Beyond the rainbow: Elevating LGBTQ+ customer and employee experiencesby
Meg Coates, head of operations for Women in CX, discusses the need for genuine corporate allyship, the importance of authenticity and ways companies can improve the experiences of LGBTQ+ customers and employees.
In 2021, as the newly minted Community Manager at Women in CX, I authored my first article, ‘The rainbow profits’, exploring Pride, the LGBTQ+ community, and the pitfalls of superficial corporate support. Two years on, now the Head of Operations at WiCX, I see the need for genuine corporate allyship has never been more urgent for improving both customer and employee experience.
According to a 2022 GLAAD study, 70% of LGBTQ+ individuals faced unjust treatment and discrimination, a rise of 24% from 2020. The figure was even higher for BIPOC members of the LGBTQ+ community, with 61% reporting micro or macro aggression discrimination in the past two years.
Businesses need to be proactive rather than simply performative in supporting the LGBTQ+ community. It's not enough to just market inclusively with branded slogan tees and rainbow products during Pride. It's more important that actions reflect the words.
But with only 3% of leadership roles in CX identifying as LGBTQ+ according to the CXPA, where are the queer voices of influence?
Some positive strides have been made
NatWest offered equal parental leave for all parents regardless of how their child is conceived, benefiting all parents. Aldi provided allyship training to its UK managers to better support minority groups. Companies like Starbucks India and Adidas have started featuring trans models, and stories and brands like Nike and Budweiser have also worked with trans influencers in their marketing campaigns.
Given that future Gen Z customers and employees – who are twice as likely to identify as queer – consider diversity and inclusion paramount when job hunting and selecting brands, LGTBQ+ inclusion is becoming more important than ever.
However, there are also serious concerns
Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has seen a worrying surge in the USA, with 417 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced since January 2023, a significant increase from the previous year. These bills primarily target the education and healthcare sectors, making young LGBTQ+ individuals particularly vulnerable. Simultaneously, several popular brands have come under fire for using transgender or gender-fluid people in their advertising or for rolling out products that defy traditional gender norms.
It’s clear that businesses have a significant role to play in promoting inclusivity and respect for LGBTQ+ individuals, ultimately improving customer and employee experience but ‘why’ this is important and ‘how’ to create positive change requires further exploration…
What is Pride and why is it important?
Pride is a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, honouring the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the Gay Rights movement. It appreciates the contributions and accomplishments of queer people across time.
The difficulty in understanding the LGBTQ+ community stems from societal norms that assume everyone is heterosexual and cis-gendered – identifying with the sex assigned at birth. This assumption can lead to feelings of exclusion and confusion for LGBTQ+ individuals. Pride is accessible and therefore a somewhat easier focal point for many to recognise this ingrained bias and take the first step towards embracing diversity.
Authentic allyship begins with acknowledging individual worldviews and realising that we all experience the world differently.
But authentic allyship begins with acknowledging individual worldviews and realising that we all experience the world differently. It involves listening to others and creating space for diverse experiences.
Why authenticity is important
Effective LGBTQ+ allyship for businesses goes beyond launching a Pride campaign. Genuine allyship should be a year-round effort, featuring advertisements with LGBTQ+ narratives and ensuring a welcoming experience for all customers and employees.
Understanding your LGBTQ+ customers and employees is critical to avoid mistakes. Successful customer and employee experiences begin with research – understanding their needs, wants, and goals and so often, LGBTQ+ people are excluded.
Companies are making efforts towards diversity, but sometimes execution falls short. For instance, making “Are you trans?” a mandatory question within a job application could be off-putting and contribute to a negative perception of the company's inclusiveness, not to mention errors like labelling a non-binary t-shirt specifically for men or women.
Improving requires inclusive, non-exclusionary language in surveys and hiring processes. Options for gender should be diverse, including an option to self-identify and a “Prefer not to answer” choice. This consideration is particularly important as not all LGBTQ+ individuals are comfortable or certain about disclosing their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Where to start?
Companies can take several steps to improve the experiences of both LGBTQ+ customers and employees:
Inclusive policies: Develop inclusive policies that protect LGBTQ+ employees from discrimination and harassment. This could include non-discrimination policies, equal benefits, and accommodating transgender employees and customers.
Training and education: Provide diversity and inclusion training to all staff members. This should educate employees on LGBTQ+ issues, teach them how to prevent discrimination and harassment, and promote understanding and acceptance.
Support groups: Encourage or establish employee resource groups (ERGs) for LGBTQ+ staff. These groups can provide a supportive environment, opportunities for networking, and can advise management on LGBTQ+ issues.
Representation: Ensure LGBTQ+ employees are represented at all levels, including management and executive roles and in research.
Inclusive marketing: Make sure marketing and advertising efforts reflect the diversity of your customer base. This can show LGBTQ+ customers that they are valued and welcomed.
Community involvement: Show your support for the LGBTQ+ community outside the workplace. This could involve sponsoring Pride events but also advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, or supporting LGBTQ+ charities.
Listening and responding: Keep open lines of communication to understand and respond to the needs of LGBTQ+ employees and customers. Use feedback to continually improve your inclusivity efforts.
Intersectional inclusion: Recognise that LGBTQ+ individuals can also belong to other marginalised groups, such as racial and ethnic minorities or people with disabilities. Ensure your inclusivity efforts take an intersectional approach.
By making these efforts, companies can help create a more inclusive and accepting environment that benefits all customers and employees.
If you’re not making your spaces safe for LGBTQ+ employees and customers, if your company's leadership and representation are lacking in diversity, then you’re simply not being an ally. Being an ally is about active support, understanding and most importantly, it’s about consistency.
Being an ally is about active support, understanding and most importantly, it’s about consistency.
The road to becoming a better ally is not easy. It involves recognising and unlearning our biases and implementing actionable and continuous support for the LGBTQ+ community.
But remember, your heart is in the right place. All that’s left is for your actions to align with your intentions. Make the necessary changes and take a stand for inclusivity, not just during Pride month, but all year round.
When your company stands by its values and “walks the walk”, the LGBTQ+ community will recognise and appreciate it. We’re a fiercely loyal community and we’ll support brands that genuinely care about us.
I believe that together, we can create a more inclusive and understanding world. A world where everyone can be their authentic selves, both as employees and customers.
So, let’s start walking the walk and creating better, more inclusive customer and employee experiences. The future of business depends on it.