Kate Barker muses on how companies might make meaningful, lasting change

BY KATE BARKER

It’s that time of year for businesses again. Rainbow flags have been tightly furled and packed away in a crate marked “Pride”. IT have swapped out the rainbow version of the company logo on the website and everyone agrees it looks a bit, well, drab now.

It’s true that questions have been asked about whose bright idea it was to print the date on the rainbow Hi-Vis vests. We could have used them again next year! But reflective clothing aside, directors up and down the land can report to the board that Pride month was a rip roaring success.

The box marked “inclusivity” has been ticked. That’s the company culture sorted. Or is it?

Of course, it’s a Good Thing that businesses are invested in changing their culture to become more in tune with the needs of the LGBTQI community but I wonder if we are doing ourselves any favours by gratefully going along with a corporate celebration that looks colourful in an annual review but doesn’t always address the real issues we face in the workplace. 

I’d go further and suggest that the quiet, meaningful cultural shift we need at work can be drowned out by a whoop-fest of drag and high camp fabulousness choreographed to queer classics pumped out from giant pink speakers on floats.

The frantic energy, pounding positivity and desperation to be seen to be taking part in Pride month with real gusto can be a mask that lets businesses off the hook for the other 11 months.

Complain to your manager about a laddish culture of “banter” that that makes you uncomfortable and they’ll look injured. “But look how we supported Pride month”, they’ll say.

Granted, a float carrying someone working at their desk enjoying equality of pay and opportunity, knowing they won’t be discriminated against and not feeling sick with anxiety about homophobic colleagues wouldn’t necessarily draw much of a crowd along London’s Old Compton Street. But cultural change is a serious business. We shouldn’t forget that once the latex pants with the holes cut out for your bum cheeks go back in your knicker drawer, there’s still the rest of the year to get through.

Cultural change isn’t always big and showy. It doesn’t wear a pink boa or need a whistle to announce its arrival. It’s thoughtful and significant and it means you can use a picture of your wedding as a screensaver without fear of recrimination.

Ultimately, a company’s culture is formed by its values and by the commitment of the people who work within that organisation to truly embrace them.

It’s great that a record number of businesses took part in Pride this year. We should applaud them and every one of our straight sisters and brothers who marched, danced, dragged and chanted colourfully on our behalf.

But remember to look beyond the glitter and hold them to account all year round. At the end of the rainbow is a company culture that defines how people act – even when no-one is looking.

This article first appeared in the September 2019 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!

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