The term rainbow washing is used today to describe the commercialization and commodification of LGBTQ+ movements, most notably Pride, celebrated throughout June every year. Increasingly, and with good intent, company brands are acknowledging Pride by changing their logo to rainbow colors throughout June. Many back that show of support with genuine and effective initiatives internally—and substantive support for the movement externally.
And yet, many companies capitalize on Pride month to fly the rainbow flag yet may not prioritize support for this audience throughout the remainder of the year. The LBGTQ+ community is aware of the companies that authentically advocate and support them, and those that may be simply nodding in their direction. And they are voting with their wallets.
In our first blog in this series, Propeller addressed why it’s important for companies to not only focus their efforts in June, but show support all year. In this second blog, and because we saw an uptick this past June in viral backlash for those companies who appeared to be “rainbow capitalists,” we offer up action items companies can take to shape genuine messaging that meets the needs of—and authentically connects with—LGBTQ+ audiences with consistency and permanence.
How can organizations demonstrate investment, accountability, and engagement with meaningful internal reform?
Propeller consultants offered up the following ideas and strategies for companies to show greater understanding, alignment, and support of their LGBTQ+ employees.
“Companies can start by listening and making a genuine effort to understand vs. make assumptions about how to best support their LGBTQ+ audiences. By promoting a culture of inclusion, ensuring protections and benefits are applied equitably, and consistently taking action through various initiatives and advocacy, companies can become more powerful allies.” - Shawn Rivera
“Make sure your employees know it is safe to be themselves. Allow them the freedom to be their full selves by demonstrating that you take pride in your diverse workforce by valuing more than their labor. You want them to thrive professionally and personally by having healthcare benefits that meet their needs and employment policies that are explicitly inclusive.” - Renae Roemmich
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LGBTQ+ consumers vote with their wallets
Increasingly, bold displays of queer language, imagery, and norms—in an effort to appear relatable—are not hitting the mark and can come across as tone-deaf. The LGBTQ+ audience is tuned into the cultural underpinnings of B2C companies; they do their research and they share information just like the next target demographic. Companies can proactively take research off the shoulders of this audience by making it clear the LGBTQ+ initiatives they support and for retail companies—the way you market brands from LGBTQ+ businesses.
For context, here is the process Propeller consultants go through to vet companies they give their business to—input that can help companies make adjustments if they wish.
"The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index has been an invaluable resource when deciding where to spend money. I appreciate companies that participate in this and are transparent about their policies and values, including operating in alignment with these values, and making this information more broadly available themselves.” - Shawn Rivera
"If a company produces a product for Pride month that I would be interested in buying, I do research about the company. Do they have queer people in positions of leadership within the company? Are they donating any of the profits they made off of their Pride merchandise to vetted organizations that will improve the quality of life for queer people? Do they do good year-round with meaningful partnerships and corporate responsibility, or are they just putting on a show during Pride month? Beyond that, I often try to buy Pride-themed products from smaller businesses or sole-proprietors who are vocally queer; I’d much rather give my money directly to a fellow queer person than a rainbow-washing mega-corporation who may or may not actually have my best interests at heart." - Joy Castiglione
“I pay attention year-round when there is news about a store or company that uses blatant discriminatory practices. Or, that is listed as a major financial backer for lobbyist groups or organizations actively pushing a policy that restricts the rights of the queer community. If this is a business that I regularly purchase from, I research my alternatives, and stop following them on social media.” - Renae Roemmich
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“Be real with us”
How can companies effectively and meaningfully communicate to the LGBTQ+ audience year-round? Where do companies start?
"I can think of all the ways brands try to communicate about how they are trying to be more 'green.' I would love a similar approach to learn about your brand's actions to be more "rainbow' friendly all year long. Start by knowing your policies are inclusive, clearly defined, and easily found to the extent they are a "value add" to prospective hires. This will only become more important with millennials and Gen Z increasingly identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community.” - Renae Roemmich
“Companies who can communicate that their actions are rooted in a genuine desire to be an ally and not simply for their own gain can reach their LGBTQ+ audiences much more effectively. Brand loyalty can also be strengthened when companies consistently show up and use their available platforms to advocate for those they support.” - Shawn Rivera
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A spirit of authenticity
We’ve relayed a retrospective analysis and ideas for how companies can take small to more strategic and wholesale moves for moving beyond a show of support only in June—when allyship is trendy. The LGBTQ+ audience is growing and they are worth getting to know. By taking simple steps to relay a genuine interest in what matters most to them, organizations can strike that spirit of authenticity that is always gratefully received and is just plain good business.
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