Every year during the month of June, more and more companies are recognizing LGBTQ+ Pride. Many release marketing campaigns dripping with rainbow colors, and some bring the celebration inside the organization to honor and welcome LGBTQ+ employees. But unfortunately, even in 2022, it’s still rare to see companies developing a workplace culture where LGBTQ+ employees truly can feel like they belong.

What if I told you that just like Black people can see right through performative Black History Month or Juneteenth celebrations, LGBTQ+ folks have started calling out companies that are “rainbow washing” or exploiting rainbow colors for their own personal gain? Not only can we spot an opportunistic LinkedIn post from a mile away, but many of us can also pinpoint exactly where a company is in their LGBTQ+ belonging evolution based on their Pride celebrations. Sorry, but unfortunately, this even includes HRC-endorsed companies. I have coached way too many clients who work in such companies, and oftentimes their managers don’t even know what HRC is.

So, how do you avoid rainbow washing? Well, let’s start with the basics. You first have to get a clear understanding of what Pride Month means to the LGBTQ+ community themselves: Pride is not only a celebration, but also a protest and a memorial. To those outside the community, it’s a call for awareness about the inequity that still exists in your own backyard. For instance, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that you can still encounter discrimination or be arrested for identifying as LGBTQ+ in many U.S. states, and that Black trans women are still violently targeted at alarming rates.

As a coach, my ultimate goal is always to make us all better. So here are three steps to host Pride celebrations on an authentic level.

Step 1: Determine Your Ultimate Goal

When I am discussing Pride Month speaking opportunities with potential clients, I find that many folks are unclear about their Pride goals or why they are having an event in the first place. No judgment here. I get it. Maybe your competitors’ Pride celebrations are turning heads and you are feeling left behind. Or, maybe your company recently started an LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG) and they are pushing for you to have something. Either way, we all need to consider:

What is the goal of our Pride celebrations?

  • Do we want to provide professional development for our LGBTQ+ ERG?
  • Are we trying to educate employees on the basics of LGBTQ+ history?
  • Are we ultimately trying to create a culture of belonging?
  • Are our LGBTQ+ efforts non-existent or falling behind?

It’s important to revisit your goals annually—it’s not a one-and-done process.

Step 2: Know What Level You are On

The next step is to understand what level you are on when it comes to your organization’s Pride month maturity. Are you on a beginner, intermediate, or advanced level? Before diagnosing what level you are on, take out a pen and sheet of paper and jot down the types of Pride activities your organization has had over the past couple of years. This pre-work will expedite your ability to pinpoint exactly what level you are on.

One more note before you determine how your organization fares: these levels can be fluid. For example, your organization could be at the intermediate level but still be hosting beginner-level events.

Beginner Level – Basic LGBTQ+ Education

When companies are stepping into their first public conversations about LGBTQ+ identities and the meaning of Pride month, they tend to take an educational approach. Example company activities might include 101-type courses on topics such as gender identity, inclusive language, coming out, and Stonewall. When an organization is at a beginner’s level, they may also distribute a basic glossary of LGBTQ+ terms, place various Pride flags on display, and maybe host even a round of Pride Bingo. Remember we all have to start somewhere, so being at the beginner’s level is nothing to be ashamed of. However, keep in mind that psychologically safe discussions are very important at this stage. You have to create an environment that fosters respect and curiosity without judgment. If you don’t manage to do this, it’s almost impossible to advance to the next level.

Intermediate Level – Allyship

Talking about queerness in the workplace for the first time and setting the tone for productive discussions is a big step. However, your organization will become stagnant if this is the only focus. When companies feel proficient in the basics, they usually advance to the next level: how to become better allies and champions. Typical actions taken at this level include training and subsequent discussions about mentorship and sponsorship basics, educating employees on why they might want to include pronouns in their email signature, and acknowledging LGBTQ+ representation on individual teams and committees. Other typical actions at this level might also include providing allyship stickers for employees to place in their work areas. Companies on this level might also be applying for or have been granted HRC recognition.

For many reasons, organizations tend to get comfortable at this intermediate level and never move beyond that. This might happen for a couple of reasons. Allyship tends to be an evergreen topic, meaning that it’s difficult for people to take part in “too many” well-designed allyship forums, so employees may never get sick of it. Also, as discussed in the next section, getting to an advanced level is rare. Since the levels are fluid, I also often see companies alternating between basic and intermediate events annually.

Advanced Level – Culture

I rarely see companies operating at the highest level—the advanced level. Organizations rise to this level when their ultimate goal is to incorporate LGBTQ+ belonging into their cultural DNA. This would include employees, customers, and even the broader society. The most advanced workplace Pride programming focuses on culture change and creating a culture of belonging. At this stage, the rainbow flags and lunch hour activities are underscored with engagement from the executive team. Intersectionality is also built into Pride celebrations.

Take a minute and plot your organization. Which level are you on?

Step 3: Understand What This All Means for Your Culture

The third and final step is to reflect on what your intentions and maturity level mean for your organization’s culture.

  • How much alignment exists?
  • Are your celebrations matching up with the level you are on?
  • Where are the opportunities for improvement?

To avoid rainbow washing, always honestly communicate precisely where you are in the process. And, don’t forget, all Pride celebrations should ultimately lead to more diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. No matter what level you are on, there’s never such a thing as too many below the surface interactions in Pride month.

So what will your organization’s 2022 Pride plans look like? Please leave a comment and let us know!

Want to continue the learning? Take our Pride Allyship Challenge! You can sign up here.

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Article originally posted on LinkedIn