The power of the Pride flag
When I was growing up in the 80s, 90s and into the early 2000s the only place I would see a Pride flag would be a gay bar. It was a very powerful symbol. It spoke to me. It said: “You are safe here, this is a place where you don't need to hide, you don't need to look over your shoulder. You can breathe out.”
As someone who was taking his first steps out of the closet these spaces were, for want of a better word, sacred. When I felt out of place, I could go to one of these spaces displaying a rainbow flag and feel accepted. I could know there was nothing wrong with me, and the person that I was, was the person I was meant to be. That flag was one of the most important symbols to me, and to many other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Fast forward to today. It's June 2023 and even the most cursory glance around will reveal rainbow flags everywhere. Your company logo will likely have a rainbow on it. Isn’t that great? So many organisations are saying to the LGBTQ+ community “You can be yourself here”, “You don’t need to hide who you are”, “When you are here you can thrive rather than just survive”. That’s awesome! Until 1 July when Pride Month ends and logos go back to normal.
Things have moved forward a lot since the 80s and 90s but there is still a lot of work to do here in the UK. In IGLA Europe’s Rainbow Europe Index 2023, which examines the legal and policy situations for LGBTQ+ people in 49 European countries, the UK dropped three places, from 14th to 17th. 2023 is the fourth year in a row that this has happened. The UK government’s latest hate crime figures show a 41% increase in hate crimes against LGB (lesbian, gay, or bisexual) people and a 56% increase in transphobic hate crime compared to the previous year. Now more than ever your LGBTQ+ staff need to know that your support goes beyond the month of June.
Going ‘over the rainbow’
As an organisation, if you want to ensure your support of the LGBTQ+ community is authentic and genuine, then adding a rainbow to your logo in Pride Month is a great start - but it is just that, the start. As an employer, being a visible supporter is vital, but it must be backed up with actions. You need to go over and above that rainbow to support your LGBTQ+ employees, and you need to ensure that it continues indefinitely.
Each organisation is unique and its LGBTQ+ inclusion journey will vary depending on the needs of your workforce, but there are some steps that every organisation can take to ensure their LGBTQ+ staff, customers, and service users are safe to be themselves:
1. Policy and process
Make sure your policies are explicitly LGBTQ+ inclusive. Adopting a zero-tolerance policy to homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia with clear consequences for breaches is key. Just know that you must ensure this is enforced, even if the breach is caused by your top performer.
If you have an LGBTQ+ working group or affinity network, then ensure that the group is involved in your annual policy review process. Examine your recruitment, appraisal, and development processes to ensure they are inclusive, taking advice and guidance from equality, diversion and inclusion (EDI) specialists.
Educate yourself and encourage others to do the same. To truly support your LGBTQ+ workforce you need a level of understanding. Knowing the facts of what the community has gone through is very different to knowing the actual stories of LGBTQ+ people.
Reach out to local or national LGBTQ+ organisations to work with them on sharing the lived experience of LGBTQ+ people. Empower your LGBTQ+ staff to feel comfortable sharing their own stories. Through education and understanding you will build trust.
Your greatest resource is your people. By empowering your LGBTQ+ workforce you gain a perspective that may have been missing. Ensure they are encouraged to make the most of any mentorship opportunities. Be open about where you are on your inclusion journey and take their advice and guidance.
It's also important to make sure your employees feel safe when they get things wrong, and if they do, support them in learning and doing better moving forward. Creating an atmosphere of openness, curiosity, and support will not only show your active support of the LGBTQ+ community, but will elevate your whole workforce.
Pride Month is a great time to visibly show your allyship and support of the LGBTQ+ community but without the ongoing support, rooted in authenticity, it will be seen as performative. Carrying meaningful support beyond June is key to truly showing up for your LGBTQ+ staff; and in the battle for talent that could make all the difference.
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