In this extended episode in celebration of LGBT History Month, host Julia Streets is joined by Dr Daniel Conway, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster, and Jack Guest, Diversity & Inclusion Lead, Global Wealth & Personal Banking at HSBC. They start the discussion by charting the social and political history of PRIDE, then discuss the varied perspectives on the”corporatisation” of PRIDE. A complex topic, together they consider the realities, opportunities and challenges of promoting LGBTQ+ rights around the world. They discuss the varying degrees of acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ+ employees, how organisations can play a role in delivering international best practice, building and supporting communities, engaging with policy change and challenging homophobia. The discussion extends yet further to explore the importance of the intersectionality of PRIDE, comparing and evaluating the difference between sponsorship and advocacy, and why businesses must live up to the values they are claiming.
Dr Daniel Conway
Dr Daniel Conway is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster. Daniel's research specialises in feminist approaches to International Relations, queer theory and the politics of LGBTQ+ rights and activism. In 2018-19, he held a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship on 'The Global Politics of Pride: LGBTQ+ Activism, Assimilation and Resistance', and conducted fieldwork in South Africa, India, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, the US and Cuba. Daniel has published articles on gender and LGBT rights struggles in South Africa, homophobia as a political discourse and consumer boycotts against apartheid. He is the author of the books 'Migration, Space and Transnational Identities: The British in South Africa' (with Pauline Leonard, 2014, Palgrave Macmillan) and 'Masculinities, Militarisation and the End Conscription Campaign: War Resistance in Apartheid South Africa' (2012, Manchester University Press). Daniel is currently writing a book on The Global Politics of Pride. Daniel has a BA (Hons) in History and Politics from the University of Exeter, an MA with Commendation in International Relations from the University of Bristol and a PhD in Politics from Rhodes University, South Africa. He has held visiting research fellowships at Goldsmiths, University of London, University College London and the University of Cape Town.
Jack Guest leads Wealth & Personal Banking’s programme to support HSBC’s vision of a true merit-based environment in which all employees can contribute and succeed regardless of personal diversity, and that HSBC’s customers have fair and equal access to products and services. As a founding member of Asia-Pacific’s LGBT network Pride in 2012, Jack has personally driven the inclusion agenda both internally and externally at HSBC, ensuring HSBC’s placement as #1 in Financial Services in Community Business’ Hong Kong Best Place to Work for LGBT+ Index in 2019. Jack is HSBC Global Pride Co-chair and in 2016, was named Inclusion Champion of the Year by Community Business. Jack has substantial customer experience, having specialised in providing financial expertise to expatriate customers seeking international mortgages and financial advisory services. Before that, Jack worked in various roles with HSBC in the UK, spanning Retail Banking, Commercial Banking and more. Jack joined HSBC in the UK in 2006 and was subsequently brought into the Management Academy Programme which exposed him to a wide range of banking experience and opportunities.
Series Ten, Episode Three Transcript
Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets, and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about equality, inclusion, and diversity in financial services. On the podcast we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus and offer lots of ideas to help drive change.
Before we get started today, I just wanted to take a moment to thank our friends at CityAM for their continued support of DiverCity Podcast, publishing and promoting both our episodes and our supporting blog posts, so their readers can stay on top of the very latest D&I debate. You may want to check out CityAM’s. own podcast called the City View for all the latest news and opinion from the City because we at DiverCity Podcasts are huge fans. Today I’m delighted to be joined by Dr. Daniel Conway and Jack Guest.
Dr. Daniel Conway is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster. His research specialises in feminist approaches to international relations, queer theory, and the politics of LGBTQ+ rights and activism. Now, his research, the global politics of pride, LGBTQ+ activism, simulation and resistance was basically conducted around the world in countries, including South Africa, India, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, the US and Cuba. It’s not surprising that he is widely published and a very respected commentator. We’re delighted you’re here today, Daniel wonderful, you could join us. Thanks for joining.
Daniel: Hi Julia, great to be here.
Julia: Joining Daniel today, I’m also delighted because we’re joined by Jack Guest, who’s the diversity and inclusion lead at the Global Wealth and Personal Banking business at HSBC. There he thinks about building true merit based environments, which all employees can contribute and succeed, but also thinking about this through a customer lens, thinking about customer products, customer services, and customer relationships as well. He’s a founding member of the Asia Pacific LGBT Network Pride and he’s personally driven inclusion agenda both internally and externally. We’re delighted you’re here, Jack great to have you on the show.
Jack: Thrilled to be here Julia.
Julia: Where we begin every episode is to ask you both what you’re focused on, what are you up to right now? Daniel, let me come to you first of all, what are you particularly focused on?
Daniel: I was really struck that most of the research on Pride has been done in Western contexts. And in recent years they’ve been growing criticisms of Pride by queer activists. So I was really interested to see how Pride occurs in other global contexts and as you mentioned, I went to lots of different places, including China, South Africa, and also New York. I interviewed Pride organisers, LGBTQ+ activists, undertook ethnographic research at Pride parades, and also interviewed corporate diversity and inclusion professionals. I’m particularly interested in how pride events occur across the world, the similarities and differences and points of control of controversy. I’ve also been interested in the role of the business community in Pride and this is a consistent theme in my research and it’s something I’m writing about at the moment.
Julia: Well, I’m looking forward to delving into lots of that because we have listeners in 22+ I think it is countries around the world. So the international dynamics that you’re going to earn and perspectives you’re going to offer today, you’re going to be very resonant with the audience who are all thinking about what is a corporate relationship? Fantastic. Wonderful. I can’t wait to get into it. Jack, let me ask you the same question, what are you focused on right now?
Jack: For us it’s consistency. I think that there’s been a lot of great progress in the corporate space around LGBT inclusion, whether having really successful Pride chapters. I’ve seen in the UK and in Asia and the introduction of a lot of insurance propositions and customer propositions that are a lot more inclusive, but we must focus harder on making sure that this isn’t an equal experience for customers in as many countries as possible where we operate. It’s picking up on all the great things that have been done in certain markets and applying that consistency to wherever we can.
Julia: This is fascinating because the question of best practice comes up a lot in terms of corporate structures, corporate policies, corporate behaviours, but of course the international dynamics are very, very specific. And what is the role of a corporate in driving change in environments that are perhaps not particularly welcoming or indeed appreciative of the value of LGBT employees? So fascinating. Well, I can’t wait to get into this as well. Let’s first of all, just for the benefit of all the audience as well, think about the history of Pride, if we may. Daniel, I’m going to come to you first of all, if you would. I just want you to just give us a bit of background information about the history of Pride, its original purpose, and then we can take the discussion from there.
Daniel: The first Pride march was held in 1970, in New York to commemorate the Stonewall Riots that occurred on June the 28th, of the previous year. As I’m sure many of your listeners know the Stonewall Riots occurred outside the Stonewall Inn protesting against homophobic harassment by the police. There been some gay and lesbian organising prior to the Stonewall Riots, but what characterise these protests in the 1950s and ’60s was a desire to be seen as respectable, normal and non-threatening to broader American society. The limited protests that did take place had, for example, strict dress code, so people were told to wear a suit and tie and women were told to wear a dress.
Pride was completely different to this, much more bold, defiant, colourful, using humour, street theatre with people displaying their bodies, kissing, making sexual references, being very visible. Participants really being at the centre of pride and only Prides in Los Angeles and San Francisco also had floats. Then in 1978, Gilbert Baker, who’d been in the anti-Vietnam peace movement and was active in the San Francisco gay drag activist group, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. He designed the rainbow flag as an LGBT symbol, and this was of course adopted by Pride parades internationally up to today.
Very early on Pride assumed the model, but we’re familiar with a parade, a focus on being proud and open about being LGBT, being visible, building community, also having a party, using the rainbow flag and seeking to challenge and change homophobic social and cultural attitudes towards the LGBT community. Pride is regularly seen as a rite of passage, as a gay Christmas and as the most important site of LGBT activism, visibility and community building. Significantly, and I think very relevant for our discussion today, there were tensions and controversies from the start.
For example, white gay men played a prominent role in organising the first Pride parades, much more prominent than lesbians or people of colour or transgender people. There were debates about the balance between celebration and protesting for political or legal demands and about the role of business and other institutions at Pride from the beginning.
Julia: It is fascinating because this comes up, what is the ideal balance to doing celebration versus protest, for example, and then also the corporate relationship as well. And of course, when we talk about the corporate relationship, it makes perfect sense to bring in Jack at this point, because I know HSBC as indeed have many, many financial institutions around the world as well. have been very actively involved with Pride as well. Tell us about HSBC, when does it date back to, and what was the initial intention when it came to supporting Pride?
Jack: A good way to contextualise this is kind of my experience as an employee of HSBC and how I learnt about Pride in the first place. I was fortunate because I was able to join the bank when I was 19 straight out of college after doing science, that’s served me very well. I was in a local branch in the UK, in my local hometown and I’ve been pretty privileged that I’ve been able to be out, pretty early on in my career I came out as a gay man, and if anything that helped me reinforce my identity and position myself in people’s minds within the organisation. There was a group called GLOBE, which was gay and lesbians at HSBC, but I was not a member of it and I didn’t know much about it.
It was not a required resource for me at that time. In 2011, I got the opportunity to move to Hong Kong and immediately it became obvious that that safe environment and that ability to be out at work was simply not available for the vast, vast majority of the LGBT community in Hong Kong and Asia Pacific. I was able to set up Pride with some other colleagues in 2011 to kind of start to fix that and to bring more consistency across the experience of the LGBT employee, were it in the UK or any other parts of HSBC’s operations.
Julia: Which makes it a lot of sense and thinking about how the sort of relationship has changed with corporate. So it’s fascinating you talk about the regional aspect of going out to Hong Kong as well, I’m very keen to kind of think about this in the context of the corporatisation of pride as well. Daniel, I mentioned in the opening references about the research that you’ve done throughout your career as well. Is there some academic research about the corporate involvement in Pride and are there, perhaps, criticisms of being levied at corporates about their involvement that we should be very mindful of?
Daniel: It’s an interesting question. What struck me is that published academic research on the corporatisation of pride is still quite limited, but most research on Pride generally, identifies business alongside other institutional involvement such as by the police or the military as key sites of tension at Pride parades across the world. A recent book on Pride parades in the US by Katherine McFarland Bruce found that tensions about corporate involvement were evident from the early 1970s with debates taking place in US gay magazines between activists, some of whom wanted business involvement and others didn’t because they viewed business as being part of homophobic American society or they came from an anti-capitalist perspective.
But in her research she interviewed people in small Pride parades across America and McFarland Bruce found that although Pride participants she surveyed were aware of tensions and sometimes ambivalent about corporate sponsorship of Pride. On balance, she found that they accepted it as part and parcel of putting on a Pride parade and they would rather Pride happen and then they recognise that it made it a bigger event. Similarly, another US academic Lauren Joseph has argued the business sponsorship of Pride is usually comes at the behest of LGBT employees themselves and that participation by employers in Pride can be very meaningful to them, as well as obviously demonstrating business support.
That being said, research that’s been done on LGBT employees of large corporations, including some of the research I’ve done has found that whereas employees can be very committed to supporting Pride they can also sometimes be aware and frustrated at where the line between sponsorship and advocacy is drawn. When businesses willing to speak out on legal or political issues and when they’re not, and of course businesses can adopt a very different public statement depending on which territory they’re operating in. This can sometimes come as a surprise and a disappointment to LGBT employees when they’re posted to a different territory.
Academics have expressed concern on what the commercialisation of Pride has done to its representativeness, the kinds of messages and politics it displays, and the potential to obscure marginalised and disadvantaged members of the LGBT community. And that there’s a sort of a more general sort of critique of the LGBT community being viewed as just a new and lucrative market for businesses. Sometimes those same businesses not being willing to stand up the LGBT community and legal and political terms what has been perceived as needed.
And so, for example, some research in the US has found that US corporations can be heavily involved in Pride, but have also made campaign donations to homophobic US politicians has been charges of contradictions there. Just some specific examples, a book from about 2008 by Lisa Ward writing about Los Angeles Pride, documents how us LA Pride became bigger, more prominent. The original organisers of LA prior to were LatinX and working class LGBT people were marginalised and were marginalised by much more business focused whites, upper-class LGBT organisers and pride became a much more corporatised space that marginalised the original organisers were from working class and people of colour communities.
Similarly, the writer and activist, Sarah Schulman has written how she’s concerned with how LGBT activism and advocacy has become what in her terms is gentrified and increasingly populated by white, economically and educationally privileged people who tend to only think and act on behalf of themselves and people who are like them. So by implication, she’s critical of business involvement and Pride for changing the character of pride and deradicalising it from her perspective. And of course in civil society more broadly, there have sometimes been sharp and very open critiques of the corporatisation of Pride.
I think sometimes having ticketed events, a move towards a sort of music festival model by some Prides, having very formalised parades with strict running orders, events based on the sponsorship of alcohol companies or armaments manufacturers have all raised concerns about the aims of Pride and who it might include or exclude. For example, the reclaim Pride movements argues businesses should play no part in Pride. They also argue the police should play no part and there was a queer liberation march in New York in 2019 that attracted over 45,000 people.
There have been similar protests against the corporatisation of pride by queer activists and anti-capitalist activists, the cities, including London, Toronto, and Johannesburg. So it’s a sort of key issue that’s debated I think in broader civil society and increasingly in academia as well.
Julia: Daniel, that’s enormously helpful. I don’t think I could think of anybody that could set up the entire spectrum of conversation and concern and celebration so succinctly just a matter of minutes and you’ve covered everything in terms of their considerations around cost of putting on enormous events, then also the importance of wholesale widespread inclusion and everything that sits in between thinking about corporate agendas and policies, etc, as well.
Jack, I didn’t expect for a second of you to be the voice of the corporate world entirely. However, I’d love to hear your point of view actually from a corporate perspective about, there is a value and importance in having the corporates involved as well. And also taking it a little bit further on into how corporate sponsorship has created acceptance and inclusion of the LGBT employees within the world of financial services. I’d love your thoughts on that.
Jack: I think Dr. Conway brings up some really, really valid and quite important points both on the positive side of corporate advocacy, as well as some of the pitfalls and traps that I think that we can all find ourselves in. He raised the point that quite often, internal advocacy and corporate advocacy for LGBT inclusion is almost always driven by LGBT employees within those organisations who want and identify the power that a brand and an organisation can have to help advocate and to help progress the conversation and shine a spotlight on LGBT people in the communities.
But I also think that he’s quite right in saying that previously, and I would still say today, the majority and there is an over exposure of white gay men driving a lot of these things within organisations, I, myself as a white gay man has noticed that. I was able to use that as an opportunity when I first moved to Hong Kong, but certainly it’s been in my mind right from the beginning that it’s not for me to own fully and that actually, yes, I can use my role and privilege to open up the conversation and to start getting that moving. But I have to put a lot of concerted effort to make sure that those who have previously been underexposed get to follow in my footsteps and are proactively encouraged to take more visible roles of advocacy and of course, more visible opportunities in the organisations as well. I think Dr. Conway also brings up the very important point about making sure that things are done with the right intentions, but also that are followed up with the right actions. Corporate advocacy and sponsorship of LGBT inclusion must be done from a base of credibility.
It is disingenuous for organisations to join the race as it is seen right now for LGBT advocacy from a brand perspective without getting their own house in order and without making sure that the experience that their employees and customers are addressed, so that they can go into the public sphere with credibility. I think that’s the most important thing. We’ve seen brands that have entered into the public space with advocacy that have failed because they’ve been very clearly and rightfully called out for not living up to the values that they’re supposedly supporting.
Julia: I think that was a fascinating point that was made earlier about whilst actively lobbying certain recognised homophobic dignitaries in the world of politics. For example, everybody talks about the importance of inclusion and everybody talks about the importance of authenticity and culture. And of course it has to be embedded right the way down the organisation, so it feels very important, authentic and owned.
But also, if I may just pick up on another comment about visibility, which is by encouraging others from right the way across the spectrum of intersectionality to come forward and take more prominent positions in a way that they feel comfortable, because actually it sends a massive message to have role models out visible and also to be championing corporate change, positive culture, and also supporting each other as well and I think it’s incredibly important as well. Well, thank you both so much for your thoughts on that.
I do want to just sort of remain on this topic of intersectionality, it is incredibly important as we’ve just discussed as well. Then I think about particularly Black Pride in the UK, and I think also about the importance of including other groups, such as LGBT employees with disabilities, thinking particularly about the trans community as well. I wonder Jack if we could stay with you on this one, is there an even level of representation of the L, the G, the B and the T within Pride? What changes should we bring in to make this more inclusive and even better?
Jack: Well, I think the answer clearly is no, I think that we’ve noticed that there’s been a lack of visibility and support for the bisexual and the trans community. The trans quite often get the brunt of a lot of the abuse that the LGBT community faces and the bi community clearly is often really not talked about, or even people address it quite flippantly in the fact that, well, they can just hide it, which is clearly the wrong approach to go. The role of corporates and making sure that, that conversation is held equally is to identify that, to put the hands up and have that mea culpa moment and say, okay, we’ve got to the point where we are.
We have successful Pride chapters, we’ve got networks, and we’ve been able to have this fundamental conversation about sexual orientation and gender identity. However, where are the areas that we really need to put additional focus on? The reason being those who would normally take up the role to speak about their own experience are still very much oppressed and underrepresented and don’t have the confidence and security that the G and the L population of LGBT quite often have because of decades of exposure.
So we have got a long way to go in a very short amount of time to really lift up the B, T and everybody else of the sexual orientation and gender identity, minority or everybody we’re grouping into that plus at the end of LGBT now, to really fill in the gaps and colour out the rest of the community and to make sure that they are seen as much a part of the LGBT community as the usual suspects have been over the past several decades.
Julia: Daniel, let me bring you in here just kind of to remind us about, really why this matters? So our listeners might be sitting there saying yes, absolutely and principle, completely agree with everything that Jack just said. Talk to us about why this really matters, particularly in the world of Pride.
Daniel: I think intersectionality is really important as for the reasons Jack outlines. It’s a key criticism made by, for example, the Reclaim Pride movement, that Pride too often presents a world of privilege, of success, of a white world and of a world where homophobia is over that the focus on celebration has sort of edged out raising important issues around homophobia and certain groups. Thinking about Black Pride, for example, UK Black Pride was organised because it was felt London Pride was too white and the organisers weren’t listening to black and ethnic minority activists and Trans Pride, for example, which takes place in the UK, Brighton each year, has organised for similar reasons.
I think there’s an interest in debate when we focus on corporate involvement in private intersectionality. For example, in my research, I came across Pride organisers who were worried about the kinds of bodies that were put on display on floats, would they appeal to sponsors? Would they look the right kind of way? And I think exactly those kinds of perceptions and decisions are things that then lead to intersectionality, not being thought about and people aren’t perceived to have the right look, the right race or something that’s perceived to be appealing, being edged out.
Similarly, I think it’s important to think about LGBTQ+ people who are economically marginalised, such as the homeless, certain migrant groups and there have been criticised that they have also been marginalised in mainstream Pride parades for not quite fitting the right message. I think Pride obviously has to keep a focus on celebration on its roots in humour and its roots of street theatre, but it also has to incorporate intersectionality and racial, genders and also economic terms as well.
Julia: It’s interesting that your parting note was on economic terms because Jack, we were talking earlier about, your look at the world through the customer lens of the customer relationship and these are all potential customers of financial services firms in some way, shape or form. I know you’re keen to come in here, so, please I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Jack: I think Dr. Conway’s point and some of the criticisms that he’s raised up that are addressed to corporate advocacy of Pride are entirely justified and I think is something that we all need to take into account, as we have a look at the way that we use our brands and indeed the way that we use our sponsorships. There are valid criticisms of the way that organisations have sponsored these and some of the way that large scale corporate sponsorship of Pride events have changed it. And I think that as organisations have a look at the way that they are using their brands to represent and indeed looking to evolve their position of advocacy of LGBT and understand the nuances and all the different areas of the community that have not had the representation realise the value in understanding those different perspectives.
The reason that organisations advocate for diversity and inclusion, fundamentally, is for diverse perspectives and more robust decision-making and to reach more communities and customers. We’ve done that reasonably well with the L and the G community, but we have much further to go to understanding the benefits that even more marginalised groups can bring to all those conversations.
Julia: Daniel, you were talking earlier about asylum seekers, refugee communities and it sort of makes me sort of think very much about the conversation we were having. I think at the beginning of the show about the international point of view is what, and you both clearly from very different perspectives have international sort of experiences and perspectives too. I’d really like to sort of move the conversation on just a notch if you would, to think about this from a worldwide perspective, it’s a big briefing in a relatively short period of time.
When we think about the Pride events around the world and different approaches, different extents, different appreciation of the value and indeed different attitudes to how welcome these events may or may not be as well. Jack, I’d love to think about Pride in different parts of the world. Every time I think Reykjavik and I said, where sponsors were prevented from displaying logos at a march. They’re featured instead on the website and ads magazines or different sorts of approaches to branding, if you like.
The reason is to keep the focus on the cause of what has been achieved and what is yet to be won. I’m just asking your thoughts on, after the challenges, the risk of not becoming too mainstream vs the corporate perspective and point of view, as we were discussing earlier, love to hear your thoughts about regional and global perspective.
Daniel: I think as we all know, there are incredible diverse experiences towards the LGBT population around the world and the legislative and cultural challenges that exist are very real, very real. For organisations to truly understand how they can make a difference and what their comfort levels are, they really must understand what the legal red lines are. For a long time when we were working with markets, say for in India, China, and so on and so forth, the assumption was that you couldn’t talk about LGBT. It wasn’t allowed, it was forbidden and in some cases, a lot of people said, it’s illegal to talk about it.
When actually in reality, if you have a look at the legal details 377 is not a law about discussing or promoting sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s a lot more basic than that, which means that organisations shouldn’t fear the law so much in many countries, but what they do need to do it, as I say is understand those red lines, take steer from the global positioning and the very strong support that should be coming from the top and have confidence that there is opportunities to make an impact and a lot of these markets that are underrepresented.
I will also caveat that there are limitations as well. Organisations and businesses are outcome driven. They are not always the moral light holder, they are ultimately capitalist organisations and have a fine line to tread between what is in the possibility of advocacy and some of the real obstacles that are present in some of these markets.
Julia: Very balanced view and I mean I’m pausing for thought with every word you say about how do you navigate that balance as an organisation as well? I think particularly,I take one country, but this is just one simple example of a country like Uganda, where there is opposition to actually hosting Pride and hosting Pride is seen as very much a political motivated statement as well. Daniel I’d love to get your thoughts on this in terms of, as you look out into the world today. Again, this balance within commercial sponsorship and the role of financial institutions and what they can do to pick on Jack’s comment about advocacy, what can they be doing to really drive change in those countries?
Daniel: It’s a really important point and it’s a good question. And I think it is a very complex sort of answer to all of that and it very much is based on how Pride is organised, where the Pride is used as a useful vehicle. For example, you mentioned Uganda Pride and ULGA Africa doesn’t consider Pride as the most useful activist platform across Africa because just holding a Pride at all is so challenging. Actually corporate involvement is viewed as a potential opportunity in that context. If I think elsewhere, so I went to Shanghai Pride, for example, where there was no parade because holding a march is unlawful in mainland China and in Shanghai businesses were very much used as cover for the different events of the Shanghai Pride.
The events were held very much behind closed doors, often either it’s an international hotel chain, or when I was there GE held a large event for Shanghai Pride at their corporate campus in Shanghai, also the diplomatic community held events and film screenings, etc. But it was felt by the organisers of Shanghai Pride that the language of corporate diversity and inclusion and the language of the business case of LGBT inclusion was one that would be more likely to be listened to by the Chinese authority than an expressly human rights language and this was less confrontational for the authorities.
It was viewed that corporate involvement with providing a cover and an opportunity for events to take place and be maybe a message that would be listened to. Now thinking about Shanghai Pride, there were criticisms of it for the same reasons that we’ve talked about, that it privileged middle-class and professional and expatriate people over maybe some local communities. The second thing to think about is that even with that cautious and I think quite considered approach, over time harassments of the organisers of Shanghai Pride has increased to the extent to which it’s not likely to happen again in the foreseeable future.
The organisers decided to call a halt, now am aware that international businesses in that context are continuing to do work around diversity and inclusion. But it strikes me, as interesting as that encompasses both the opportunities and the drawbacks and some of the difficult decisions that have to be made. I think businesses can certainly raise awareness and visibility when they’re involved in Pride internationally, but they can also be quite cautious about calling for legal and political change.
I recognise that it’s a very difficult judgement call, but I also think that businesses will very often lobby around political issues relating to tax, migration, even if it’s in the UK Brexit, so very sensitive political issues. I wonder that sometimes they can be too cautious around LGBT issues internationally. I think that’s something to think of, particularly for financial institutions considering their considerable power across the world.
Julia: That is a very thoughtful moment to bring in Cynthia at this point as I know she has plenty of research to support today’s discussion.
Cynthia: In 2012, a group of individuals formed London LGBT+ Community Pride, a registered community interest company, and the company organised the Pride in London festival and parade in 2013. The organisation was awarded a contract to organise Pride in London by the Greater London Authority together with funding of 500,000 pounds over five years. Fast forward to 2019, where the headline sponsors for Pride in London, 2019 included financial services, such as Barclays Bank, Citibank and Prudential.
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I’m really fascinated by this whole conversation about branding. I am a business development, marketing comms professional in the City, the clients all over the world think about the importance of the brand, but have noticed that some companies have arguably de-gayed their branding, the floats, for example, at Pride, not mentioning necessarily LGBT+ but just branding it as Pride. I wonder why this conversation is a corporatisation of Pride, and there’s a lot of discussion last year about the LGBT M&S sandwich and whether that has just perhaps gone a step too far. Daniel, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the importance of the branding and also the association.
Daniel: Thinking through things like the rainbow M&S sandwich is a really interesting point and it’s an important one and it’s a difficult tension to resolve. I mentioned before that Gilbert Baker had designed the original LGBT flag and he was very clear that he was happy for it to be used by anyone and everyone and we know he endorsed businesses to use it because he wanted to raise LGBT visibility. From this perspective, having brands and projects changed to rainbow colours during Pride month and so on really does raise visibility.
However, I also agree with critics of this, that say using the rainbow on everything and on projects everywhere can really reduce its meaning and erase, not just the sort of thinking about the history of Pride on what issues it was based on. But also marginalising ongoing challenges around homophobia, so it can make people think we’re just celebrating equality and there’s no more challenges and homophobia doesn’t exist. I think that’s a problem as well. And I think businesses should be sensitive about the audience they’re speaking to, who’s speaking on behalf of whom.
They shouldn’t always assume that they’re external to the problems they’re talking about because like anybody, institutions like businesses, they can also be complicit in those problems and they can reproduce problems in certain ways. I’m also struck as well, like corporate floats at pride, often I’m struck that there can be the professional employees of those corporations on the floats, but possibly not the cleaners or the security guards who also work at those corporations who may be predominantly black and ethnic minority or immigrants on precarious work visas. I think corporations really have to think about when we’re at a Pride event, what issues are we raising and who are we actually including, and maybe excluding.
Of course there are other issues as well thinking not all employees are comfortable about being out or maybe they can’t be out for whatever reason, or maybe they don’t want to participate in Pride as an employee they want to be there with an individual. There’s all sorts of complex issues, which I think raise lots of interesting questions. I think this is a complex issue and just as it’s important for me to be, as an individual to be aware of sort of my privilege and how that might affect how I talk and who I think about, it’s also important for businesses to be mindful of their power and their complex role in society as well.
Julia: There are a couple of other things, which we haven’t talked about in the episode today, which has just also come out of that, but just the importance of allyship, but allyship at all levels as well. Certainly lots to think about there, really appreciate all your thoughts on that because it is a delicate balance to tread. It is clearly a point of view which has many perspectives as well as and again, it’s great to hear your thoughts from a very rounded perspective. So thank you for that. Jack to just turn over to you at this point about your thoughts around the corporate branding, positioning and relationship as well.
Jack: Well, I think we’ve got to make sure that we remember what we’re advocating for and why? One of the key things that I say to a lot of leaders when they’re talking about LGBT inclusion is say the words, say lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender in your speeches and in your team talks because you have to normalise and make people comfortable with using specific words to really hammer it home that we’re talking about sexual orientation and gender identity minorities. Say the words don’t hide behind acronyms.
The roles that businesses have to play is complex. They are sometimes overpowered, and I think that a lot of people get justly concerned with the corporate takeover of Pride. But what I would like to make sure that everybody understands and takes perspective on, is that it is one tool of advocacy that we as an LGBT community have in our portfolio to advocate for rights. We have our grassroot communities that we need to support. We have our activists who are really forceful activists like those from the Stonewall Riots so many years ago, who took on a physical role in advocating for LGBT inclusion. We also have corporate advocacy, it is simply another route, another voice in the same goal.
Julia: It’s been a wonderful discussion. It’s been fantastic, I’m sitting here listening to the two of you talk and I have so many questions I would love to put to you, sadly, we just don’t have time, but this would not be the end of the discussion, I’m sure and I think that all our listeners around the world, working in financial services organisations who are very supportive and also being very thoughtful about the route that they should take. Well, I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode as much as I have.
There is always one burning question that is in my mind, as we wrap up the show, which is, I’ve asked everybody every guest this question, and I’m quite deeply concerned as we head into tough economic times, which is, is there a risk that diversity and inclusion will fall down the corporate agenda? I’d love to hear your thoughts about why it’s so important that we keep this as high as possible. Jack, let me come to you, first of all, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Jack: I think there is a risk, but I am optimistic. The presence and the investment behind diversity and inclusion in the corporate world and the understanding that roles corporates have in this space is only increasing. I think we’ve seen an incredible change in pace of delivery and engagement when it comes to the importance of diversity and inclusion within the workplace, not only internally, but also how organisations use that mindset methodology to change their propositions and what they actually do for the better as well.
I think with any change comes opportunity, I’m a real big believer in that. I think that the biggest shock from 2020 was obviously not only the way that the pandemic has impacted the role of the organisation to support its colleagues, but also what happened in George Floyd’s case over in the US, has shaken a lot of leadership in organisations to understand that actually they have a responsibility beyond just lip service, to actually make commitments and to invest in the wellbeing of their colleagues and their customers. So I am optimistic, but as with any change, there are pitfalls and we need to be very, very careful.
Julia: An optimistic note to see us out, for sure. Thank you so much, Jack for that. Daniel, same question to you really, why must diversity and inclusion remain high on the corporate agenda?
Daniel: I think it’s really important to remember that we’re far from living in an equal world, including in the UK. And even if we feel empowered and valued either as an LGBT person or employee, there are plenty of other people out there who don’t and aren’t. I think it’s important to remember that prejudice is complex and intersectional and we can be subject to it in the workplace and in society and stuff, or sometimes by surprise in very obvious ways. So it’s very much an ongoing journey and we’re certainly not at the end of LGBT equality by any means. Like we talked about earlier, I think it’s important to think of these issues in intersectional terms and be mindful of our privilege and to consider people in communities we may overlook.
Julia: It is very important that we continue this discussion that we really think about it very thoughtfully. I can’t tell you how much I’ve really enjoyed talking to you both today, knowing how busy you individually are and to take the time to come together. Jack, thank you so much for all your thoughts and really appreciate it. Thanks for being on the show today.
Jack: Enjoyed it immensely. Thank you.
Julia: Pleasure. And Dr. Daniel Conway, thank you again for all your thoughts and your perspectives are very rounded point of view from an academic perspective.
Daniel: Thanks very much. Thank you.
Julia: And as always to all our listeners of DiverCity Podcast, I’ve been Julia Streets, thank you for listening.
Kieron: This episode of DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya for her insights.
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