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It’s Pride Month. That means companies have been coming out of the woodwork to wave their Pride flags and become allies. But as the hype gets high and the profit potential higher, June is becoming an annual month of empty words, false support and exploiting queer folks without their fair compensation. As a gay founder and CEO, I have seen many companies fall into this trap, what we now call “rainbow washing.” It’s when an organization uses the rainbow Pride colors to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community, without taking legitimate steps or creating a real impact for queer folks.
Why does it matter? Pride used to be a celebration of the long-standing battle that LGBTQ+ folks have fought for their rights and freedoms. The rainbow flag was a symbol of strength and resilience. By co-opting the month and its symbol for corporate gain, the meaning is diluted to a superficial brand campaign. What’s more, the opportunity to direct funds and towards LGBTQ+ folks is instead diverted into the pockets of corporate execs.
Let this be your company’s chance to do Pride differently this year. Here are five ways your company can create a real impact in the community and be an ally 12 months of the year.
Related: This Is What LGBTQ Customers Actually Want to See During Pride Month
1. Form a long-term partnership with an LGBTQ+ organization
If you claim to support the LGBTQ+ community, then I dare you to put your money where your mouth is. There are several organizations worldwide working with scarce resources to support and uplift LGBTQ+ folks, from The Trevor Project, to The Ali Forney Center and many more.
Rather than sending a check, developing a long-term partnership with an LGBTQ+ organization can be deeply impactful. You might set up an employee volunteer program, sponsor the organization’s events or use your platform to sell swag and donate the profits back.
A partnership can also be a chance to offer paid opportunities to queer folks by sponsoring paid long-term positions within the partner organization or hiring one-off event coordinators or spokespeople.
When entering the relationship, be intentional about how you will use your resources to support the organization. Make sure your support has measurable outcomes, and track them to know that your support made a difference.
2. Take part in the conversation all year round
An important part of being an ally is uplifting LGBTQ+ voices. Social media is a powerful tool for this. You can’t speak credibly about the issues until you’ve heard what queer folks have to say, so curate your feed to include the thoughts, experiences, and concerns of LGBTQ+ people.
Once you’re informed, use your platform to amplify queer voices. This could look like retweeting queer people or posting their posts on your stories. Your voice can also be used to impact anti-LGBTQ+ policy and legislation, from posting calls to political action on social media to writing letters to governments. If you have a large online audience, the impact can be powerful.
Related: 3 LGBTQ Entrepreneurs Share How Being Out and Proud Fuels Their Business
3. Provide your team with educational resources
LGBTQ+ issues should be a part of your team’s regular vocabulary. That means understanding the context of Pride beyond its rainbow-washed surface, being able to speak critically about the issues, and working to be an informed ally.
If this sounds far from your team today, all the more reason to start the conversation. To help your team get there, provide them with educational resources created by people with lived experience in LGBTQ+ bodies. Look to LGBTQ+ books, podcasts or film and TV shows. Encourage your team to stay educated and up-to-date on what’s happening in the LGBTQ+ community through news or social media. These resources will lay the groundwork so that when you have discussions and create policies around allyship, your team won’t be wondering what a pronoun is.
4. Commit to being an equal opportunity employer
Hiring LGBTQ+ people and providing fair compensation is part of your responsibility as an employer. If you haven’t already, commit (or re-commit) to being an equal opportunity employer who employs people from diverse backgrounds, including LGBTQ+ folks. This goes far beyond legal jargon – it’s a whole culture change. Making sure your leaders are informed and bought in is step one. You’ll also need to set up the right infrastructure, like inclusive policies, and mechanisms to ensure they’re equitably enforced.
When it’s time for your next hire, take the process slowly so that you can gather a diverse group of candidates, and check any unconscious bias that might be coloring your candidate selection. You can even recruit to better target queer candidates. Finally, be transparent about exactly how you are an equal opportunity employer, to let current and prospective LGBTQ+ employees know you’re walking the walk.
Related: 3 Steps to Building Diverse, LGBTQ-Inclusive Leadership Teams
5. Admit to your faults
There is no perfect ally. It’s an ongoing effort that takes honesty and humility. If you slipped up in the past, be transparent in admitting to your mistakes, both internally to your team, and externally on the appropriate platform. Rather than staying silent and hoping to slide under the radar, admitting weaknesses acknowledges to others that you don’t know everything and that you’re committed to making an effort to be a better ally. It shows respect to the LGBTQ+ folks you might have offended and helps your team rally forward in a positive way.
As another Pride Month comes around, I won’t tell you to hide your rainbows. But I will urge you to rethink the way your company “celebrates” this month for which queer folks have fought so hard throughout history. Instead of using this time to march your corporate float in the local parade, sell rainbow merch or temporarily change your logo, I invite you to think hard about how your company can use its power to support the LGBTQ+ community all year long.
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