Diversity in companies: Involvement in Pride pays off

Increasingly, employees expect their employers to focus on diversity and inclusion. And even though it may no longer be enough for companies to raise a rainbow-flag, it can be a good place to start, according to Jannick Friis Christensen, who conducts research on companies’ engagement in the LGBTQIA+ movement.



diversitet pride
Photo: Anna50 / Shutterstock.com

Diversity has become a focal point for many Danish companies, and if you would like to be a front-runner in terms of the diversity agenda, there is hardly a marker more visible worldwide than the event of the annual Pride* says Jannick Friis Christensen, Postdoc at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). Among other things, he conducts research on corporate collaborations between Danish companies and the LGBTQIA+ community. An area that has gained more attention over the last few years as an increasing number of companies, including Mærsk, Ørsted and KPMG, has decided to support the Pride via sponsorships, but where research is still scarce.

Alongside a small team of researchers from CBS, he explores what the companies’ participation means – to themselves, to Copenhagen Pride and to society in general.

“Today, many people in our part of the world associate Pride with universal human rights, the freedom to be different and acceptance of difference – values, with which it is hard to disagree. However, the question is whether the companies also commit to diversity and inclusion initiatives once Pride week is over,” Jannick Friis Christensen says, as he explains the project’s underlying research interest.

According to Jannick Friis Christensen, it is important to keep the nuances in mind when we debate whether it is credible for a company to support Pride, because collaboration between a company and the Pride can actually be a very good point of departure for companies that wish to become more inclusive workplaces. His research shows that many companies already do quite a bit, while others lack knowledge and tools.

“Our study indicates that companies wish to make a difference – and indeed, they experiment with various diversity and inclusion efforts – throughout the year. Many of the companies we interviewed have implemented diversity and inclusion measures to some extent, and Pride is a part of this. Likewise, we see many companies who use Pride as a lever to get started, while for others, it is an annual reminder to take stock and recommit.”

Diversity has changed from ‘nice to have’ to ‘need to have’

At a time, when younger generations, in particular, are interested in what defines the company they work for and the difference it makes in the world, latching onto social movements can be a way of attracting the best candidates.

Jannick Friis Christensen is interested in what motivates companies to engage in Pride movement. Approximately one and a half years into, and halfway through the project, a picture is emerging, wherein it appears to be as much about the companies positioning themselves inwardly, in terms of their employees, as it is about branding themselves outwardly.

“To a great extent, organisations’ work with diversity and inclusion is based on the assumption that young specialists will go where they feel represented, where they can identify with the company’s values, and where they are allowed to be who they are,” Jannick Friis Christensen explains, and then continues:

“At a time, when younger generations, in particular, are interested in what defines the company they work for and the difference it makes in the world, latching onto social movements can be a way of attracting the best candidates.”

Previously, the tendency was to only perceive subjects such as diversity and inclusion as ‘nice to have’, something companies could focus on if they had surplus resources. But that seems to be changing and diversity and inclusion has become something that organisations need to think about.

So, how will the Covid-19 crisis affect this progress? And will companies lose interest if the labour market suddenly turns, and they no longer have to compete to get the best employees?

According to Jannick Friis Christensen, the answer is no. His research points to a more persistent shift, where diversity is no longer merely ‘nice to have’, it is something organisations ‘need to have’.

“In a sense, diversity and inclusion have become something akin to a hygiene factor. Working with these issues no longer affords you the same recognition it used to, because your competitors are doing the exact same thing. For this reason, however, you cannot not focus on diversity and inclusion either. It has become a baseline that must be present, even if – or possibly because – the labour market is constantly changing.“

That diversity and inclusion, in some instances, are becoming hygiene factors is further confirmed by Jannick Friis Christensen’s observations from the consultancy industry in particular, where some clients and partners expect to see targets and performance indicators related to diversity in order to do business.

Companies have a lot to gain

The increased focus on diversity is beneficial for employees and companies alike. Because despite academic disputes about what, how and when you measure diversity, there are several studies that confirm that diversity reflects positively on the bottom line – the so-called business case.

Specifically, in terms of LGBTQIA+, there is a study from 2018, which is among the first to link LGBTQIA+ supportive corporate policies to financial performance outcomes, as LBGTQIA+ policies are associated with higher firm value, productivity and profitability. Other studies point to that employees in companies that are considered inclusive workplaces for LGBTQIA+ people, are also more productive.

“Identifying as LGBTQIA+ is not always visible, and in connection with work, many LGBTQIA+ people struggle with what is termed minority stress, which means they carry extra emotional pressure, such as having to navigate who knows what about you; whether your colleagues will think differently about you, if you come out; whether you will be informally excluded from certain communities. Or if you have worked the same place for a long time and not come out, will your manager consider you a liar if you do? If you remove that load from an employee’s shoulders by being a company where everyone can feel safe to be open, to be themselves, you can channel a lot of energy from unnecessary worries into real tasks.”

A survey  carried out by Epinion in 2016, for what was then called LO, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, now, FH, FTF and AC, among 500 LGBTQIA+ people in the Danish labour market, showed that 40 per cent are not at all or only to a lesser degree open about their sexuality and/or gender identity in their workplace.

Fear of pinkwashing may keep companies from participating
Even though still more companies support the colourful and popular LGBTQIA+ festival and openly celebrate diversity and inclusion, Jannick Friis Christensen also finds that some companies are worried that they will appear insincere and be accused of pinkwashing – a term used to describe organisations who use an event, like Pride, to their own advantage without actually supporting the cause.

“There must be a connection between what the company does and what it communicates, but I have also come across what can best be described as a purity mentality in companies who say that ‘We know, we are not perfect, and therefore, we will not strut in borrowed plumes.’ The problem here is the notion that you should be perfect, and that you have to have already achieved your goals before you even start. In fact, it may turn out to be the very reason you never get started in the first place. Because you will most likely never cross the finishing line when it comes to diversity and inclusion. New categories of difference will continue to emerge, in addition to those of gender and sexuality, which you can work with and which may have previously been overlooked,” Jannick Friis Christensen elaborates.

However, there is no unequivocal answer to when a company will present as good and credible in their support of Copenhagen Pride.

Instead of being afraid and try to prevent criticism, changing your attitude could prove meaningful: If someone criticises your company for pinkwashing, it might be because your actions have generated expectations you do not meet.

“Everything related to CSR holds a potential of creating backlash. When you engage with CSR issues as well as other sustainability agendas, you take the moral high ground, and once you are up there, you always risk being criticised for not living up to your own standards. However, instead of being afraid and try to prevent criticism, changing your attitude could prove meaningful: If someone criticises your company for pinkwashing, it might be because your actions have generated expectations you do not meet. In that way, criticism becomes an expression of wanting you to do better, which can then be utilized to meet the needs as voiced by various stakeholders in society.”

Diversity is for everybody

While the diversity agenda in Denmark has been carried primarily by big Danish companies and multinational corporations, Jannick Friis Christensen believes that small and medium-sized companies can also take part in the work.

“A company with 10 employees is not likely to have a budget that allows for having on the payroll a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer who can develop strategies, policies, etc. But you can still work with these issues, even if you do not have a concrete policy. In some cases, a policy can in fact restrict rather than promote what it is meant to, namely, diversity, because it ends up in a drawer somewhere and is only surfaced to counterbalance bad press.”

Aside from the fear of being accused of pinkwashing, Jannick Friis Christensen has noticed that some companies seem to lack the knowledge and proper tools to improve on diversity and inclusion in their organizations. He believes that there are many things companies can do, which can also be adapted to the size and resources of your company.

“Work with norms and workplace culture, including humour, the tone, social conventions and behaviour in general. I’m not talking about policing, but the way we interact with each other is constantly up for negotiation. And if, for example, someone expresses a negative opinion about LGBTQIA+ people in the canteen, for instance, in the form of a joke – even if well-intended, it can potentially have the effect of making an LGBTQIA+ colleague doubt whether it is a safe space to be open. And the same is true if there is derogatory talk about other minoritized groups,” Jannick Friis Christensen explains. In addition to his research, he also teaches the next generation of Human Resource Managers.


How to get started on promoting diversity and inclusion in your company, specifically related to LGBTQIA+

  1. Initiate an internal survey in your organisation to generate knowledge about the state of affairs, including work conditions for your LGBTQIA+ staff, to identify where you need to act, and to give you a point of departure for measuring progress.
  2. Work on mainstreaming staff policies to also include and represent LBGTQIA+ people, and ensure that they have equal rights and opportunities in connection with, for instance, parental leave, or if a different kind of leave is required, in connection with, for example, transitioning.
  3. Create visibility by, for example, covering problems concerning LBGTQIA+ people in staff or members’ magazines, on the intranet, or wherever it makes sense the most in the organisation.
  4. Support employee networks for LBGTQIA+ people and use them as resource groups by actively including them, have them point out blind spots, and get their input on initiatives they find important and relevant.
  5. Collaborate. Becoming an official partner of Copenhagen Pride is one option, where your company will gain access to continuous sparring with an organisation that fights for and represents LBGTQIA+ people daily. However, there are other organisations who work professionally with diversity and inclusion in the field of LBGTQIA+, for example, Workplace Pride or Stonewall.

There is also free material, such as this eight-step guide to a workplace with LBGTQIA+ equality, which has been developed by trade unions with input from, among others, Jannick Friis Christensen. A recent resource is this white paper from Workplace Pride on how companies can work with corporate advocacy and be a part of the change for LBGTQIA+ people locally – including outside Denmark’s borders.


* About Copenhagen Pride
The organisation Copenhagen Pride organises events for and with the LBGTQIA+ community all year round, and the biggest event is the annual human rights festival and demonstration, Copenhagen Pride Week in August.
The first Copenhagen Pride Week took place in 1994, and traditionally, it ends with a huge parade from Frederiksberg Town Hall to Copenhagen Town Hall. In 2021, Copenhagen also hosted the mega event Copenhagen 2021, where Copenhagen Pride and Pan Sports hosted the international World Pride and the sports event EuroGames.


The page was last edited by: Sekretariat for Ledelse og Kommunikation // 06/26/2023