D&I at The Lab : Corporate Gayness

type - features
category - gender
category - society
category - workplace
sector - diversity & inclusion
category - d&i at the lab
In the next edition of our Diversity & Inclusion at The Lab series, we explore the concept of corporate gayness, rainbow capitalism, busting myths and pronouns with pride.

When The Future Laboratory was founded in 2000, there was no such thing as corporate gayness, although we did quite fancy blokes in suits. These two words just didn’t sit together – as in corporate and gayness, rather than blokes and suits – but this is not a case of casting the turn of the millennium as a dark time mired in homophobia. If anything, much had already been achieved in the previous 40 years since the ground-breaking Wolfenden report was published – in the fight for recognition, acceptance and equality – and change was definitely in the air. It’s just that the world of business was still a few steps behind in its attitudes and policies, even if some were beginning to cash in on the emergence of the pink pound.

The Future Laboratory was founded by two gay men, partners in business and in life. But the business’s ethos and outlook have never been governed by sexuality – but rather by a vision to see a more equitable future for the marginalised, the overlooked and the unheard. And dogs. This has been achieved over the years from a standpoint of incremental change and quiet resolution. We were never ones to shout. 

But neither did we hide. We made it onto the front page of The Independent in 2006 with a kiss from our civil partnership and onto the same paper’s Gay Power list of the UK’s most influential gay men and women. At position 84 – just in front of Sandi Toksvig and Chris Bryant MP, and just behind Angela Mason and Waheed Alli. Read into that what you will. What made us different was the fact that we were two gay men running a business together at a time when the expectation of gayness wasn’t about consistency, longevity and reliability. What’s been so exciting about the company’s more recent work in diversity and inclusion is that it hasn’t been about gaying up the business and waving a rainbow flag – indeed Martin Raymond is vexiphobic – but about a more radical series of changes that are about implementing real change throughout the organisation and how we attract a diverse and marginalised workforce. So don’t expect to see a rainbow homepage from us any time soon – not our style – but do expect to see a vibrant, colourful, prismatic representation of Britain in the 21st century as our team at The Future Laboratory start to make our way back to Elder Street in the months to come.

: Chris Sanderson, co-founder, The Future Laboratory

This is the seventh in the D&I at The Lab series. Stay tuned for upcoming articles. You can also read more on our post-urgency approach to diversity and inclusion, our approaches to Trans Inclusion and how we’re transforming the way we recruit.

Published by:

19 August 2021

Author: Chris Sanderson and Gursharan Panesar

Image: Find Your Perfect Fit campaign by Suit Supply, Holland


Beyond The Rainbow, H&M, Global

Alex, senior foresight writer:
The opportunism of rainbow capitalism

I’m sceptical about corporate Pride at the best of times, but it seems to be something on which it is increasingly hard to take a neutral stance. Quite a few articles have surfaced recently about the number of corporations making a show of support during Pride, all the while actively funding anti-LGBTQ+ politics. A recent study found that 25 companies otherwise eager to wave the rainbow flag have donated more than £7m ($10m) to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians in the US over the past two years. More on that herehere and here.

Equality and LGBTQ+ rights are also not a calendar moment for brand marketing, and are year-round issues that exist well beyond the month of June. If brands want to engage with this, they should be taking a step back and using their budgets to elevate queer voices and talent – and paying them for it. And like all diversity and inclusion initiatives for businesses, this work needs to start internally, which means committing to non-discriminatory practices and closing the LGBTQ+ pay gap.

‘A recent study found that 25 companies otherwise eager to wave the rainbow flag have donated more than £7m ($10m) to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians in the US.’
Alex Hawkins, senior foresight writer, The Future Laboratory
Travel As You Are by Orbitz

Gursharan, graduate trainee:
Out at Work

In her TedTalk, human resources activist Morgana Bailey discusses her fear of being considered the ‘lesbian co-worker’ or ‘too gay’ and why that held her back from coming out at work. She discusses how, even in workplaces with diversity and inclusion policies, there is still a desire for conformity that is fuelled by a desire for career progression. An important part is when she refers to the cognitive dissonance it takes for gay and lesbian employees to work in unwelcoming environments, and the physical toll this takes on their welfare. As businesses partake in rainbow capitalism during this month (and only this month) many fail to recognise the closeted LGBTQ+ employees working within these corporations who feel they have to conform in order to have a career.


Momo, senior strategic researcher:
Pronouns with Pride

The jobs site Indeed’s new Pride campaign focuses on the importance of pronouns. As a non-binary person who uses they/them pronouns, the video made me feel incredibly emotional. When I think back to the jobs I’ve had in the past 10 years, I couldn’t tell you a single moment when I have felt comfortable to be out in the workplace (until I came to The Future Laboratory). While it’s great to see campaigns like this that encourage inclusion of Trans+ people in the workplace, harmful ‘gender critical lobbying’ is having devastating implications for the Trans+ community. Some 65% of trans employees do not feel safe enough to disclose their status in a working environment, according to a recent survey by TotalJobs and YouGov, up from 52% in 2016. Even more damaging is that in 2021, 42% of trans employees have quit their jobs due to a hostile and unwelcoming environment, an increase of 7% since 2016. The numbers are a shocking reminder that despite wider perceived Trans+ ‘acceptance’, particularly in the workplace, there is still significant progress to be made in trans advocacy, equality, equity, inclusion and celebration. Pronouns are a great start, but inclusion needs to be at the foundation and heart of every workplace during Pride and beyond.

‘Some 65% of trans employees do not feel safe enough to disclose their status in a working environment.’
A recent survey, TotalJobs and YouGov
GT133 by Gay Times

Kathryn, foresight editor:
Nurturing Queer Talent

During Pride month, organisations and businesses around the world were spotlighting and celebrating LGBTQ+ team members – but workplace inequalities remain prevalent. A global McKinsey survey reveals that nearly half of LGBTQ+ respondents have to come out at work at least once a week to colleagues – some even daily. Elsewhere, 40% of LGBTQ+ women feel they need to provide extra evidence of their competence at work, while trans and non-binary respondents are far more likely than cisgender people to be in entry-level positions.

In the US, where The Supreme Court made discrimination against workers based on their gender identity or sexual orientation illegal in June 2020, LGBTQ+ people are still overlooked and discriminated against when job hunting. Seeking to offer a more optimistic outlook, in particular for young queer people entering the workforce, is Unity Works, a scheme in New York for LGBTQ+ residents who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. Connecting 16–24-year-olds with jobs or paid internships at businesses that are committed to fostering inclusive work environments, Unity Works sets an example for employers, going beyond job training to make mental health, educational and legal support freely available.

Such peer-led assistance and professional development for LGBTQ+ people is something that Tag Warner, the CEO of Gay Times, also emphasised in a recent LS:N Global interview. Noting that the media landscape and audience are in a state of flux, he’s handing the reins of Gay Times’ TikTok to eight queer youths to help shape content in a way that is raw and relevant. In return, they will receive mentoring, skills and media training to equip them as they pursue their own positive path.

Marsha P Johnson, Time Magazine Cover 2020

Victoria, futures director:
Busting myths, countering tropes and filling historical gaps

I want to look beyond the rainbow campaigns and spend some time getting educated about the cultural roots of queer activism. As many of us joined Black Lives Matter protests last year, we were also reminded that the Stonewall liberation was led by trans women of colour, including Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two activists who New York officials decided only last year to honour with a monument, after decades of progress being attributed to mostly white gay men. 

Highsnobiety has also examined the history of the landmark Silence = Death collective, a group who helped radicalise efforts in the 80s and 90s to combat lethal apathy during the AIDS crisis. As author Jake Hall points out: ‘Activist histories like these aren’t just archives of queer excellence, resilience and creativity. They’re reminders to not be pacified, and blueprints for community-building, consciousness-raising and translating the ‘fuck you’ fury of oppression into tangible, political movements.’ These narratives also highlight how important it is that we don’t turn justice issues into mainstream fodder.

‘Activist histories like these aren’t just archives of queer excellence, resilience and creativity. They’re reminders to not be pacified’
Jake Hall, author

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This article is part of our Diversity & Inclusion work at The Future Laboratory. Explore our work on D&I on our blog and discover what steps we are taking to make a better tomorrow happen.

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