Beyond pinkwashing: how can businesses really support LGBTQ pride?

A conversation on “pride in the corporate world” reflects the growing recognition that businesses have a responsibility toward true inclusion and diversity

By Michiel Kolman, PhD - August 27, 2020
Corporate Pride panel
A panel on “Pride in the corporate world” was hosted by the Pride Business Club July 27 for Amsterdam Pride Week and broadcast live on Pride TV.

Recently, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion that was hosted by the Pride Business Club for Amsterdam Pride Week. Our conversation, which was broadcast live on Pride TV, was about “corporate pride” – in other words, the role and responsibility of business with respect to LGBTQ workplace pride and rights. I attended on behalf of Elsevier and Workplace Pride, the global network in support of LGBTQ workplace rights. My co-panelists were Sabine Kromowidjojo, Director of Organizational Effectiveness and Inclusion & Diversity for PVH Corp; Maartje Weijers, Head of Culture for Boomerang Agency; and Edwin Reinerie, Managing Director of Winq Media.

First, let me say that I was happy this year’s Amsterdam Pride Week included a discussion on “Pride and the corporate world.” This reflects an ever-growing recognition of the responsibilities of businesses and other organizations towards true inclusion and diversity in the workplace and beyond.

At the same time, however, we could elevate the discussion further and adopt a broader, more inclusive vocabulary to take workplace pride, diversity and inclusion to a higher level. The panel discussion was centred around gay men, and the terminology reflected that, with questions like, “Is Amsterdam Pride for the gays?” and “What are the views on gay marriage?” It would have been better to use more inclusive language so that other letters of the LGBTQ community would have felt part of the discussions. Moreover, talking about “marriage equality” would have emphasized that marriage is open to all, not only opposite-sex marriage.

The panel topics were based on a survey performed by Pride Amsterdam, Winq Magazine, and Motivaction. In rather lopsided fashion, survey questions and the subsequent discussion focused heavily on the role of the LGBTQ community as consumers. As a result, a somewhat generic “pinkwashing” debate took up quite a large chunk of our time. It is only right that this is a topic of firm debate, but corporate pride is about more than consumerism and the LGBTQ community as a target audience for companies.

In response to questions directed at me, I therefore tried to talk about the wider theme of being LGBTQ at work; we spend so much time in the workplace, and our jobs are so important in our lives. It is crucial that we can all be ourselves at our work, including LGBTQ colleagues – as well as other minority groups of course.

Representing Elsevier, naturally I was happy to share how our company addresses diversity and inclusion. For example, I emphasized the crucial and positive roles of Equality Allies at Elsevier, applauded our diversity and inclusion policy and active support from senior leadership, and underlined the important role of Pride chapters across Elsevier.

In an attempt to broaden the discussion further, I also described how companies can contribute to the international agenda, using a recent Workplace Pride event in Moscow as an example. Elsevier co-organized a similar event in Chennai, India, when homosexuality was still criminalized in India.

Circling back to what we’re doing at Elsevier to promote Inclusion & Diversity (I&D), it is important to mention that Pride is and should always remain part of a larger I&D context. We must emphasize solidarity through all lenses of diversity, whether it is around gender, disability, ethnicity, sexuality, or other strata.

Finally, I should make the point that only 20 percent of companies in the Netherlands have active I&D policies in place. I am proud that Elsevier is among this minority. But as a Workplace Pride co-chair, I shall fight for a significant increase to that percentage during my tenure and help willing organizations adopt and enact robust I&D policies!

Related stories and resources

Read about Inclusion & Diversity at Elsevier

Elsevier Pride launch group photo AB

Written by

Michiel Kolman, PhD

Written by

Michiel Kolman, PhD

Dr. Michiel Kolman is Senior VP of Information Industry Relations and Academic Ambassador at Elsevier. He is Past President of the International Publishers Association and IPA's Special Envoy for Diversity and Inclusion. He is the executive sponsor of Elsevier Pride and was listed two years in a row in the FT’s Top100 ranking of most influential LGBT senior executives. Michiel is currently co-chair of the Workplace Pride board, supporting LGBTI workplace inclusion. He is also vice-chair of the Accessible Books Consortium, addressing accessibility for the print-disabled, thus supporting inclusive publishing.

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