Communications Best Practices for Pride that Brands Can Apply All Year

There is significant evidence that the groundswell of support for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs initiated by most companies in 2001 and 2002 had since ebbed in many organizations, with some eliminating DEI roles and even dismantling whole departments that were created just three years ago.

And most recently, amidst the current uncertain economy and political divisiveness, companies – such as Target, Kohls, Anheuser-Busch, and others – have now been deemed “woke capitalists” and are facing some backlash for their support of Pride and LGBTQ+ issues.

As Pride Month comes to a close, we asked some of our agency leaders to share their perspectives on what companies and brands have learned when communicating and demonstrating their support for the LGBTQ+ community – both during Pride Month and beyond. 

Should every brand be celebrating Pride Month in the future?

From the perspective of showing support for a marginalized population who likely makes up a portion of your customer base and employee population – yes. But the reality is far more nuanced than that, especially in situations where safety is a concern.

The decision to celebrate Pride Month (and any cultural event) should first be grounded in your brand strategy. For example, if Starbucks seeks to be a “third place” that brings people together, the decision to celebrate Pride is a no-brainer. Strategy should not only inform whether a brand engages in Pride activities but also how to engage – ranging from highly-visible sponsorships or product lines to the more subtle (but just as impactful) philanthropic work.

Regardless of social issue, brand builders need to think carefully about who they serve and what those audiences will be receptive to. Does public support for the LGBTQ+ community matter to your employees? Will customers appreciate it? Weigh the potential benefits of demonstrating visible support (i.e., increasing customer loyalty, employee engagement) vs. the potential risks (i.e., losing customers/employees, negative press).

What should companies keep in mind when planning how to support and celebrate observances like Pride Month internally?

It’s important to understand what will resonate best with your employees because there are many ways to celebrate and support these kinds of events and observances internally. During Pride Month you likely saw a range of examples from Pride-focused discussions and events to sharing resources on how to be a better ally, to volunteering with or donating to LGBTQ+ organizations. Find out how your employees want to celebrate and be sure to involve your teammates close to the issue (including your employee resource group members if you have one) and allies in the planning of both internal and external activities. Letting employees drive the efforts as much as possible will help ensure you’re supporting Pride in the most meaningful ways.

But beyond the celebrations, it’s also critical to make sure your company isn’t just talking the talk but walking the walk. Companies celebrating Pride most effectively were the ones who aligned with the company’s values and culture. Are you cultivating an environment that’s inclusive and makes all employees feel like they can be themselves at work? Do your employees feel supported, valued, and respected regardless of their race, gender or orientation? These questions are relevant well beyond Pride Month.  If you don’t have an inclusive culture, your celebrations won’t feel genuine – and ideally, you’ll want to be creating that culture of inclusivity and belonging throughout the year.

How should companies and brands demonstrate their support for observances like Pride Month and LGBTQ+ issues in the communities where they operate?

A company’s approach to Pride Month and LGBTQ+ issues is really no different than their approach should be for any social issue. First and foremost, it should be guided by an overarching strategy that is grounded in the organization’s mission, vision, and values, and should be authentic to who they are.

Specifically for Pride Month, it’s no longer acceptable to simply change a company’s logo to be rainbow colored in June and share a few social media posts showing support. The expectation is that corporations will demonstrate their support for their LGBTQ+ employees and customers not only during Pride but all year long. Before you make that logo swap, think about what you’re doing internally and externally to support LGBTQ+ stakeholders. What are you doing to help drive change? Do you have proof points to demonstrate your support?

It’s also important to note that social issues can be sensitive, sometimes polarizing topics, and when you take a stand, you run the risk of alienating those who don’t agree with you. And increasingly, some companies are facing negative public comments, calls for boycotts and even lost revenues for supporting some social issues. Before speaking out, make sure you’re “in it” for the long haul. Backpedaling after receiving negative comments can often do more damage to a company’s reputation than good.  

What should the role of a Human Resources Department play in determining how companies recognize Pride and other cultural events?

HR’s role is helping employees be seen, heard and recognized as individuals every day of the year. Pride Month and other observances present opportunities to reaffirm your company’s commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ employees, allies and diversity and inclusion overall.

Look to your employees to help organize local activities, events and celebrations, rather than having a top-down corporate approach.

It’s also important to ensure that fully remote employees feel included and supported, so plan a good mix of digital ways to celebrate and educate – such as hosting online conversations and events.

From a company policy perspective, consider multiple points of view to ensure that anything that is instituted company-wide is fair and equitable for all employees.

Padilla’s commitment to DEI is ongoing – and during the month of June, each office has held local celebrations, which include “lunch and learn” sessions. These facilitated conversations explore meaningful engagement during Pride Month and the role employees can play – not only as advisors to our clients, but as individuals. We encourage employees to support local businesses, restaurants and events that are connected to Pride Month and are LGBTQ+-friendly. Our Diversity + Inclusion Day of Service also offers employees one day off annually to perform community service related to DEI.  

Jeff Wilson, Perry Lowder, Sam Strader, Natalie Smith, Julie McCracken, Jennifer Toole and Maliya Rooney contributed to this post.

Related Posts: Our DEI Commitments: A Year In Review   DEI Initiatives: Best Practices for Engaging Employees Leading the Conversation on Health Equity Social Issues: 5 Factors to Consider when Taking a Stand Q&A: Pride at Padilla Padilla DE+I Collective: Q&A With Writer and International Relations Specialist Joan Erakit