With Pride celebrations officially wrapped – confetti cleared from parade routes and glitter swept from city streets – it’s dangerously easy for the marketing world to brush the importance of advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights under the rug as well. Just as retailers’ shelves are emptied of ornaments come January and Cadbury Eggs post-Spring, brands across North America and Europe tend to wipe rainbow flags from their storefronts and packaging by mid-July.
We’ve started to treat Pride like any other holiday or festivity, and while the intention is both positive and empowering in the moment, it is simply not enough anymore. The LGBTQ+ community does not cease to exist for eleven months out of the year, and neither should our alliance and dedication to support them.
As Jenny Cleeton explained in The Drum just last month, “The support for Pride over the last few years has seen many of the world’s biggest brands use the rainbow flag on adverts, logos, shop window and even products. However, when the marches halt and the celebrations come to an end, as does a lot of the support from those supposedly proud brands...”
That said, the issue of “pink washing,” so to speak, stretches beyond the world of retail. It’s a responsibility shared by every member of the advertising ecosystem – from creative agencies and media groups through to tech partners. It’s the duty of every present-day organisation to ensure their employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work 365 days a year. No matter what.
Just look to the launch of Pharrell’s latest project with Spotify – “Black History is Happening Now” – as one such example. The content campaign is designed to celebrate the influence and power of African American culture throughout the year: it’s exactly the kind of celebration individual organisations should be striving to emulate through their own cultural initiatives.
What might this entail?
It starts, of course, with making an effort to build LGBTQ+ inclusive teams. Research has explicitly shown, time and again, that such groups deliver better bottom lines than their homogenous counterparts (in fact, a recent study from decision-making database Cloverpop showed that decisions made by diverse teams secured 60% better business results.)
Though this is old news. We all know we should be making more inclusive hires, just as we know we should be supporting Pride. The challenge comes at the next step: building a work environment that is not only entirely accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals, but entirely [TK] as well.
Imagine, for instance, a workplace wherein we don’t make an effort to ask our colleagues which partners they prefer to use; one in which we don’t automatically ask our married coworker how his “wife” is doing, nor bite our tongue when a client jumps to the same conclusion (or nod politely at their snide remarks about the queer community. It may sound minimal, but these actions are alarmingly rare.
On a larger scale, why not launch internal affinity groups – or simply host Pride-focused discussions – encouraging your employees to talk through their experiences openly and transparently at every opportunity. These are among the steps that my own company, Index Exchange, has taken this year alone. And while it is definitely progress, it’s still not quite complete...
At the surface, so many companies are taking similar steps – ticking the right boxes and flying the rainbow flag. But once you’re inside any given organisation, it quickly becomes clear that we’re not doing enough; that we all could be doing more. (And many are still struggling to support their own external positions and put their words into action, or their money where their rainbow flag is).
It’s easy for brands, agencies, and the like to do the “right thing” – to tout the right messages – when it’sen vogue. But pushing out Pride-centric products and initiatives during the summer months is no longer a brave or bold step, it’s become the expectation. And while any and all efforts to champion inclusivity and diversity should, indeed, be celebrated, it’s important to remind ourselves that waving a rainbow flag is just skimming the surface. There is so much more work to be done, and it’s our shared responsibility to step up as allies and do it.
Amanda Keleher, VP, People at Index Exchange