We are now three weeks into pride month and celebrations are still going strong. However, celebratory rainbow logos and social media posts are not necessarily indicative of active change.
You will likely have seen many companies on your social media feeds change their logos to incorporate rainbow flags, but this simple act – often referred to as ‘rainbow washing’ – does little to actually affect inclusivity.
Even small changes to how we communicate in the workplace can make substantial differences to how accepted people feel, bringing real – and lasting – change to your workplace this pride month.
When companies fly a rainbow flag in June but do nothing to actually support LGBTQ+ colleagues through actual action, this is what equality campaigners have dubbed ‘rainbow washing’. Much like ‘greenwashing’ – when companies make unsubstantiated or overstated claims about sustainability or the eco-friendliness of their products – rainbow washing takes an important social issue and uses it for publicity.
In order to avoid falling into the rainbow washing trap, companies must take steps to actively support LGBTQ+ members of their teams and ensure everyone’s identities are respected in every aspect of their company.
To help normalise the sharing of pronouns, many companies are asking everyone who feels comfortable adding their pronouns to their email footer to do so. This will help people who wish to share – or change – their pronouns with their team feel safer doing so. If we all share our pronouns, it helps make this a normal part of work etiquette and will hopefully make everyone a little more comfortable.
For people going through a transition from one set of pronouns to another, being able to gently do this through their email footers is less daunting than having to directly address the topic with every one of their co-workers.
Respecting people’s identity means more than just respecting their pronouns – it also means respecting their name. That means checking pronunciations if you aren’t sure, and sticking to someone’s full name unless they have explicitly informed you that a nickname or shorter version is okay.
Chinemelum Anyamene, who spoke to the BBC, was called ‘Chicken Lemon’ at primary school in Croydon because no one could pronounce her name. This was not only allowed by her teachers but actively encouraged. The choice to not simply be a passive observer to incidents such as this is a choice we can all make; supporting those around you to have their voices heard in such scenarios is crucial. Sadly, Chinemelum’s experience is far from an isolated one. BBC reporter Noor Nanji went by ‘Nina’ for many years of her career to avoid dealing with regular mispronunciations.
Distilled Post spoke with a nurse called Jack who works at a hospital in Bristol where most of his co-workers do not even know his real name. ‘It was easier to adopt an anglicised name than have to teach people how to pronounce my name every single day,’ he said. ‘It gets tiring correcting people all day every day – so you either start to let it slide, which feels horrible, or you choose a different name and make your own life easier. I’m used to it now, but I shouldn’t have to be.’
Fighting to have your name respected also extends to the use of nicknames or shortened, more familiar, versions. Elizabeth works in the government where she finds it extremely important that her colleagues respect her full name:
‘I go by Lizzie in every aspect of my life, except at work where I use “Elizabeth” – especially when introducing myself to new stakeholders. Because I’m queer, because I’m a woman, because I’m younger, I have to make more effort to be taken seriously than a lot of my co-workers do. My close team calls me Lizzie because I’m comfortable with them, we know each other well now, and I know they respect me. It’s incredibly jarring when people think it’s okay to call me it right off the bat, and it often feels like I’m being talked down to.’
Just because you hear someone referred to by a nickname by another doesn’t automatically mean they’re comfortable with you using it. Shortening people’s names without asking is also inadvisable. If you are unsure which name to use for someone, it’s always best to err on the side of professionalism by using their full name. Checking how they sign off emails to you is also a good rule of thumb as this will indicate how they like to be referred to by you specifically.
The simple habit of checking someone’s sign-off – and adding your pronouns to your email footer too – can make a significant difference in how comfortable your co-workers feel. Even this small habit change can help you build a more inclusive space and make a real change for your colleagues this pride month.