Pride Month is over: now comes the balancing act of creating change without backlash

Pride Month is over. Now comes what many think is the hardest part: balancing inclusivity goals with stakeholder demands

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Jul 10, 2023

It was only a few weeks ago that another hugely successful Pride month came to an end in America.

The four weeks’ of celebrations and at-work initiatives saw all manner of events hosted by organizations keen to promote equality and diversity in the workplace – everything from a brand new series podcasts produced by the Smithsonian Institute, to a special Pride Night held in the stadium of the Los Angeles Dodgers – once scene to two women being frogmarched out of the stadium in 2003 for kissing to celebrate home runs.

A lot has certainly change since those days. Bill Clinton was the first US President to officially recognize Pride Month in 1999 and 2000. Then, from 2009 to 2016, Barack Obama declared June LGBT Pride Month.

Today, with around 7% of Americans now identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual (up from 5.6% in 2020, 4.5% in 2017 and 4.1% in 2016), Pride Month is no longer a fringe event, and no longer one organizations can afford to ignore – especially if they want to appeal to, attract, and retain top talent.

The stats largely do the talking here. According to the findings of a 2022 survey, 46% of people polled said they supported companies partnering with LGBTQ+ celebrities specifically in response to Pride Month. Amongst LGBTQ+ people, this level of support stands at 74%.

So far so good.

But here’s some questions many in the LGBTQ+ will rightly be asking:

What are organizations really doing during the ‘rest’ of the year, once the buzz of this particular celebration month dies down?

And how can HRDs ensure Pride isn’t just a month-long marketing initiative that scores companies some brownie points in June?

What are HRDs doing to ensure they actually create long-lasting and deep-seated cultural change, for the rest of the year?

Firms need to be declarative not performative

“There’s definitely a sense that diversity months’ can be performative in nature rather than declarative – that is when a company declares a year-round LGBTQ+ supportive culture,” declares Dave Wilkin – CEO and co-founder of talent experience platform, Ten Thousand Coffees – who is himself a gay man.”

The problem, he suggests, is that while Pride Month presents the prefect comfort blanket for companies to wrap themselves around during the month of June, they then find it tough during the rest of the year to solidify and deepen their LGBTQ+ stance – because the realities of different stakeholder pressures come in.

“We’re seeing something of a Catch-22 situation,” he says. “Organizations are setting grand diversity goals, which is great, and they’re shouting about this during Pride. But they’re also suffering backlash against this outside of Pride month. We only to see the negativity against Budweiser for partnering with TikTok personality, Dylan Mulvaney, to see this [where Bud Light’s sales fell 11-26% and Anheuser-Busch’s share price fell by 20% and Bud Lite lost its status as the top-selling beer in the United States].”

Companies are in a ‘tough spot’

Companies are, he admits, “in a tough spot” because once a celebration month recedes, there needs to not only be something in place to keep things going, but companies need to be brave about not being apologetic about it.

“These sorts of months are not a bad thing,” he argues, “but what they do need to be seen as are launch pads, or starting points for year-long experiences. They then need to create systematic change, rather than just exist as a point in time.”

With a recent Glassdoor poll revealing 45% of LGBTQ+ employees report that simply being ‘out’ and ‘proud in the workplace could harm their own careers, no-one is saying the answer to this is going to be simple.

Walking the diversity tightrope

This tightrope companies clearly feel they are walking is starkly revealed by corporate social responsibility software provider, Benevity.

It recently compiled research which found that while 88% of CSR leaders believe companies should be courageous and take a stand on issues – even if it means alienating some people – almost the same percentage (71%) also said companies must also be more cautious about which issues are supported vocally because of the potential for negative backlash.

“High appetite for change, but also for caution, dramatically highlights the polarization and politicization that issues around this area,” says Sona Khosla, chief impact officer at Benevity.

Speaking to TLNT she says: “We’ve had the activism, but there’s no playbook for how to resolve this – especially with the power that social media has.”

Khosla says it’s heartening that organization are – on the one hand – being seen as forces for change, but she adds: “My fear is that organizations approach this topic from a position of fear rather than a place of conviction.”

What’s the answer?

So is there an answer? She says: “It’s possible some companies [such as Budweiser], went too fast, too quickly, and could possibly have planned things better, or be better prepared.”

She adds: “Brands need to center this stuff more – around the impact they want to make internally, rather than the impact on share price. This is why authenticity is so important here. People won’t trust companies that promote LGBTQ+ activities if it feels out of character.”

Her answer, much like Wilkin’s, is for companies to establish more enterprise resource groups, and more mentoring to give opportunities to under-presented groups.

Khosla says: “While a Pride Month may create awareness, internal story telling has longer efficacy rates. Internally, most employees aren’t polarised on this issue. We find 97% of employees agree that ERGs help make the workplace more equitable and inclusive, so this is where employers need to start. We have to remember that all this stuff doesn’t go away just because a celebration month is over.”

Both accept companies don’t have an easy ride. “It’s a difficult ask of companies – I understand this,” says Khosla, “but companies censoring dialogue is not going to get them to where they need to go.

Wilkin adds: “Companies can’t create inclusivity without mentoring. There’s no upside for staff if companies say ‘be your best self’ but they can’t be their own self as work. Setting diversity goals needs backing up with scalable solutions to help people really feel included,” he adds. Even if this creates some pushback internally or externally, both seem to agree that pushing through it is the only true course of actions companies should take. So, the question back to HRDs and diversity leads is this: are you willing to take up this challenge?

What Benevity found:

  • 92% of employees agree ERGs/affinity groups help unify the workplace.
  • 92% of employees agree ERGs/affinity groups have a greater impact on inclusivity in the workplace than traditional DEI and unconscious bias training.

What is Pride Month?

Pride Month is largely credited as being started by bisexual activist Brenda Howard. Known as ‘The Mother of Pride,’ Brenda organized Gay Pride Week and the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade a year after the Stonewall Riots in 1969, when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, which resulted in bar patrons, staff, and neighborhood residents rioting onto Christopher Street outside. This eventually morphed into what we now know as the New York City Pride March and was the catalyst for the formation of similar parades and marches across the world.

Pride Month – The numbers:

4.1% – the estimated percentage of women who identify as LGBT

43% – the percentage of LGBTQ employees who haven’t revealed their orientation at work

10% – the amount of time LGBT workers spend hiding their identities

46% – the percentage of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who are open about their sexual orientation with their family


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