Does deadnaming or pinkwashing mean anything to you? How about the terms non-binary or cisgender? If not, chances are you could use some training in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) nomenclature.
“For communications professionals like you, this is all about artful and knowledgeable wording that maximizes inclusiveness — and then learning from your mistakes,” Nonnie Shivers, a shareholder at Ogletree Deakins in Phoenix, said. Shivers shared her legal and DE&I expertise during a recent lunch and learn hosted by the IABC Phoenix chapter. She was joined by some of the region’s most prolific leaders in the DE&I space, including Angela Hughey, president of ONE Community, and Michael Soto, executive director of Equality Arizona. I am a marketing and communications consultant who specializes in LGBTQ crisis management and DE&I program development, and I had the honor of moderating the discussion.
Language was just one of the topics covered during the panel’s discussion. With 2020’s Bostock v. Clayton Supreme Court ruling, it is now illegal to discriminate against gay and transgender people at work nationwide. We know, however, that there often is a disconnect between policy and reality.
“The reality is that when you do what’s right, and you treat all people fairly, you have healthier workforces. People show up, they stay, they care about the organization they work for, and you literally create a more sustainable organization,” Hughey said. “We’re going into year two of the Great Resignation. It’s really important for businesses and organizations to make sure that they are very front facing about inclusionary policies if they want to attract and retain top talent. The best and the brightest want to work for organizations that make inclusion and treating people fairly a top priority.”
Although there are now some legal protections, the panel explained that if you’re just focused on meeting legal requirements, you’ll miss out on the larger issues inclusivity can create — or avoid.
“The research data in the employment discrimination space is pretty telling,” Shiver said. “It’s not just bringing your whole self to work. It’s the ability to not hide who you are.” According to Shivers, 10% of individuals who are LGBTQ+ spend time hiding their identities at work. One in five LGBTQ+ people don’t go to work at some point in time because they do not view the workplace as accepting. “Those are real impacts on the bottom-line ability to do business.”
The panel also had some actionable recommendations for getting started.
“What are some things you can do to incorporate inclusion into your culture and practices?” Shiver asked. “For example, every organization offers training of some kind, or they should. I suggest people should start to embody gender identity and sexual orientation into their training modules. Do you have an example that talks about a same sex couple or a non-binary individual using a they/them pronoun? Or are all of your constructs in your training examples very simple, very straightforward, heterosexual and heteronormative.”
“You also want to think about how — in your policies and procedures, written documents or applications — you can use inclusive language. Do you still use he/she pronouns? Why do you have to have anything gender specific? Just embrace the ‘they.’”
The group also had a strong warning for companies and organizations that plan to publicly support LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
“In the [current] cultural climate, organizations have to be very mindful, thoughtful and intentional about what messaging they give,” Shivers said. “If you make a statement and you don’t actually do anything, you’re not going to do well in this climate.”
“There’s a term for it in the LGBTQ+ community now, and it’s called pinkwashing,” Hughey said. An example would be when “companies are so proud to be LGBTQ+ inclusive in the month of June because it’s Pride Month, but then they don’t take a stand when really harmful bills are introduced.”
To that point, Soto feels it is also important for communications professionals and their organizations to get actively involved in working for a more equitable and fair society through legislation. There are ways to do that at every level of government. A few of his suggestions include:
- Support non-discrimination policies in your cities, state and federally
- Publicly sign letters of support
- Write an op-ed
- Speak to your representatives
- Share with your employees and customers what is happening in the world in terms of policy, and what position you support as a company or organization
“As communications professionals, you’ll be the front line of sharing those policy positions,” Soto said.
Editor’s Note: ONE Community and Equality Arizona recently joined several organizations to launch a new national equality initiative. The Equality and Fairness for all Americans Coalition is made up of LGBTQ+ organizations, faith organizations, businesses, trade associations, civic leaders and everyday Americans who all believe in working collaboratively to gain bipartisan support for non-discrimination legislation that unites both the LGBTQ+ and faith community around the core American values of freedom, fairness and opportunity for all. This six-month campaign was created to support a federal update to our national discrimination policies in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit and jury service. For more information, visit equalityandfairness.com.
If you would like to connect with any of the panelists about an issue or opportunity, please reach out directly via email:
Curtis Steinhoff is a board member for IABC Phoenix.