June: a time when flowers bloom, kids count the days until summer vacation, and businesses everywhere turn their logos into little Pride flags. “Rainbow capitalism” is becoming more common, but as it spreads wider, it becomes more obvious when a firm’s commitment to the LGBTQ+ community barely runs skin deep. In 2019, LGBTQ+ groups pushed back against corporate-sponsored Pride events that they interpreted as “rainbow-washing.” In a similar vein, British grocery chain Marks & Spencer got a black eye a couple years ago for commodifying Pride with its “LGBT sandwich” (a rainbow-packaged lettuce, guacamole, bacon, and tomato sandwich), and the surrounding controversy overshadowed the firm’s donation of £10,000 of the sandwich profits to a charity serving homeless LGBT youth.
A slight scratch on firms’ freshly rainbow-painted logos too often reveals that they lack the policies to support LGBTQ+ employees and/or miss the mark in designing products and services with LGBTQ+ people in mind — and the community is scratching at that paint. Every year, there are dozens of articles and blog posts identifying companies with queer-friendly branding and anti-LGBTQ+ actions. Considering that 78% of queer people want to support companies that support them and that our research shows that Gen Z is looking for companies to commit to transgender rights, a lack of authenticity isn’t just inviting damage to a brand — it’s a wasted opportunity. This Pride Month, before you talk the talk, show that your company can walk the walk by committing to the LGBTQ+ people on your payroll and in your CRM.
- Clean up your own house first. As discussed in “The Business Of Belonging,” marketing messages aren’t a substitute for action; they should be outward signals of inner motions. The queer community has confirmed this time and time again by calling out brands that display pro-LGBTQ+ messaging but operate in ways that undermine the message (such as by manufacturing products in countries where it’s illegal to be gay or by discriminating in the workplace after marching in a Pride parade). The Human Rights Campaign agrees; companies achieve a top score in its Corporate Equality Index by excelling in three key areas: workforce protections, inclusive benefits, and support for inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility.
- Put your money where your mouth is. Given the queer community’s ability to sniff out false allyship, be sure that your efforts are more than just a cash grab. Firms looking to show that they’re showing up for the queer community do so with meaningful investments like event sponsorships, employee volunteer time, direct grants, or donating portions of sales. Absolut and Smirnoff have supported Pride parades, events, and advocacy groups for decades (when the community was far less accepted), giving authenticity to their Pride products and sponsorships, such as Smirnoff’s limited-edition “Love Wins” bottles for which a percentage of profits was donated to queer causes.
- Celebrate your achievements. Once you’ve established your company as a genuine ally through authentic action that supports employees and customers, don’t be shy about it. With $1 trillion in buying power, the queer community contains coveted consumers that are looking for safe, welcoming spaces in their personal and business lives. Lists of brands that take actions to support queer communities are becoming more and more common, especially when those brands are celebrating Pride. When you celebrate authentic allyship, LGBTQ+ consumers will celebrate with you.
It’s never too late to genuinely invest in and support your LGBTQ+ customers and employees. Take action that matches your words so that when you’re called out in social media and the press, you’re receiving well-earned praise.
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