Does Pride pay? The commercial sector and LGBTQ+ equality


10 Jul 2019

Does Pride pay? The commercial sector and LGBTQ+ equality

Penna marks the Pride Jubilee with a special series looking at which industries we work in have made progress on LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and where there is still work to be done. In this second article, we look at the commercial sector. With the rise of activist investors and an increasingly engaged customer base, Pride month saw many companies embrace the rainbow livery. But just how embedded is diversity and inclusion in the corporate world, are these changes just skin deep?

The Pride Jubilee in London took place over the first weekend of July. This celebration is intended by organisers as ‘a platform for every part of London’s LGBT+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, non-binary, asexual, polysexual, genderqueer and gender variant people) to raise awareness of LGBT+ issues and campaign for the freedoms that will allow them to live their lives on a genuinely equal footing’ [1].

The chance for companies to show their ally status means Pride sponsorship is big business, with more and more commercial organisations embracing visual cues associated with the LGBTQ+ movement. The sponsorship revenue of London Pride in 2016 ‘stood at £400,000, [growing] 250 per cent since 2013’ [2].These figures have only increased to date.

Barclay’s bank, London Pride’s headline sponsor for 2019, included the rainbow livery on its logo and banking app for Pride month. In professional services, Accenture have implemented a global LGBT Leaders Learning Training programme, which includes a global ally initiative with 110,000 members.

The dangers of rainbow-washing 

For companies, demonstrating a commitment to Pride and LGBTQ+ rights clearly pays dividends when done correctly.  

Yet in today’s climate, the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are switched on to corporate hypocrisy and values-appropriation, otherwise known as ‘slacktivism’. Many Multinational Corporations have been called-out on social media for celebrating Pride, while operating in countries where being gay is grounds for capital punishment or a prison sentence.

Similarly, social media takes a dim view of companies engaging in superficial changes without implementing real and effective diversity and inclusion strategies in their organisation. A recent Wired article called out the dangers of allowing ‘people, governments, and corporations that don’t do tangible work to support LGBTQ+ communities at any other time during the year to slap a rainbow on top of something in the month of June’ [3].

An outward display of LGBTQ+ allyship has to be accompanied with an inward employee value proposition which celebrates diversity and inclusion. Not doing so can lead to public relations issues and, ultimately, damage credibility in the eyes of your customer and employees. So, senior leadership, HR and employees more broadly have a duty to step beyond window dressing when celebrating Pride.

Not only do companies have to navigate the Twittosphere and an increasingly vocal customer base, they are also now answering to their shareholders when their inclusivity doesn’t go far enough. And, with the rise of the more ethical activist investor, private practices are being called out more frequently and publicly. 

Investors activating change  

Activist investors are also making an impact on improving environmental, social and governance factors (ESG) and, accordingly, inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in companies. Where once investment activism meant buying a stake in a company and mobilising that investment to force changes in management teams, cutting costs and organisational structure; 

‘Now when I’m calling up a CEO three months after we make an investment, in addition to saying: ‘Where are we on the spin-out? Where are we on the balance sheet? Where are we on the margins?’ I’m saying, ‘Where are we on that commitment you made to me to make the board more diverse?’ [4]

Clifton Robbins, Blue Harbour investment Group

Activist investors who take company culture as an action point are far more likely to do so in younger industries – such as tech. Jo Cumper, Lead Consultant – Digital and Data at Penna, feels that;

‘If the firm is backed by an investor, you will find that they tend to be more inclusive. There’s a feeling in the investor community that if a company can’t get their values offer right with ten employees, they will never get it right with ten thousand – so scaling up will be difficult. Get the culture right when you are small means it will continue as your company grows.’

Not only is this behaviour ethical, it’s also good for business – and so good for the investor.

Recruitment and retention is demonstrably boosted by a strong D&I agenda, with a HBR study finding ‘72% of LGBT advocates say they are more likely to accept a job at a company that is supportive of LGBT employees than one that is not’ [5]. Accenture have also found that there is a ‘7x higher innovation mindset for LGBT employees in the most-equal cultures than in the least equal ones’ [6].

To win and retain the best talent, companies must prove themselves appealing places to work. An inclusive employee value proposition is key to this. Plus it’s been proven that ‘nonhomogenous teams are simply smarter’ [7], delivering better performance and higher incomes for companies.In an increasingly digital world, technology skillsets are in high demand. A visible and empowering emphasis on inclusion will help your organisation future-proof itself with the talent of tomorrow.

Continuing the conversations, beyond Pride month

Social media and ethical investors are pushing corporates to properly review their diversity and inclusion policies, and not simply resort to rainbow washing their credentials with Pride logos.

Inclusivity also pays for companies willing to truly commit to it; the business and ethical cases for taking the spirit of Pride beyond June and July are clear. 

Our private sector consultancy includes working with clients and candidates to ensure an ethical and equal attraction, hiring and onboarding process and passionately champion fairness – something we all deserve.   

If you would like to talk to us about Diversity and Inclusion in your organisation please email or call 020 3849 2777.

Read part one of our series – Pride in the Public Sector

Read our interview with Leatham Green, on his take on LGBTQ+ Equality in the public sector

Read our interview with Kris Phelps, Diversity and Inclusion Lead for Stafford Long