Lifestyle & Parenting

How To Celebrate Pride In The Workplace This June & The Other 11 Months Of The Year

June 3, 2022

June is Pride Month and, alongside the celebrations and reflection that come with this time of year, we’ve all also come to expect the sudden appearance of rainbow-ladened marketing. While the recognition and celebration of Pride can at the surface look like a positive move, we all know that generating Pride-themed logos, products and company swag does not always equate to a business doing the difficult internal work that makes their workplace safe and supportive of sexual and gender diversity. We chatted with Canadian Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) consulting firm Feminuity co-founder and CEO Dr. Sarah Saska and Maeve Plummer, director of research and learning, about how organizations can avoid rainbow washing and celebrate Pride in a more impactful way. —Noa Nichol

Please tell us a bit about Feminuity to start.

We support organizations in building diverse teams, equitable systems and inclusive products and workplaces. We work with clients from around the world, and of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 500s, helping them align their good intentions with meaningful and long-term impact. We are on a mission to challenge the status quo and use our industry expertise, lived experiences and values to transform workplaces, because we know there is potential for widespread change.

As we gear-up for Pride month starting on June 1, we come to expect the sudden appearance of rainbow-ladened marketing. How can this type of recognition and celebration of Pride, at the surface, look like a positive move?

On the surface, the abundance of rainbow logos, and pride merchandise shared during the month of June can make it appear as though almost every organization supports Pride as well as their LGBTQIA2+ team members. However, generating Pride-themed logos, products, and company swag rarely equates to a business doing the critical and ongoing internal work to make their workplace safer, and more inclusive.

Why does generating Pride-themed logos, products, and company swag not always equate to a business doing the difficult internal work that makes their workplace safer and supportive for LGBTQIA2+ team members?

Well, unfortunately, it can be performative. Sharing Pride-themed branding once a year is unlikely to translate into real tangible support for LGBTQIA2+ people within organizations, such as policies, processes or programs that not only aim to protect people from issues such as biphobia, homophobia, or transphobia, but also support people to thrive within the workplace.

In the same vein, can you explain the term “rainbow washing” to us? Why is it misleading/harmful?

“Rainbow-washing” occurs when a business shows public support for the LGBTQIA2+ community during Pride such as changing social media avatars, posting on social media, or creating a rainbow logo or product, but do not back these statements up with real, tangible actions in their organization. The practice of “rainbow-washing” may attract LGBTQIA2+ job seekers and this may be misleading if the organization hasn’t designed a workplace where LGBTQIA2+ people can thrive, let alone survive.

How can organizations avoid rainbow washing and celebrate Pride in a more impactful way? In other words, how can workplaces become better employers for the LGBTQIA2+ community year-round?

Companies have tremendous power to design an LGBTQIA2+ inclusive workplace and translate these values into broader society. Organizations can leverage their voice to create meaningful change for queer communities beyond Pride month, such as sharing their support for LGBTQIA2+ rights domestically as issues arise as well as in the international areas their business may operate.

What are some examples inclusive policies and practices organizations can implement in the workplace?

A really tangible item that organizations can review is their dress code policy. Too often, we find that dress code policies can be limiting to LGBTQIA2+ team members and in some cases these policies can be discriminatory if the expectations are gendered. Often, the language we use to describe clothing is quite gendered. For example, many describe T-shirts as “women’s fit” or “men’s fit.” However, this does not consider androgynous individuals or people who exist outside of the gender binary. Here are some of our thoughts to date on how to more inclusively describe T-shirts as an example as how to write more inclusive policies Instead of “men’s fit” consider the following language: Box cut, Straight cut, Relaxed cut or Unstructured cut. Instead of “women’s fit” consider the following language: Contour cut, Shaped cut, Close cut or fit.

What are some of the challenges in implementing more inclusive policies and practices in the workplace? What are (among the many) the benefits?

A great example of a common challenge organizations face is around designing more inclusive benefits programs. We find that some of our clients face challenges with health insurance providers and their existing plans. For example, not all health insurance plans will cover gender affirming medicines for trans or non-binary team members and it’s often up to the employer to make trans-inclusivity a crucial consideration on par with other criteria when selecting which healthcare plan to offer in benefits packages. The benefits of creating an inclusive workplace far outweigh the challenges in getting there. Organizations that are intentional in these ways are better able to remain competitive, profitable, and a desired place to work.

Top tips/advice in starting the process of being a more inclusive workplace?

At Feminuity, we know there is no one way to become a more inclusive workplace. A great place to start is by taking stock of what your people need and evaluating existing practices and policies. For example, this could be done by deploying a company-wide survey and assessing results to take a data-informed approach to revising or implementing policies.

Can you give some real-life examples of companies that have successfully implemented more inclusive policies and practices?

MassMutual significantly expanded their suite of employee benefits in 2019 to enable team members to define who a “loved one” is with no requirement that the person have strict blood or legal affinities with that person. This is especially important for LGBTQIA2+ team members who are more likely to experience family rejection and rely on non-traditional forms of kinship like chosen family. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) ensures that their fertility benefits are inclusive of LGBTQIA2+ couples by offering $35,000 in financial assistance for fertility treatments to both same-gender and heterosexual couples. Employees wishing to adopt can receive $20,000 in reimbursement benefits per child. Surrogacy benefits are also $20,000 per child. This is important because LGBTQIA2+ team members frequently discover that their organization’s fertility benefits do not cover them because they require a diagnosis of infertility, rather than acknowledging that infertility can also be related to social circumstances such as being in a same-gender relationship. IBM is leading on LGBTQIA2+ inclusive data collection, implementing LGBTQIA2+ Voluntary Self-Identification for Human Resources (HR) records across 40 different countries that cover around 87% of their global workforce. This can be a daunting task given the web of regulations worldwide around data privacy and collection. Collecting information related to sexuality and gender is critical in understanding the needs of LGBTQIA2+ team members and where they are experiencing challenges throughout the employee lifecycle. Land O’ Lakes is the first Fortune 500 firm to hire an openly gay woman, Beth Ford, as a CEO. Ford also leads the company’s DEI Council. And many organizations are making small, yet impactful choices related to language to affirm the LGBTQIA2+ community. United Airlines now enables people to select the gender-neutral honorific “Mx.” as their honorific when filling out their flight information so they are not forced to pick a label that invalidates who they are. Japan Airlines has stopped using the language “ladies and gentlemen” on flights because it reinforces the gender binary and is not inclusive of non-binary people.


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