+ people have come, and what still needs to be fought for. It’s important to distinguish between celebrating Pride for marketing only and making a real statement about what your organisation stands for. For many, rainbow-washing is taking away from the very real need for LGBTQ+ to celebrate, campaign and raise awareness of the issues that face their communities.

No one wants to be accused of rainbow-washing, particularly if your intention was well-meaning. So, what can you do to provide tangible support to LGBTQ+ colleagues?

Graphic showing a hand in a fist shape and the definition of rainbow-washing: the act of using Pride colours to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ+ communities, without providing tangible support to those people.

The stats: LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace

For all the support that Pride receives each year, LGBTQ+ inclusion still falls short in the workplace. Let’s start by looking at the stats.

In the UK, more than a third of people have hidden that they are LGBTQ+ at work for fear of discrimination, 2 in 5 bi people are not out at work, and, shockingly, 1 in 10 BAME LGBTQ+ employees have been physically attacked at work by customers or colleagues.

Furthermore, around 40% of LGBT+ staff feel their organisation’s policies are inadequate, and a significant minority would not feel confident reporting homophobic or biphobic bullying in the workplace. This has negative effects for employee mental health and wellbeing, and LGBTQ+ staff retention and promotion.

But when inclusion is done right…

Taking the right actions to create a positive, inclusive working environment that specifically supports your LGBTQ+ employees has lasting benefits for your organisation and the people within it.

While Pride events are a great way to publicly signal that your organisation is active in supporting the LGBTQ+ community, you can see that there are very real reasons to go further to support your people to thrive in the workplace.

Ways to make your support for LGBTQ+ colleagues more impactful

The next step is to make sure that your support for LGBTQ+ people is embedded in your company culture. You want to back up your support with tangible, long-lasting efforts to create an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace.

Ask yourself, is your support…

  • Year-round?
  • Measurable?
  • Embedded throughout the company?

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Go beyond the rainbow: 4 top ways to actively create an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace

1. Review your policies

Not as fun as participating in a parade, granted. But reviewing your policies to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ people is essential. Focus on parental leave, pensions and health insurance in particular. And make sure you mention LGBTQ+ groups specifically, so there’s no room for misinterpretation later on.

2. Mentoring and networks

Visibility in the workplace and a safe place to talk about any issues someone may be facing is a powerful way to foster inclusion. Creating a network or starting a mentoring program that specifically aims to support LGBTQ+ employees, will not only help people feel that they can be out at work if they choose, but can also support career progression and wellbeing.

📖 Reverse mentoring is an amazing way to educate senior leaders on how to support LGBTQ+ people. Read our guide to reverse mentoring here 📖

3. Remember the small things

It’s easy to get caught up in the big picture but the small things matter too. Think about introducing pronouns in email signatures or on Slack, providing unisex toilet facilities, supporting visible LGBTQ+ employees and allies, and being intentional about the language you use. For example, not assuming you know the gender of someone’s partner unless they’ve told you.

4. Provide educational opportunities

Remember, that it’s not the job of people experiencing discrimination to educate others on how not to discriminate against them.

By providing formal educational opportunities to your people, whether through talks, written resources or access to courses on unconscious bias, you put learning in their hands. You can also provide safe spaces for people to share their lived experiences with others, as story-telling is a powerful tool for change.

** Note: If you invite a guest speaker to talk at your organisation remember to pay them! 

This is just a start: there are so many more ways to make your organisation more inclusive for LGBTQ+ people. Your actions can be company-wide and policy-led, or they can be simple changes that you make on an individual level that show intentional support for your LGBTQ+ colleagues.

Rainbow-washing is a complicated issue that sparks debate every year. But supporting your LGBTQ+ employees is not. Everyone deserves to feel safe and valued at work regardless of their gender, sex or sexual orientation.

By creating tangible support systems for LGBTQ+ people working at all levels of your business, you will see people thrive and bring their whole selves to work each day.

And don’t forget, it’s ok to publicly support Pride and show the world what your company stands for. Just make sure that you are consciously backing up your rainbow with tangible support, every day of the year.

Read more:

LGBTQ+ Mentors in History

Making Your Workplace More LGBTQ+ Inclusive

50 D&I Stats to Bookmark in 2023

6 Effective Diversity & Inclusion Strategies to Implement Today

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