The stories hiding behind the rainbow
For those of you that follow my Instagram channel @thebrandingman you’ll hopefully have seen me sharing my choices from ‘50 Queers Who Changed the World: A celebration of LGBTQ+ icons’ by Dan Jones as part of my own celebration of LGBT History Month. The book tells the stories of queer people, throughout the ages, who have fought hard to express their identities and make a difference to society. These boundary-busting, equality-loving LGBTQ+ heroes of history are the ultimate advocates of thinking differently, and I’m enjoying paying tribute to some of the inspirational people of all time.
This month carries an important message to be understood in regards to the history of minority groups who have struggled for decades, and still do, to overcome prejudice and a battle for acceptance for who they are, and the way they live their lives. Somehow though, I feel like each year we (those who identify with, or support, the LGBT+ community) are missing a huge opportunity to tell our stories, to empower others and to shift the dial further in favour of diversity in the workplace.
"Let's just slap a rainbow on it"
Now, thankfully I've never heard someone say the above when thinking about how to support and promote the LGBT+ community in the workplace, but sadly I am of the opinion that it may be something that may cross the mind of many who focus on celebrating, and showcasing D&I within their businesses. In many respects it's easier to focus on the D&I stories that everyone else is - something which I wrote about in my last blog post which you can read here. More widely accepted and something that attracts less controversy or debate... And whilst I've not sat down today to again critique the wider approaches taken to D&I I am going to reiterate my opinion that if we are truly focused on being inclusive that hidden D&I characteristics such as LGBTQ+ need less piecemeal effort and to become something more than an opportunity to simply ‘tick them off' the list’ by 'slapping a rainbow flag on' upon a brand. And yes, I’m aware my own logo has been edited, in large to highlight this very issue…
A brief history of the rainbow flag
A quick Google, for those who aren't aware, will tell you that the traditional (there are many alternatives including this year's 'more inclusive' design shared by Daniel Quasar) six-band rainbow flag seen flying high at annual Pride parades across the globe was popularised as a symbol of the gay community by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. The different colours have literal meanings attached to them, each associated with diversity amongst the LGBT+ community:
Red - Life; Orange - Healing; Yellow - Sunlight; Green - Nature; Blue - Harmony/Peace and; Purple/Violet - Spirit.
Now to me, someone who identifies as being a gay man, this celebration of life and the different ways in which the LGBT+ community continues to thrive (and survive) means something. And it should mean something to you, and your brands, especially if you are an employer committed to D&I as part of your talent strategies. It's too easy, and meaningless to those whom you are trying to engage with, to simply 'slap a rainbow on it' and expect us to pay attention and listen to what you have to say. Which is where I have faith in the power that storytelling can bring to authentically show your commitment whilst also providing a valuable opportunity, for those who want to (remember this is still a hidden characteristic for many), to share their story aligned with these literal meanings. If your focus on D&I is truly aligned with the message that it's 'good for business' then I'd encourage you to think differently and discover the diversity behind the rainbow.
Telling the stories behind the rainbow
Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways in which you can bring your employer brand to life. Authentic truthful moments break down walls and can start to create brand loyalty and affinity in a much more powerful way than facts, which will often fail to fuel action. In short, people buy emotion. Think back to the rainbow, that you're no longer going to 'slap on' your brand, and consider how you can tell the story of those advocates for your brand using those literal meanings that lie behind the pride rainbow flag:
Red (Life) - Could this be used to tell a story around courage? A challenge that's changed the way that they think about the world of work, or even your organisation?
Orange (Healing) - The power of possibility that comes with healing could come from a tale of adversity that someone within your organisation has had to overcome?
Yellow (Sunlight) - My own story springs to mind here which I shared with Attitude magazine in 2017, about being able to shine in the workplace by being my most authentic self.
Green (Nature) - All organisations work hard to develop their people. Are there LGBT+ people you can encourage to share the ways in which you have supported their learning and development?
Blue (Harmony/Peace) - In the same way that being out at work leaves you feeling empowered (speaking from experience) it also allows you to focus on what matters to you professionally. Are there success stories of your LGBT+ people you can share that show just how powerful being yourself in the workplace really can be to inspire others to follow in their footsteps?
Purple/Violet (Spirit) - How does your brand really take action (diversity), create a culture (inclusive) and make LGBT+ people 'feel' (a sense of belonging)?
If your focus on D&I is truly 'good for business' then I implore you to try harder and seek the hidden stories that champion and advocate for LGBT+ people, rather than defaulting to the more obvious tactics of 'slapping a rainbow on it'. And for those of you unsure where to start then I'd love to help you in my new guise as The Branding Man. I'm just one message away, and most definitely not hiding somewhere behind the rainbow!
(The original version of this article was published on LinkedIn, 15 June 2018)