Rethinking How Brands Engage Pride, Worldwide
While it's encouraging to witness brands' unwavering and overt support for queer people, the road to true inclusion and equity is a long one - one that demands further action everywhere, including 69 countries that still criminalize LGBTQIA+ identities and expression. Particularly this year in the US, we've seen more anti-LGBTQIA+ bills enacted into law than any other in recent history, especially as it relates to Trans children and their families. And, while statements and symbols of support certainly contribute to inclusion, it's important to ask how we can band together and push for further progress in places where our LGBTQIA+ identities are either unsafe, unwelcome or contribute to an unequal reality. This challenge and opportunity for change is also a mandate for global business to get involved.
Here's how your brand can continue making a difference:
Explore employee experiences: Start by understanding and responding to the unique needs of LGBTQIA+ employees both at work and in their communities, such as providing access to gender-affirming healthcare or resources to support adoption and surrogacy. Effective Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI) practices begin by building this deeper understanding of, and empathy for, the people you're supporting and their full range of experiences. Too often, predominantly during Pride, these initiatives are isolated to already agreeable areas and audiences, and do not extend to those where LGBTQIA-related support is needed most.
Participate in public policy: It's imperative to meet words with action when legislation threatens the wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ people, both within and outside of one's company. Grounded in purpose and a commitment to JEDI, a company's response should be an organized, agile repudiation of intolerance whenever it arises — especially when it's close to home.
In recent years, many global brands, including Microsoft, have assembled teams dedicated to furthering policy and global human rights, including an avid defense of LGBTQIA+ rights. In fact, Microsoft's policy efforts have included (1) officially endorsing the Washington state campaign that fought a proposed anti-Trans law, (2) signing an amicus brief advocating for US federal law to prohibit LBGTQIA+ employment discrimination and (3) opposing a section of India's penal code that criminalizes same-sex relationships. Additionally, brands should consider partnering with local advocacy groups and other change-makers who can help influence inclusive policies everywhere they are.
Consistency is key: However, a global brand shows its support for LGBTQIA+ people during Pride and throughout the year, it's crucial to engage consistently across all international markets. For example, while the tone may change to meet a given audience, support should stay the same regardless of regional discourse or public sentiment — whether one is reaching people in New York and San Francisco, or this "Free of LGBT" town in Poland and countries where self-expression can be life-threatening. Instead of "checking a box" for Pride, companies are called to consistently provide support for the community — especially in areas where queer people face the greatest discrimination.
Coalesce around a cause: From BlackRock CEO Larry Fink's 2019 letter to CEOs tying profit to purpose, to the advent of stakeholder capitalism at Davos and a coalition of 181 CEOs redefining what it means to be in business today, we can clearly see the collective power of the private sector in effecting change. Where an ownable cause campaign may have once captured stakeholder admiration, a brand today must fully live out its purpose — with more of an emphasis on accelerating progress related to human rights than ever before. This will be best accomplished through coalitions that convene corporations against injustices facing people today, including advocacy for LGBTQIA+ equality and visibility.
Today, global companies hold immense power as shapers of more equitable places, prosperity and even policy. And, while rainbow logos and products proliferate in June, companies should use their clout to continue driving real impact for LGBTQIA+ people throughout the year. For these brands, statements and symbols of support for the community are welcomed when backed by action; and for many, action is both ongoing and embedded into their corporate purpose through commitments, platforms and programs, internal policy and community involvement.
A company's purpose, and each element of, should extend fully to every country and community where it operates.