Now that Pride Month (in most countries) has come to a close, rainbow social media icons, logos and content have likely been less visible from your everyday brands. Participating in Pride Month is important to many companies (including ours) to connect their values and stand in alliance with the marginalized LGBTQ+ community. In addition, it is an opportunity to publicly stand for policies, products, services and/or changes that help raise awareness about issues facing the community. It’s a way to build bridges to understanding.
The LGBTQ+ community makes up approximately 4.5% of the US population but accounts for 8% of the country’s disposable income, according to a 2020 report from Kearney. That’s —approximately $1 trillion in disposable income for brands to cash in on. (In Canada, an estimated 3.3% of the population aged 15 and older identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual according to Canadian Community Health Survey data from 2015 to 2018.) LGBTQ+ consumers are more likely than members of other groups to seek out brands that represent and include them, to reward those that show support of LGBTQ+ friendly media and causes. They will also remain loyal to brands that are loyal to them.
Creating these bridges make economical sense for many companies, but for brands that view Pride Month as only a marketing and sales opportunity will face negative repercussions. What happens when brands do not run their companies in a way that is inclusionary to the LGBTQ+ community? Their public display of “solidarity” is quickly labelled Pinkwashing, and they face ridicule and backlash from all sides.
According to Wikipedia, “Pinkwashing is a term used to describe the action of using gay-related issues in positive ways in order to distract attention from negative actions by an organization, country or government. In the context of LGBT rights, it is used to describe a variety of marketing and political strategies aimed at promoting products, countries, people or entities through an appeal to gay-friendliness, in order to be perceived as progressive, modern and tolerant. […] Pinkwashing has been criticized as being deceptive […].”
Commetric’s Social Media Analytics analyzed that Disney had the highest media impact this year with its Pinkwashing controversies. “The company released its Rainbow Disney 2021 collection, put a prominently positioned carousel of LGBTQ+ titles on its homepage, and donated to LGBTQ+ organizations around the world, but many media outlets reported that the company has found itself at the centre of a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit brought by an executive employee.”
Companies must ensure their LGBTQ+ initiatives in June are not Pinkwashing their global policies that are not LGBTQ+ friendly. Companies need to secure their policies as inclusive and not simply part of a marketing ploy created to jump on the rainbow bandwagon, otherwise, they will have a Public Relations crisis on their hands.
Pride Month gives businesses the opportunity to realize that it should not be business as usual and that they should not ignore the LGBTQ+ community. However, their LGBTQ+ actions and words must match their intentions throughout the organization. They must actively demonstrate they are LGBTQ+ friendly by committing to publically standing in alliance with the LGBTQ+ community, making changes that help raise awareness about issues facing the community and take action on their own internal policies to make them inclusive. They also need to consistently communicate their inclusive environment publicly and remain committed throughout the year.
During Pride Month this year, we attended My G Work’s WorkPride Week over five days to learn about how we can better communicate to ensure a more inclusive consultancy and messaging for our clients. Their main sponsor showcased time and time again how they make inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community a priority. There are always opportunities to improve language, messaging and policies so we should all commit to supporting inclusion, diversity and equity at every turn.