A Corporate Guide to Pride—Companies Who’ve Gotten it Right (and Wrong)

corporate pride month

If you’ve spent any amount of time on social media during the month of June, you’ve likely seen some big name brands announcing their support for the LGBTQ+ community in honor of Pride Month.

Most notably, companies have rebranded their corporate social media profiles to feature rainbow colored logos, cover photos, products, and entire rainbow themed campaigns as a presumed tribute to the Pride flag.

Although this outpouring of support is great in theory, it raises some major questions. How many of these companies work to implement real change for the LGBTQ+ community? How many of these companies actively show their support and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights year round? And, how many companies simply leverage Pride as a means to profit off the LGBTQ+ community?

It goes without saying: There’s a right way and wrong way for brands to participate in Pride Month. And today, we’re taking a look at both the good and the bad. Let’s get into it.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Pride Month

Before you work with your design team to overhaul your campaigns for Pride Month, take a step back and make sure you’re taking the right approach. Here is a look at our top do’s and don’ts to help you celebrate Pride this year.

Do: Get employee input during the planning process.

Before you dive head-first into planning your corporate Pride initiatives, it’s incredibly important to get a wide range of employees involved in the planning process. We recommend putting together a committee of employee volunteers to serve as a sounding board and to provide their input as your plans begin to take shape.

Getting your employees involved in Pride planning will accomplish several things. It will demonstrate your commitment to listening to and implementing employee feedback, it will help facilitate a sense of support and community within your company, and it will help prevent you from making mistakes that may ultimately alienate and frustrate members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Don’t: Exploit  social initiatives and conversations as a means to reach business goals.

Let’s get this out of the way. Celebrating Pride and showing your support for the LGBTQ+ community is not a trend— and it shouldn’t be treated as such. If you’re simply posting rainbow branded imagery or tweeting to “get in” on the important conversations happening this month, you’re likely being disrespectful.

Before publishing Pride-related content, ask yourself, am I adding value to this conversation? What am I hoping to gain from inserting myself into this conversation? What are my motivations? Do I want my company to seem like a safe space or ally? Or do I actually want my company to be a safe space and ally?

Remember, Pride Month is not about your business goals.

Do: Support LGBTQ+ initiatives year round.

If you don’t already take steps to support the LGBTQ+ community year-round, take the opportunity to discuss doing so with management and staff during Pride. June is only one month out of the year, a month where it’s arguably the “most acceptable” to show support for the LGBTQ+ community without facing backlash. To be a true ally, it’s important to show this level of support year round— especially when it becomes difficult or “less trendy”.

Don’t: Drop your support once June is over.

Let’s look at a quick example of what not to do during Pride Month. To set the scene, let’s start a few months back when the CMO of Victoria’s Secret came under fire for controversial and derogatory statements made about why the company would never hire trans models to walk in the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Despite the backlash the company received for these remarks, Victoria’s Secret PINK— an offshoot of the larger brand— tweeted in support of Pride Month this year. The tweet, which you can still find on the company’s account, says the following: “Here at PINK, we’re proud to celebrate our LGBTQ associates & customers that make an impact in their communities. Inclusion makes us stronger and we’re committed to giving everyone a voice. We’ll be sharing Pride stories from associates, Campus Reps and PINK fans all month long!”

corporate pride month

In addition to the text above, the tweet also featured a rainbow version of the PINK logo. Understandably, their audience was not happy— many noting the hypocrisy behind the move.

Do: Prioritize the internal support of LGBTQ+ employees and initiatives.

Before you look to publicly promote inclusivity and announce your support of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important to take a look at your internal policies first. Despite the overwhelming social media support from companies during the month of June, not all of these companies have policies in place to treat their LGBTQ+ employees fairly.  If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend implementing the following:

  • Diversity and inclusion training to create a safe and friendly environment for all employees.
  • A clear mission that emphasizes fair treatment and open support of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Equal benefits for all employees regardless of their sexual orientation— including time off for adoption leave, maternity/paternity leave, health benefits, and pay.
  • A social responsibility program to help organize and take steps to demonstrate clear support for the LGBTQ+ community.
  • An anti-discrimination policy with clear and enforceable consequences for those who don’t comply.

Don’t: Create external campaigns for the sole purpose of monetary gain.

As Victoria’s Secret found out the hard way, the public will see through inauthentic attempts to capitalize on Pride Month. Although public support of the LGBTQ+ community is always welcome and appreciated, taking actionable steps to create a fair and safe work environment is much more important in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re not sure if your Pride campaigns or celebrations will be received well, it’s best to put them on hold until you work with your HR department or even a committee of volunteer employees who want to get involved.

Do: Act with transparency.

Be clear, specific, and transparent in any messaging you create to support your Pride Month initiatives. Explain exactly what your support means, how you currently give back to the community, as well as any future plans you have to expand those efforts.

When you outline precise, actionable steps you’re taking to combat LGBTQ+ issues, you are making it clear to your audience that you take Pride Month seriously and that you aren’t simply jumping on the bandwagon to reach a wider audience.

Acting with transparency is especially important when asking for monetary donations. For example, H&M, a popular clothing retailer, ran a Pride campaign last June with the promise of donating a portion of the proceeds to LGBTQ+ initiatives. But, one source claims the company only donated 10% of the money they made from Pride merchandise (source). And, ultimately, despite the donations, H&M likely profited off of the campaign.

Don’t: Use vague language or show half-hearted support.

Brands who spew vague promises of raised awareness and half-hearted attempts at support for LGBTQ+ initiatives are guilty of something Vox calls “slacktivism”. These superficial, noncommittal messages give both brands and consumers a low-risk, low-impact way to feel good about themselves despite having contributed very little to LGBTQ+ initiatives.

Going back to the H&M Pride campaign— some customers were quick to point out that despite their claims to support the LGBTQ+ community, they continued to operate a manufacturing plant in China— a country that supports notoriously anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Thus reiterating the emptiness of their original Pride campaign.

Do: Educate yourself and those around you on the origins and history of Pride Month.

Pride Month has a rich, political history that companies often fail to understand and recognize as they participate in Pride Month. This Pride Month (June 2019) is particularly meaningful as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots— named after a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn where members of the LGBTQ+ community (particularly those of color) fought back against police harassment in Greenwich in June of 1969.

Not only is Pride a time to recognize the progress that’s been made since the Stonewall Riots, but it’s just as important to acknowledge how far we still must go as a society. More on this in a second.

Don’t: Leverage Pride Month or the LGBTQ+ community for the sake of pandering to a segment of your audience.

Companies who pander to their audience through lackluster attempts to support the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month are often after positive press. But, as we’ve already covered, your audience is smart and they can easily discern the authentic allies from those seeking recognition and praise.

This type of participation is akin to that one Facebook friend who overshares every time they donate money or help a stranger. You know the type— someone doing “good” for the sake of seeming “good”.

Do: Put your money (and time) where your mouth is.

Instead of treating Pride like a marketing campaign, put your efforts toward an activity that will positively impact the LGBTQ+ community. While monetary donations can be helpful, volunteering at community events or spending time with LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations tends to be a more valuable experience. Take a look at the example we’ve included from TJX— the parent company of many major retailers.

celebrating pride

This post features real TJX employees participating in Pride celebrations across the country— including the proud display of their company logo. The remainder of the caption reads as follows: “Each one of our Associates brings something unique to our collective culture. At TJX, diversity is not something we mark off of a checklist—it’s something we celebrate in many ways.”

The message is loud and clear: LGBTQ+ employees and customers alike, we are with you. We welcome you and we celebrate you, whoever you may be.

Don’t: Assume that the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t continue to face adversity simply because Pride Month exists.

Even though we’ve made progress as a society toward achieving many of the original goals of the Stonewall Riots, members of the LGBTQ+ community still face inequality and discrimination in the workplace each and every day. Consider these statistics from just two years ago (source):

  • One in four LGBTQ+ employees report experiencing workplace discrimination in the last five years.
  • More than 25% of transgender people who held or applied for a job in the last year reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion because of their gender identity.
  • More than 75% of transgender employees take steps to avoid mistreatment in the workplace.
  • Nearly one in ten LGBTQ+ employees have left a job because the environment was unwelcoming.
  • More than half of all LGBTQ+ employees report that discrimination has negatively affected their work environment.

If your organization doesn’t advocate for impactful change to support the LGBTQ+ community, you are treating Pride as a spectator sport. In other words, you join in on the celebration while it’s fun, but fail to speak up when it’s important.

Do: Be inclusive and authentic in your advertising efforts.

A critical step toward a more inclusive work environment and equal rights for LGBTQ+ employees is simple— and it comes in the form of representation. Although more advertising campaigns feature members of the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month, the numbers are still shockingly low. In fact, of all advertisements run globally in 2016, only 47 of those advertisements featured lesbian, gay, or transgender people. That’s less than 1% (source).

Be careful not to leverage LGBTQ+ individuals in your advertising campaigns in a way that tokenizes or stereotypes these communities. Instead, include individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ in your campaigns as a way to normalize these communities and give them a voice.

Tiffany & Co. released the following advertisement in 2015. This occurred before the Supreme Court decision requiring all states to grant and uphold same-sex marriages.

pride month and marketing

Don’t: Rely on outdated stereotypes or safe “tropes” to appear more inclusive.

At the time, the general public considered the Tiffany & Co. advertisement seen above to be groundbreaking. But four years later, we recognize that although LGBTQ+ representation in advertising has increased, it still lacks necessary diversity.

An article from the Economist puts it best, “It’s also worth noting the relative lack of diversity in supposedly diverse communications. We don’t tend to see many LGBT people in advertising, but when we do, they are usually white, affluent, conventionally attractive cisgender men.”

The article goes on to say, “LGBT representation in advertising still has a long way to go, and the next big challenge facing advertisers is how to begin to address this intersectionality. How can we tell more nuanced stories that speak to a greater variety of identities when, as an industry, we are still struggling to include women and people of color? Handsome, smiling couples and rainbow flags are a nice start, but plenty of work remains.” (source)

A recent campaign from Gillette serves as an excellent example of inclusive advertising. The commercial features a father teaching his transgender son to shave for the first time — successfully giving a marginalized community visibility in mainstream advertising.

pride month and marketing

Final Thoughts About Celebrating Pride Month as An Organization

Pride Month means something different to everyone. It’s a time of celebration, reflection, progress, and forward movement. As businesses work to be more inclusive in both their workplace policies and their public-facing marketing efforts, it’s important to remember that even though all support is important— the most meaningful support doesn’t come in the form of a rainbow logo, proudly displayed for one month of the year.

This Pride Month we ask you and your business to make equality, inclusion, and diversity a priority all year long. Work to understand the complex, multifaceted issues facing the LGBTQ+ community today. And, above all else make sure your own workforce feels comfortable, supported, and heard.

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