Speaking about what he described as “rainbow capitalism”, events consultant at Legal and General Richard Thomas, said it was becoming more obvious when companies used awareness events such as Pride to drive sales and customer engagement.
He said it could be seen as “brands jumping on the bandwagon of Pride” so they could “exploit it to sell their goods and services”.
Thomas added: “It’s really important that more brands understand that they can’t just be superficial. If you’re going to support this community, it needs to be more embedded in many different aspects of their corporate culture and their customer and employee engagement.
“If you’re going to be superficial, be expected to be caught out – particularly on social media.”
Steve Seal, chief executive of Bluestone Mortgages, said this also happened with other minority groups and issues.
He added: “We saw a similar kind of trend around the Black Lives Matter concept as well, didn’t we? Where businesses were embracing what I’d describe as ‘on trend messages’ to drive commercial value without being able to demonstrate that the core principles of what they’re trying to promote and advocate are actually embedded through their businesses.
“It’s purely a capitalist attitude to drive commercial value by using the brand, which is a terrible thing.”
Thomas said companies needed to engage with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning and plus (LGBTQ+) community consistently not just during particular events.
Being open at work
While Thomas and Seal both acknowledged that attitudes had changed towards their homosexuality over the years, they noted experiences where they felt that being gay had led to them feeling like they could not be themselves.
Seal admitted his experiences were likely more to do with his own reservations about society in general, saying he made sure to refer to his husband as “they” instead of “he” when meeting industry peers at events.
“I think it’s all about fear rather than reality. That’s a fear I had in myself. I’ve never ever found myself in an experience in the mortgage market where when I have been open with people, I faced any kind of challenge of issue in terms of lack of acceptance or being made to feel uncomfortable,” he added.
Thomas said at a previous job, being the only gay employee made him question if he was being excluded by his heterosexual male co-workers.
His colleagues would arrange to meet up with each other outside of working hours without inviting him. Those colleagues ended up forming closer relationships with each other than Thomas had with them.
“It was changing the dynamic in the workplace as a result,” he said.
Thomas also noticed that when another gay colleague joined the company, he also wasn’t asked to join in with outside work activities.
He added: “It was just the two of us who were left out. I don’t know if it was a conscious or an unconscious thing on the part of those guys and I would imagine it probably wasn’t [a conscious thing]. But nevertheless, it did make me feel marginalised. It did alter the team dynamic a bit because I’d come into work and feel like I was being made to feel othered from everybody else.”
While the behaviour did not affect Thomas’s career progression or performance, he said it affected his mental health. He also noted that straight men who later joined the company were invited to spend time with the group.
He added: “That felt very deliberate.”
Thomas said because the behaviour was not something obvious like physical abuse, he felt uncomfortable to confront colleagues about it.
He added: “It’s a very difficult, complex scenario to be in. Nowadays attitudes are changing so maybe I might feel a bit more inclined to discuss it with my line manager and some of the individuals on a very informal basis. Back then, I just let sleeping dogs lie and got on with it.”
Seal and Thomas also agreed that it was unnecessary for them to announce their sexuality to colleagues, with Seal saying the expectation to do so wound him up.
“If people find out I’m gay they say ‘why didn’t you tell me?’ and my response is ‘well you never told me you were straight’.
“There’s the expectation that because you’re gay, you have to tell people that you’re gay. Whereas I don’t see why, people don’t introduce themselves as straight so why do I have to introduce myself as gay? I’m just Steve,” he added.