Show your true colours

by Ben Barrett – Jul 06, 2022

We have just had Pride weekend in London and pride flags have been flying all over town – some in unexpected places.

When, in the last couple of weeks, the bowls club near me in East London hoisted the progress pride flag to flap joyfully in the wind, my jaw dropped as heavily as a bowling ball. Given the historic reputation of the club, I might have been less surprised to see them burning one – although the current management would probably be mortified to hear that.

This brought to mind my experience with some of the companies with whom we have worked. I’ve often been surprised to find that, behind the scenes, they are a lot more progressive than I originally thought – so why are so many hiding their lights under their proverbial bushels for most of the year?

Pride has changed over time from a grass-roots gay rights march to a parade celebrating diversity and pushing for the rights, support and understanding of a much broader spectrum of marginalised individuals. Now in its 50th year, corporates play a big part in the parade. There has been discussion among the community about the number of these – some of whom haven’t always had the best reputation for championing diversity – who might be in it just for a larger market share.

Companies and establishments may not always have got it right, but many are improving and some are now excelling – and not always the ones you’d expect. While rainbow-washing connotes empty-support (and there is certainly plenty of that to go around, especially every June), genuine visible allies are important – it shows that these organisations are now a more inclusive place and that they are open to the discussions needed for change. It also helps set the standard and expectation for those lagging behind.

And there is still work to be done. Stepping into an old-fashioned pub for a pint, many LGBTQ+ individuals question whether they will be safe, or have to deal with aggro or bigotry. My friend told me he has a code phrase that he and his boyfriend ask each other if they feel wary: “Is Andy here?” If the answer is a  breezy “No”, it means let’s make a sharp exit (because Andy is apparently now having a quiet drink at the bowls club). Pubs displaying a rainbow flag send a clear message that ‘Andy’ is in, and you are very welcome to stay.

Companies and institutions shouldn’t assume it’s obvious that they’re one of the good’uns (I refer back to the bowling club). Many individuals don’t feel as comfortable as you may think. Just as pubs can display their support to welcome punters through the door, organisations can demonstrate their support by openly welcoming communities through genuine stories of good practice and inclusion. Audiences and workforces demand higher standards these days, and good companies who are prioritising allyship and an inclusive culture, and who communicate that journey well, will stand out from their competitors.

I’m reminded of one guy’s T-shirt I saw around the time of the Brexit protests (let’s not reopen that wound). Clearly he felt aware of a need to be more overt that attitudes were not what they might first appear – it read “I’m not as gammon as I look”.

I think his name was Andy.

Published Jul 06, 2022

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