How Companies Celebrate Corporate Pride (And Where They Fall Short)

July 2, 2019

Happy Pride! I wrote this post in 2019 after seeing a huge increase in corporate marketing around Pride. The optimist in me was hopeful that organizations were celebrating the diversity within their ranks with renewed vigor, but the pessimist was worried it was all for show (and money).

Then came the pandemic, continued racially motivated violence, the wave of wokeness, and now a recent uptick in anti-trans legislation – and I’m left with the same nagging feeling from two years ago: a disparity between stated and lived values. In fact, thanks to the Keep Your Pride campaign, five corporations were just called out for donating to anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers while positioning themselves as allies.

It’s complicated and nuanced and hard, but creating a positive employee experience for all your people means creating a positive employee experience for ALL your people. And doing it with integrity.

So, let’s take a look at how Pride celebrations have shown up in the corporate world, how companies are celebrating their people and how Pride is being used as a marketing tool.

[Note: Last updated June 2021]

Many companies are speaking out

It seems more and more companies are enthusiastically waving rainbow flags (literally - a quick scroll through my LinkedIn feed shows dozens of brands and companies have made their logos rainbow for the month). Thankfully, many companies are doing a whole lot more.

Salesforce shows up big time at multiple Pride events, and their co-founder Marc Benioff continues to be a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Gap Inc. brands partner with UN Free & Equal, a global campaign of the United Nations Human Rights Office, as well creating Pride products that come with a small donation for each purchase to an LGBTQ+ cause and providing opportunities for employees to participate in local parades.

Several companies hosted in-office events like fireside chats with LGBTQ+ speakers, dedicated happy hours and lunches, and environmental branding throughout their offices. Other companies shared photos of their employees at community Pride events, while others made generous donations to LGBTQ+ causes.

But some might be missing the point

However, it seems all those rainbow flags may not be quite as altruistic as they seem. Several articles have come out criticizing the corporate world’s participation in Pride events. (See one from the New York Times here.) A recent UK-based study by Reboot Online shows that despite a 29 percent increase in Pride campaigns, only 64 percent of those brands are donating money to related charities. And just recently, LGBTQ+ employees at Google submitted a petition to SF Pride asking them to remove Google as a sponsor.

So what does it all mean?

While showing public support for the LGBTQ+ community is a good and necessary thing, it’s not enough. Companies must focus inward and do what they can to not only boost their marketing efforts but do the real work of supporting their people. Establishing employee resource groups, creating a diversity and inclusion committee, assessing your hiring policies, examining your growth and development programs, and offering coaching and training are all great places to start.

What do you think? Is advocacy enough? Or should companies that use Pride to boost public perception be putting their money where their mouths are? Or at least where their policies are? Share your thoughts over on our social handles.

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Sara Forner Howland

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