Why is Pride so important for business?
Marsha P. Johnson (L) and Sylvia Rivera, The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson, Netflix
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera started the gay rights movement on 28th June 1969 when riots took place at a gay venue in NYC after police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich village. The riots resulted in the officers beating up patrons and making 13 arrests which sparked outrage with those who frequented and resided in the village. Since then, cities and communities all over the globe get together every year and show their support and alliance for the LGBT+ community and right now, we are in the middle of Pride month where a significant number of the world’s Pride festivals happen.
This year, one of the headlines that truly grabbed my attention was a post from Howie Dittman on Facebook about his attendance at the Pride festivities in Pittsburgh on 9th June, 2019. Howie (an ally) and a friend, Denna Hayes, attended the parade wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Free Dad Hugs” and “Free Mom Hugs” that were bought of Amazon. The pair gave out hundreds of hugs according to the media coverage and have highlighted the rejection that people from the LGBT+ community can face from their own families that an embrace from a stranger reduces them to tears.
Let’s take a minute here. This rejection that LGBT+ people face from those closest to them is not something anyone can comprehend unless they have gone through a similar experience. Obviously, this isn’t the experience that every LGBT+ person faces. But it’s heightened for those who are LGBT+. So those people need to find sanctuaries. Safe places they can be themselves. And when the average person spends over 8 hours a day at work, it’s important for them to feel accepted and safe there. Hugely so. If your workforce feel like the people who are reduced to tears hugging a stranger, making them feel like they belong is going to bring out more of the best of the reason you recruited them in the first place.
So what are the things we can do in the workplace that makes people more included?
1. Find out their needs: Most of us now know someone who is LGBT+ either at work, in our family or in our personal lives. The thing is, each of us as humans are different, regardless of our sexual orientation. By making assumptions that all the people in the demographic want the same thing (such as company representation at Pride events), we run the risk of disengaging them. Some people will be huge advocates. But like some heterosexual employees, some will be more than happy to come in and work for their contract hours, not talk about their home life and then go home when the working day is done. That’s OK too. As long as that’s their choice and not something they are forced into by not feeling like they belong.
2. Be an amazing Ally: If you do not identify as LGBT+, that doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the drive for better. In fact, far from it. When people in the workplace from diverse backgrounds do not always have the same impact as voice. Of course we expect people from the LGBT+ to fight for their equality. But when it comes from someone not in that group, it can resonate with those who are less demonstrable in their support for the diverse component of their workforce in a very different way. LGBT+ allies who support through the year and help pave the way for equality for both staff and customers have the biggest of impact on the confidence and the performance of LGBT+ employees.
3. Let them in: In order for us to get great allies, we as LGBT+ staff (and all other diverse groups for that fact) need to be just as inclusive as we expect our cis-heterosexual colleagues to be with us. And I completely get why we aren’t. After years and years of side eyes, snide remarks, verbal and physical abuse from random strangers because of who we are, our natural stance is one of defence when we hear comments. And there are times where that tactic is legitimate. But let’s think about this. The type of inclusion we need means we need to be open to people asking questions of us and us helping to educate people if the inquisitiveness is coming from a place of good intent. Don’t shut people out of network groups or conversations. Bring people in. They’ll make much better allies if they know you want them to be on our side.
4. Make it Better: There may well be times as an ally where you see behaviour or overhear a conversation that you’d not particularly like directed at you, even if it is in jest. What happens next is really crucial and I guess there are three options: 1) You can ignore it and do nothing (resulting in the LGBT+ person who had the inappropriate behaviour feeling that this is acceptable in their place of work and further rejection of who they are), 2) you can bank the incident and then take the person aside after it has happened (which doesn’t mean you aren’t making it better, but until the LGBT+ employee knows that action was taken results in the same emotions as option 1), or finally, 3) you can say something and non-confrontational at the time such as “I’m really not comfortable with that how that comment can be interpreted. Let’s talk about it later but let’s move on for now”. This clearly signals not just to the LGBT+ staff you are on their side, but that this behaviour doesn’t fit the culture of the organisation to everyone present.
People from all minority groups are likely to face rejection at some point in time. From friends, classmates, family, this rejection can for some erode the confidence that that individual would otherwise have. Research that was published by Stonewall (the LGBT+ rights charity) startling reveal that 62% of LGBT+ students go back into the closet. upon graduating when they take their first role and pretend to be something or someone that they aren’t. We see many people in the workplace “cover up” part of what makes them according to Erving Goffman who they when they are in the workplace and Mike Robbins studied employees and found that this ranged from 45% of straight white men through to 83% of LGBT+ were not their true selves in the workplace.
So what is the result of people covering up? If people are not their true self in the workplace, they will be holding themselves back and understandably not fully focusing on their role when at their place of work. The fear of being discovered as a practising member of a religion, a fan of a particular sports team or musician, or as someone who is LGBT+ means that a lot of the mental capacity will concentrate on not having their secret discovered. The basic psychological rationale for this is that those individuals will perceive their difference to be less favourable in the eyes of their peers, their direct reports and their superiors.
By enabling people of all backgrounds to be as true to themselves as they want to be, we can see the impact of increased productivity through simple things such as by Deloitte stating that 72% of the workforce would or may consider leaving their role for an organisation that was more inclusive, wreaking havoc for the cohesion of teams and organisations.
Pride isn’t just for LGBT+ employees. Everyone member of staff of an organisation should feel the ability to be proud of who they work for. When they don’t, work becomes meaningless and people can detach and become more disengaged. The best bit about being better at work and empowering those around us is that we all benefit. Everyone wins.