Thomas Forstner

How to be an LGBTQ+ ally

June 18, 2020

How can startups, with limited budget and resources, show their support for the LGBTQ+ community during Pride month and beyond? 

I’ve found it important to get involved in Pride month; there’s always a need for spaces where people can improve visibility and celebrate individuality, especially if it’s dedicated towards something that isn’t typically part of the status quo. 

However, this can be a challenge for leadership teams in early-stage businesses - most startups don’t have the budget for big, Pride-related events. Neither do they yet have the policies in place that address inclusivity. How can smaller businesses show support without appearing insincere? Here are my thoughts on sincere allyship during Pride. 

Think long-term 🔮

Companies often spend a lot of money and resource on Pride-related celebrations - but if the healthcare your business provides to your employees doesn’t offer financial support to trans people who want to transition, for example, then your resource is misplaced. It’s always useful to assess how the changes you make have a valuable impact in the long term. For example, does your parental leave expressly offer equal benefits to all types of families, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity? Is your statement on diversity and inclusion available on the business' careers page? Startups can show support by reviewing the policies they do have, and ensuring inclusion is at the heart of everything they create and develop.

Start small 🌱

At Juro, we focused on smaller events internally that would allow us to celebrate with our colleagues and educate others on the history behind Pride month:

  • Pride-themed pub quiz: I organised a quiz centred around Pride month for the team. Both Riga and London teams came together to take part. I was impressed at how much Pride knowledge the team already had, but also learnt that my colleagues can get super competitive, especially on ‘speed round’ questions!
  • Pride-themed movie night: We decided to watch Moonlight as a team. It was great to see how strong my colleagues’ views were when it came to the kinds of movies they wanted to see - the genuine excitement and engagement really showed what a difference even the small details can make
  • Adding the Pride flag emoji to personal profiles: changing the company status to include a Pride flag is one thing, but changing personal profiles speaks volumes to the support you’re willing to show. My colleagues changed their profiles on both Slack and LinkedIn to accommodate this - I particularly appreciated how this change was initiated from the top down, with management leading by example
  • Sharing relevant content: I’ve been scouring the web and working closely with the marketing team to share relevant content on our social channels, particularly within the legal LGBTQ+ space
  • Developing policies: as an early-stage business, we’re still developing policies that align with our mission values. I’ve been working with the leadership team on this since I joined the business in April, and it’s been satisfying to see that these discussions were already taking place prior to Pride month
Make sure that changing your logo isn’t the most you’re willing to do to support communities during Pride - there’s no 'back to normal' once June is over

Remember: there’s no “back to normal” 🙅

Pride month acts as an annual reminder of how you can (and should) support LGBTQ+ communities, but startups can find themselves at risk of “rainbow-washing” during this month - in June, branding changes to accommodate Pride colours, and in July, everything goes back to normal with no lasting impact of support and visibility. Make sure that changing your logo isn’t the most you’re willing to do to support communities during Pride - there’s no “back to normal” once June is over. 

Pride at a startup: the benefits 👍

I’ve initiated events at both large corporations like Bosch, and smaller companies such as Algolia, Paddle, and now Juro. There are several benefits to allyship at a smaller business:

  • Everything happens much faster: at Paddle, I mentioned my ideas for Pride a month in advance. No-one expects a small company to achieve so much, but it’s quicker to get sign-off, and much easier to collaborate across different functions when you’re part of a small team. I made the Pride logo for Paddle myself; getting access to resources to make changes happened much faster and with far less friction than at a well-established corporation
  • There’s a strong appetite for change: this is something potential candidates, as members or allies, look out for before ever hitting that 'apply' button. As a smaller business your inclusivity policies might still be in development, but that means gestures of sincerity, however small, will go a long way. Having that information readily available will benefit potential candidates, as well as your hiring metrics. There’s also an opportunity to include your employees in the development process, so they can offer input on the policies you aim to implement and help shape the company as it scales
  • Change happens with leadership: at Juro, I ran all my ideas past the co-founders - who, without hesitation, implemented some of the changes. That’s something that’s unique to a smaller company, where you feel like your voice is heard and the leadership team is willing to show its support before expecting it of its employees
You don’t need budget for a giant float at Pride parade - instead, leadership teams can think about the changes internally that will have an impact in the long term

Pride at a startup: the challenges 👎

Showing support at a startup isn’t without its challenges:

  • Planning and logistics: in the current, remote-first environment, planning an exciting event that consists of more than just a Zoom call is challenging. For our Pride-themed movie night, I struggled to find a streaming service that would allow several people from different countries to enjoy a movie together, without compromising on movie quality. Some events take far more time and energy than if the team were present in the office
  • Wearing multiple hats: In larger businesses you often have a dedicated function to assist with event management. At Paddle, we didn’t have an events manager, so I took ownership of organising the events. There’s a “learning by doing” approach at a startup that has a wealth of benefits but can also be challenging, especially alongside the actual responsibilities of your day-to-day work!

Thinking beyond Pride month 🏳️‍🌈

Early-stage startups have the benefits of showing allyship in smaller but more meaningful gestures. You don’t need the budget and resource for a giant float at Pride parade - instead, leadership teams can think about the changes internally that will have an impact in the long term. Here's a great article on how small businesses can pull on resources available to show support.

Do you have diversity and inclusion policies in place? Do these policies include details about the kind of language and behaviour that is unacceptable? When hiring, are you reaching out to communities that are going to make your workforce more diverse? Are you ensuring that the candidates in your pipeline are representative of the world we live in? Are your employees comfortable enough to initiate and engage in Pride-related events - and more importantly, whose support can they count on for logistics and planning if they'd like to organize something but don't know where to start?

These changes don’t cost anything, but omitting them speaks a far louder message. As an early-stage startup, you have the power to focus on improving the “boring stuff” to accommodate unprivileged communities and foster a positive environment for the LGBTQ+ community - and in the long term, those changes show the greatest form of support.

Thomas is head of people and talent at Juro. He can be found on LinkedIn.

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Thomas Forstner is the Senior Director of People and Talent at Juro

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