The diversity we need to share that lies behind the rainbow
As Pride Month closes across the world (I’m still baffled as to why we tag it so when many cities including London don’t celebrate until later in the summer) - it’s a time to celebrate 'being ourselves' and everything that the LGBT+ community has achieved to date in promoting equality.
However, on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots it's all too easy to forget its origins as a march that commemorates the start of a battle for equal rights for the LGBT+ community. The first pride was a riot, and as much as every Pride event held this year should be a celebration of love in all its wonderful forms, it is also an opportunity to continue to support the fight which is far from over. Beyond the bright colours and party atmosphere there is a much richer and important message to be understood in the history of minority groups who have struggled for decades, and still do, to overcome prejudice and a battle for acceptance, by the majority, for who they are. 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. As the city of London gears up to celebrate this important milestone in the LGBT community a sea of rainbows have flooded the shop windows, especially those on the route for next weekend’s parade, and if I’m honest I’m skeptical as to whether or not if you asked many of those inside the store exactly how their employer supports our community…. And it frustrates me as a a member of the LGBT community that our fight appears to only be worthy of support as an opportunity to bring colour to a window display, or a company logo. And yes, my own logo on this website has a rainbow slapped on it, but frankly the fight I’ve fought to date gives me a story to back it up. So why the lack of effort?
It’s easier to focus on the D&I stories that everyone else is - gender and BAME spring to mind here. More widely accepted and something that attracts less controversy or debate... And whilst I've not sat down today to critique the wider approach to D&I I am also of the opinion that if you are truly focused on being inclusive that hidden D&I characteristics such as LGBT+ and disability are in need of a greater focus, budget and commitment 'from the top' if they aren't going to come across as piecemeal or something that we simply celebrate by 'slapping a rainbow flag on' our brands.
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 currently seen flying high in Pride parades across the globe, especially in New York this past weekend, was popularized 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 last year, 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)?
Your story will never be told hidden away in the closet
If your focus on D&I is truly 'good for business' then I implore more employers 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 to tell some of the amazing stories your people have to share with the world.
I'm just one message away, and most definitely not hiding somewhere over the rainbow!
(Original version published here in June 2018)
Everybody has a story to tell, and sharing yours could just be what’s need to empower a young person to discover what a career with you could bring to their life.
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