LGBTQ+ Issues Move Communicators to Act

Many people who identify as LGBTQ+ assert that Pride Month has been co-opted by companies who mistake updating their brand mark in rainbow colors for allyship. We researched leading companies that are honoring Pride Month to celebrate real action: seeking the views of LGBTQ+ employee groups to influence the marketplace, develop new products, attract and retain talent, and creating a welcoming environment for people of all backgrounds to bring their authentic selves to the workplace. “Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts,” said Barbara Gittings, an American LGBTQ+ equality activist. 

So what does real action look like for our profession?

Incorporate LGBTQ+ Perspective into Management Systems

While many companies have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) devoted to specific employee communities, Google takes things a bit further; the company’s senior leaders engage with its Pride @ Google ERG to understand the issues raised by the LGBTQ+ community. “We have product leads who build products, monitor market trends, and manage platforms bringing their ideas to the ERG,” said Michael Appel, West Coast manager for global communications and public affairs at Google. “Google Photos recently rolled out updates to use more granular tools to select the memories that you want to see, using feedback from GLAAD and the trans community.” In Google Maps and Search, you can now see if a local business has gender-neutral restrooms, adding to existing features that show whether businesses identify as LGBTQ+ friendly and/or a transgender safe space. 

While Appel acknowledges that the above are good examples of Google requesting and responding to feedback, he says the company also responds well when confronted with unsolicited criticism. “When issues come up, our Google LGBTQ+ community feels like things are being responded to.’”

Diversity is a systems issue — Rusin Tonn, leader of Pitney Bowes LGBTQ+ Inclusivity Council

Some organizations have achieved outsized results by baking them into their company’s systems For example, global ecommerce company Pitney Bowes, not only encouraged employees to start identifying their preferred pronouns but rolled out a new HR system that captured those preferences so they appear in directory searches. “It’s diversity all the time, and diversity is a systems issue,” said Rustin Tonn, senior manager of recruitment and leader of PB’s LGBTQ+ Inclusivity Council (ERG). “We’re including how to use inclusive language in our training, we’re celebrating Pride, holding global webinars that are educating people about what it means to have a trans child. Cumulatively, they add up to this kind of environment that helps us to attract more diverse candidates.”

Influencing Market Outcomes

The move towards equality has been unequal around the world. In the U.S. it’s been fewer than 20 years since the Supreme Court found rules prohibiting consensual sexual activity between adults to be unconstitutional. It’s been fewer than five years since India’s Supreme Court made the same ruling.

Mahindra Logistics, one of India’s leading third-party logistics and supply chain companies, immediately enhanced its programs and approach as it already had years of experience in enacting programs that supported women, minorities, veterans and others.

“In India, we are still moving from shades of criminalization and stigmatization,” said Ram Swaminathan, Managing Director and CEO, Mahindra Logistics. “I think it is changing. I would say slowly, but I think it’s changing surely.

Overcoming emotional marginalization is far greater than overcoming economic challenges. — Swaminathan, Managing Director and CEO, Mahindra Logistics

“People who are part of the LGBT community in India, for example, are heavily marginalized, especially economically, to start with,” said  Swaminathan. “One of the reasons we have invested heavily in our outreach programs is because we think there is a massive multiplier. If we look at the employees we have from the LGBTQ community, many of them would not otherwise have had any kind of economic future. But now they are getting empowered. When a company like ours is ready to accept and welcome them, it has a huge impact on social multiplier. This is what really excites them. Overcoming emotional marginalization is far greater than overcoming economic challenges.” 

Likewise, Google uses its influence to improve market conditions and remove barriers facing the LGBTQ+ community. “Google tries to lead by example,” said Appel. “It starts by protecting and supporting employees with inclusive benefits. Then, we use our experience to try to advocate, where we can.” For example, Google just sponsored a report called Open for Business: The Economic Case for LGBT+ Inclusion in Central and Eastern Europe, documenting the steps those countries need to follow to become more LGBTQ+ inclusive, and at the same time, end harmful discriminatory practices, to reach their intended levels of economic growth. 

“We regularly submit amicus briefs in the Supreme Court on issues impacting the community,” said Appel. “In 2008, we came out strongly against Proposition 8. [Prop 8 was a change to California’s state constitution to ban gay marriage, which Google opposed ‘as an issue of equality,’ and that the California Superme Court eventually overturned.] Fast forward to today: we’re advocating for the Equality Act. No one will learn from us if we don’t share the good and the bad and are really open about how we support the LGBTQ+ community inside and outside of Google.”

Creating a welcoming environment

Google is frequently in the news about how it supports its employees. “In the past three years, we’ve experienced some tough times for the company within the LGBTQ+ community,” said Appel. “But I am personally very encouraged with how our leaders responded to recent issues withYouTube and Google Play. Our community became involved – and the policies were changed. As a result of those engagements, I have seen a shift which, while frustrating at the time, has been really powerful. I’m pretty proud of how well Google shows up for the community.” 

“All of our efforts to be open and welcoming lead to an environment where people bring their entire self to work, said Sheryl Battles, vice president of diversity, inclusion and engagement at Pitney Bowes. “Because when you can bring your whole self, we get your best self. And when we get your best self, we can deliver the best for our clients.”

Where to go next

“As communications professionals, we have a lot of power over the words that we use,” said Appel. “As we think about all of the threats that the trans community is facing around the world, I think the more inclusive language we use, and the more we can identify these threats, we then encourage more inclusion and a better place for everyone. 

“I could not have imagined how far we could have come in just three years,” said Tonn. “ The inclusion group is still very much creating the space for folks to plug in and grow. As we have benefited from learning from other organizations outside of Pitney Bowes, we also want to share what we have learned with others. But we have so much more to go.”

“Like any strategic initiative, we view diversity and inclusion as an enabler of long-term value creation,” said Battles. “So just like innovation, just like the client experience, just like appropriate financial management, it is a journey and not a destination. So we are never done. There is always more to do. And always things to learn and always opportunities out there. Nobody has all the answers.” 

“We held an inclusive leadership series for Pride Month, where two speakers joined us,” said  Swaminathan. “We asked them about allyship, and what is the most important facet. What came across most strongly was kindness. So it is not actually about getting members of the LGBTQ+ community jobs or doing a drum roll for them, it was actually just about being kind – something so important to behavioral change.”