How to Build a More LGBTQ+ Inclusive Brand

Matt Bell-Watson   •   1 June 2020

Pride Month in June is about so much more than rainbows and parades. It’s a chance to remember the sacrifices made by those who fought for equal rights and acceptance. Both in the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 and the five decades since. It’s a chance to celebrate the contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals worldwide.

It’s also a key date for brands that want to show support for LGBTQ+ employees, customers and the wider community. Although LGBTQ+ allies are welcome, there is some scepticism. The recent trend for brands to slap a rainbow on products and marketing has led to calls of ‘rainbow washing’. It can seem disingenuous if brands fail to show support during the other 11 months of the year.

This year Pride Month will have a very different feel. Street parties, parades and concerts are not conducive with social distancing. Many offices and businesses remain closed. While the rainbow – the symbol of support for the NHS – has taken on a different meaning during the lockdown. Furthermore, the recent events in the US underline the need for greater inclusivity, acceptance and equality.

The fight continues. One in five LGBTQ+ workers has felt discriminated against at work in the UK in the last year. Many people, myself included, do not feel able to be open at all times. In the UK, most LGBTQ+ people avoid holding hands with same-sex partners in public. While one in three people avoid going to certain locations for fear of getting assaulted.

The support of allies continues to be vital. But this can be a minefield for brands. Businesses have faced criticism for appearing to commercialise Pride. Others for not going far enough to support and protect LGBTQ+ workers. For a lack of inclusivity in advertising or a failure to show support for all parts of the LGBTQ+ community. Some have even experienced boycotts for daring to become more inclusive.

Five Ways to Build a More LGBTQ+ Inclusive Brand

This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, I hope it provides some ideas for brands that are striving to become more inclusive. Through compassion for others, we can drive positive change.

1. Seek to understand

Your first step should be to increase your understanding of LGBTQ+ issues. Regardless of whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or an ally, it’s important to ask questions and listen. Consider asking staff and customers about their experience of your brand. Look to uncover the challenges and pain points they face. As well as benchmarking your performance, you may find ways to promote inclusivity.

2. Give support to unheard voices

Your business or industry may already have an LGBTQ+ employee group. In which case, find out who is leading it and see how you can work to support them. If not, consider forming an Inclusion Council to support all minority groups in your organisation. This can ensure that the views and concerns of all employees and audiences are being heard and represented.

3. Embrace best practice

LGBTQ+ rights charity, Stonewall, provides free advice on how to become more inclusive. Look out for best practice toolkits and resources that can help you to make positive changes.

Consider too the approach of other employers. Look at the best practice of organisations like Citi Bank, Pinsent Masons and Vodafone. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to support LGBTQ+ workers, this research can be inspiring.

4. Be aware of bias and stereotypes

The images used or not used by brands to tell stories are powerful. What you show or don’t show can have a great impact on employees and other priority audiences.

Last year, Channel 4 found that 3% of adverts feature the LGBTQ+ community. Many of these adverts centre on same-sex couples. Bisexual, gender fluid and transgender people are often overlooked.

Furthermore, many adverts rely on stereotypical images. Campaigns often feature the butch lesbian or camp gay man. While LGBTQ+ individuals are rarely shown as part of a family unit or in a positive light.

Brands must work to overcome the challenges of unconscious bias and stereotyping. Training can help to make staff more aware of the choices they make. More robust testing of campaign creative can help to pinpoint potential issues.

5. Be consistent

Brands must be consistent. If inclusivity is only surface-deep, it shows. To make it clear that you mean business, consider sharing goals, actions and results. This can help to prove your commitment to becoming more inclusive.

Taking action and changing behaviour may not be easy or without consequence. But striving to be more inclusive is something that you and your brand can take pride in.