Going Beyond the Pronouns

“What do we do on the days that aren’t Pride?”

A desire to be more inclusive requires an understanding of the necessary strategies and tactics to do so. Since we heard from many small business owners that they have a “fear of doing it wrong,” having an understanding of the current mores surrounding not only inclusionary practices, but LGBT inclusion generally is important for small businesses. 

A simple, though not necessarily easy, step many businesses are taking are putting preferred pronouns in emails. It is essentially cost-free, and only asks staff and clients to pay attention and respect those requests. The harder questions came from business operations that either carried a significant cost or touched on sensitive subjects, like reconfiguring bathroom facilities. Other difficult steps included the structures of resource groups, supporting or attacking specific legislative efforts, or interacting with other stakeholders who may not be as far along in their inclusionary journey. 

For cultural events that have evolved to mass celebrations, like Pride days or months, businesses getting involved in them is becoming perfunctory. But smaller business owners often wondered how to build long-term systemic engagement in smaller organizations or programs. When pressed on how they address these issues, each of the small businesses who had more experience in the space brought up two different types of resources. 

First were local LGBT organizations. In each city, there seemed to be an LGBT-focused organization that while perhaps not explicitly focused on private sector outreach and development, had resources available for understanding how to be inclusive. National organizations were occasionally mentioned in these efforts, but by-and-large small businesses went to local resources first. 

Second were local companies in their industry—even if they were competitors—or trade associations. Small businesses are hungry to learn more about being successful, and they consider inclusionary practices part of that development. It seemed to be well known which small businesses in each city had a good reputation for inclusion, and they would help lift other companies up. 

Small businesses leveraged trade associations both locally and thematically. While the local trade associations, chambers, and economic development councils were evident in these conversations, we were surprised to see how many small employers were reaching out to national level trade associations for support. 

One aspect of becoming deeply inclusive that was important to the small businesses, but difficult for us to quantify based on their responses, was the idea that they wanted to look and operate like a larger business. Being an authentic part of a broader movement for some of them seemed like an important step in maturing as a business. The ability to effectively project externally what they believed internally was seen generally as an important aspect of brand growth and recognition, and seen specifically as earning them a seat at the table with larger companies.