Happy Pride, folks! It’s that time of year, and I’m once again excited to see and hear about so many organisations embracing LGBTQIA+ Pride Month in meaningful ways.
Publicly celebrating Pride is such an important demonstration of support for your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer (and questioning!) employees. It sends a crystal clear message that your company cares about their wellbeing, supports their professional aspirations, and will take a firm stance against discrimination.
While varying levels of progress have been made on the road to LGBTQIA+ equality across the world, a global study from McKinsey shows there is still progress to be made. In fact, more than one in four LGBTQ+ respondents are not broadly out at work (of a survey of 2,000 employees). And 37% of those surveyed reported feeling uncomfortable at least once in the past month with coming out at work.
Reports in other geographies show similar concerns. Of course, we’ll dig into what it means to authentically celebrate Pride and support your LGBTQIA+ colleagues at this time, as opposed to checking off a few 'Pride Month boxes.' But these statistics alone show how valuable of a role companies can play in making a difference in their employees’ lives.
Before diving into the content, I think it’s important to acknowledge a few things about myself. First and foremost, I do identify as a gay man and my pronouns are he/him. I also recognise that I’m a white male in my 30s with a lot of privilege, and I don’t want to pretend I have lived through the same struggles many of my predecessors and today’s LGBTQIA+ people of colour have endured. I’m not a sociologist nor an expert in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). But what I can share is my personal perspective, as well as bits and pieces of what our Reward Gateway LGBTQIA+ & Allies Network is carrying out to celebrate Pride.
Understanding Pride Month and how to get involved
To start, let’s take a look into the history of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month and how it all began:
On June 28th, 1969, a group of LGBTQIA+ people in New York City rioted following police violence against queer people during a raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. These riots were a turning point for the LGBTQIA+ community, marking one of the most significant events leading to the modern gay rights movement. To commemorate the Stonewall Riots and the demonstrations that took place the following year in major cities in the United States, many countries recognise Pride Month in June (even if they hold Pride events on alternate dates, depending on their summer months).
These days, with a significant percentage of the global workforce working remotely or adopting a hybrid model, it’s also helpful to create virtual-friendly ways to celebrate Pride Month. While organisations should be standing up for LGBTQIA+ rights at all times, I’d love to equip you with some ideas and inspiration to make June that much more special.
Whether your organisation is new to making formalised Pride Month plans or you’re looking to refresh the way you celebrate with new activities and programs, here are four ways to create a positive Pride experience for your employees this June, and all year round.
|1. Survey your employees|
|2. Provide education and training|
|3. Encourage employees to share stories, photos and artwork|
|4. Host a Q&A with an LGBTQIA+ speaker|
1. Survey your employees
Ask, and you shall receive! Keeping in mind that Pride Month is about celebrating and honouring the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s certainly sensible to ask your LGBTQIA+ employees what ideas they’d like to see implemented.
In fact, one reason why some Pride Month initiatives generate lackluster enthusiasm is because they don’t feel genuine, or perhaps employees that identify as LGBTQIA+ were not given a voice during the planning process.
While I don’t necessarily recommend singling out individuals and soliciting their opinions directly, why not give all employees the opportunity to anonymously participate in a poll or survey? Many employees may not be forthcoming with suggestions if you put them on the spot. And certainly, in this context, individuals may not be 'out' at work with all (or any) of their colleagues.
As long as the employee survey tools you’re using are secure, participants can not only offer recommendations but also choose whether or not they’d prefer to stay anonymous. Through this opportunity to provide feedback via a survey, you may soon see who’s keen on championing future initiatives and open to one-on-one conversations about Pride Month to increase visibility in your organisation.
However, if your organisation already has an established LGBTQIA+ group or committee with queer representation, this group may be able to lead the brainstorming charge. Here at Reward Gateway, we have a dedicated LGBTQIA+ & Allies Network, and we’ve happily taken on the responsibility of creating Pride content, running events, identifying speakers and more. By creating a network like this, your organisation is offering a safe space for people to ask questions, propose ideas, share feedback and promote helpful resources.
2. Provide education and training
While inclusivity training and opportunities to discuss DEI at work can and should be offered throughout the year, Pride Month is a great time to raise awareness and deliver educational sessions because people, especially our heterosexual and cisgender counterparts, are paying closer attention.
Today, the options companies have at their disposal are seemingly limitless when it comes to DEI education, even when drilling down into LGBTQIA+ specifics.
Taking into account all the different webinars, workshops, keynote speakers and formal training courses we have available to us in our virtual world, there’s a lot to choose from. And it’s okay if it feels overwhelming at first.
Sometimes the most straightforward solution is to start with a topic you’d like to focus on. My suggestion is to provide educational sessions that benefit a broad audience, catering to both your LGBTQIA+ employees and members of your workforce who are excited about learning more. These types of topics might include:
- How to be a stronger ally to the LGBTQIA+ community
- Ways to create safer spaces at work for LGBTQIA+ employees
- Intersectionality and how this relates to the LGBTQIA+ community
- How you can better support LGBTQIA+ youth
As simple as it may sound, even providing a basic glossary of commonly used terms can be very eye-opening to employees who haven’t (knowingly) had a lot of exposure to the LGBTQIA+ community.
If you’re looking for speakers, I can certainly point you in the direction of large organisations like PFLAG and The Trevor Project, who do so much important work for queer and questioning people of all ages. But availability may be limited, especially around Pride, and you might find more options by tapping into your LinkedIn network or checking your local Speakers Bureau.
As part of our own continuous DEI journey, Reward Gateway works with numerous organisations and consultants across the four countries in which we have offices, including the GLAS Foundation, Stonewall UK and See3. We have various resource hubs available to all employees, including one for the LGBTQIA+ & Allies Network, but we’re also actively working to ensure our company policies, hiring practices and onboarding experiences meet the needs of ALL people, no matter who they are.
3. Encourage employees to share stories, photos and artwork
Does your organisation have a highly trafficked internal communications platform or an easily visible channel (on Slack, for example) where user-generated content can be curated? Pride Month is the perfect time of year for employees – both LGBTQIA+ and community allies – to post uplifting and inspirational content. If you currently don’t have any existing channel(s) for DEI-related material, there’s no time like the present to create one!
Once you have a digital means of communication in place and accessible to your workforce, invite employees to share stories, photos, artwork, quotes, resources or anything else they’d like to post in conjunction with LGBTQIA+ Pride Month to support the community. You can suggest post topics or provide prompts such as 'What was your first Pride experience like?' or 'What do you like most about Pride Month?' to get everyone’s wheels turning.
We’ve seen how a couple of our clients have thoughtfully rebranded their employee engagement platforms to support their people and punctuate their messaging and activities during Pride Month. High five! (In part 2 of this article, I'll also address the importance of taking action in combination with these types of rainbow colour scheme changes).
Regardless of the medium you use, the primary goals here are to engage and educate your people, promote positivity and joy, and shine a light on perspectives that typically don’t receive the attention they deserve.
And, as with training and other educational opportunities, a channel like this would ideally be available for use throughout the year. Not just during Pride.
4. Host a Q&A with an LGBTQIA+ speaker
Although this idea might fall under the 'education and training' umbrella, I wanted to specifically highlight hosting a virtual event that follows an interview or roundtable format (as opposed to a keynote presentation, course or workshop). Sometimes a conversational approach to LGBTQIA+ issues can feel more organic and have a greater impact on the audience. But where do you start?
Partnering with an external professional with lots of public speaking experience (and who’s used to answering questions about queer issues, gender identity, etc.) can be immensely helpful.
But you might be surprised at how powerful hearing from your organisation’s own employees can be. If you have a volunteer (or a group of volunteers) willing to take the spotlight, go for it!
You can even record the Q&A ahead of time instead of running it live, so that your participants feel more comfortable – and you can edit out any tongue-tied flubs where your speaker would prefer to restart their answer to any given question. (Trust me, it happens). Earlier this year, our Founder Glenn Elliott hopped on a virtual Q&A with me, which we shared company-wide.
And last June, Reward Gateway’s CEO happily moderated a roundtable discussion with four LGBTQIA+ RG employees to kick off Pride. In a nutshell, we addressed the theme of 'What does Pride Month mean to you?' and chatted about our personal experiences, obstacles we’ve faced in the past, and reasons why Pride is so important to many people around the globe. The recording was distributed to all employees via our employee communications platform and was very well received. So remember… if you’re having challenges booking a speaker from outside your organisation, you can simply look inward!
Companies across the country are all on an ongoing DEI journey, and there will likely be bumps along the road that we experience. But if your organisation can successfully highlight this important message, you’re taking one big step in the right direction. This is part one in our series, stay tuned for part two!