Diversity & Inclusion
Guest posts / LGBTQ / Social media / Workplace culture

Stop ‘rainbow washing.’ What to do before announcing LGBTQIA+ support on social media

Digital strategist Kenneth Hilario writes: First, consider whether your company’s internal systems and values align with the public support.

Pride. (Photo by Stephanie Ramones for Visit Philadelphia)

This guest post is a part of DEI Progress Month of Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.

This is a guest post by Kenneth Hilario, the director of content strategy at Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy in Philadelphia. It was originally published on Ceisler's website and is republished here with permission.

Another Pride Month, another month to say this out loud: Before announcing your organization’s support for the LGBTQIA+ community on social media, make sure the company’s internal systems and values align with the public support first.

All rules of communications strategies still apply when it comes to the social media rollout (content calendar, cadence, etc.). But it really does just come down to one thing: Do the work before sounding off on social media.

You better work

Before posting something about Pride Month or changing your corporate logo to include the colors of the rainbow, ask yourself this: Is our brand doing anything behind the scenes that supports the LGBTQIA+ community?

  • What tangible actions do we take to address issues affecting this community, both within our organization and within the community?
  • How do we use our platform to raise the profiles and well-being of our LGBTQIA+ staff and the community at large?

Transparency has become paramount and audiences are holding companies more accountable. This call for transparency — and authenticity — came to a boiling point around 2020 during and after the Black Lives Matter movement. (Oh, you announce that Black Lives Matter? What is your organization doing to make sure this community is being lifted?)

Running the risk of ‘rainbow washing’

If an organization is not taking any actions internally, then it runs the risk of being called out on social media for capitalizing on the communities that are meant to be protected. During Pride Month, this is called “rainbow washing,” or capitalizing on the LGBTQIA+ community without making any effort for change.

This very act was satirized in a 2021 post that went viral by actress and comedian Megan Stalter who plays a fictional butter shop owner touting their four-month inclusionary practices so they can sell product.

Case in point: I recently browsed the IKEA website and saw a rainbow-colored shopping-cart icon. I knew this wasn’t always this color, so I questioned their intentions and their support. But I did some digging and found their inclusionary practices like travel expense reimbursement related to gender-affirmation medical procedures.

I’m the director of content strategy at Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy, and I’m also a gay, cisgendered Asian man. I had no reservations writing about this topic for the firm because leadership created an environment in which people of all backgrounds can feel comfortable with being themselves.

They’ve been willing to work with employees to create an environment of belonging. For instance, changes have been made to make sure adoptive parents get the same level of treatment as biological parents.

This flexibility had a large impact on my gay colleague, who now has a beautiful 2-year-old baby girl who is currently really into balloons (as of publication). The adoption process comes with a lot of unknowns, but my colleague went from being childless on a Friday and then suddenly a father that Sunday. Ceisler Media expedited the parental leave process for him.

Double down on your support

I thought to myself: “Hasn’t the topic of ‘rainbow washing’ been written about before?” It has, yet companies continue to wave their Pride flags and quickly fall off the bandwagon when they receive pushback.

Here are a few examples this year alone: LA Dodgers, Bud Light and Target.

Their intentions are called into question — did these brands really support the community or were they capitalizing on them? The optics of it all show companies failing to live up to their alleged allyship.

And in the world of marketing and communications, isn’t optics the name of the game?

Part of that internal dialogue organizations should have is about how to respond to criticism. Walmart stood by their Pride Month merchandise as Target pulled theirs back amid backlash.

Companies that truly support the LGBTQIA+ community will double down. The community expects them to stand firm. Otherwise, those values on the company website are meaningless.

Columnist Rob Csernyik said it best in an op-ed in The Globe and Mail:

This year, companies should turn what have been comparatively empty statements into something more meaningful. That requires making a critical decision that embracing the true values of Pride is more important than avoiding the insults hurled from the peanut gallery. It also calls for exhibiting some backbone.

The LGBTQIA+ community’s lives are in danger, with legislation restricting and banning their very existence. Companies can pull down their rainbow flags on July 1, but the community lives it every day.

Be there for us every step of the way, not just one month a year.

Companies: Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy
Series: DEI Progress Month 2023

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