Jack Mizel has worked at the forefront of LGBTQ+ business for 30 years and is the CEO of Pride 365, an organisation dedicated to working with business to eradicate pinkwashing and ensure that companies support diversity and inclusion 365 days a year.
In this interview, Jack tells Rob Harkavy about how the corporate landscape has changed, how Pride 365 drives inclusion and how to support businesses to become more inclusive and diverse.
So, for those of us who are unaware of Pride 365, what is it and what does it do?
Pride 365 certify organisations with our Seal of Approval who publicly pledge to bring an end to pinkwashing, and who work hard towards and are committed to achieving LGBTQ+ inclusion within their business and local communities.
We want to work with the best and most authentic supporters of the LGBTQ+ community and to provide them with the recognition and accreditation they deserve. We understand there is no such thing as perfection and instead aim to set a benchmark for all organisations to reach and improve upon.i
How do you think the landscape has changed for LGBTQ+ employees over the past couple of decades?
We have come a long way towards LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion, even over the past few years. We must remember that the changes have only really been implemented in very recent years. The Equality Act, protecting all LGBTQ+ individuals only came in 10 years ago, in 2010, and a ban on LGBTQ individuals serving openly in the armed forces was officially lifted in 2000. And the prohibited ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by schools and local authorities was repealed in 2003.
We now have a record number of businesses that have an LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination policy in place, with many wanting to create better environments for their LGBTQ+ employees, with many in management and senior roles. Transgender individuals also have more rights, and access to healthcare, and legal victories are increasing.
HR policies are also being implemented to help minimise LGBTQ+ discrimination within the workplace. Blind recruitment and unconscious bias training have also increased but this is treating the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself. The more we make a focus on our common denominators and most basic qualities and how they make us different the more we focus on them in the day to day. It is not clear that unconscious bias training actually works. Same for blind recruitment: yes it reduces idiosyncrasies but it also has a tendency to promote people with high written communication skills even when the job doesn’t require it. Also when it comes to the actual interview it doesn’t mean that the biases are suddenly done away with.
However the focus should be on destigmatising open and free communication so that people can connect and feel part of a greater whole and conversation. Also by making people feel included you realise that people are not that different and have much more to them than being “lgbt+” for example.
You mention Pinkwashing. Can you explain what you mean by the term?
Pinkwashing is the action of superficial marketing and promotion. Businesses will direct their marketing efforts towards the LGBTQ+ community, in order to appeal to them, but aren’t working towards LGBTQ+ inclusion internally, and only promote during Pride season. For the rest of the year they stay quiet around LGBTQ+ issues and events, and turn a blind eye to those who profit from LGBTQ+ oppression.
This is too common, and we want to create a society of businesses who do on the inside, what they say on the outside.
Now, you also have a system of accreditation. Can you tell us a little about how that works and the benefits for accredited organisations?
Firstly we are consumer facing as we realise that to create real change in the business world we have to make the business’s senior leadership want to actually make impactful change. A lot of diversity and inclusion work is done for PR campaigns and to fit in; yes, there will be passionate individuals at the company who might spearhead the work but fundamentally it is seen as a cost centre. By recognising positive change as a profit maker, companies suddenly will want to change from the top of leadership all the way down to the bottom. Also we believe in incremental improvement and so every business or organisation are on their own journey so their improvement is based on themselves today, going step by step.
Do you think that the massive corporate sponsorship – some might say takeover – of the larger Pride events is a good thing, or would you prefer a return to the days of smaller, tighter more community-based events?
It’s a catch 22 situation in some cases. Corporate sponsorship keeps some Pride events free, however, for some , as we have seen in the past, it can redirect the meaning of the event. Corporate sponsorship isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as the Pride events are working with the correct companies, and working towards the same goal, it’s important to create a platform to highlight these achievements.
Community events are still incredibly important, and should be the focus of pride and LGBTQ+ events. There are lot of smaller businesses, organisations and charities that are doing amazing things that need to be recognised, and some are even leading the way, but get left out of the conversation due to budgets. But larger organisations who are doing amazing things for the community shouldn’t be criticised simply because they are ‘too corporate’. There needs to be an equal balance between corporate sponsorship and community support, and in more ways than one, the two go hand in hand, and are often pushing towards the same goals.
How do you feel about the extension of the LGBT+ acronym to now include people who are not same-sex attracted?
I think LGBTQQIAAP has evolved as much as the community has. I think anyone who considers, or labels themselves within this acronym has a right to be visible. In many cases, it isn’t about sexuality, it’s about who you are as a person, and be recognised for it. We have a history of anyone, other than straight people, being misunderstood, discriminated against, harassed, attacked, oppressed and demoralised. And this includes people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual or pansexual. It’s not the grouping of anyone together, it’s making their identity valid, and heard, and considered, which is incredibly important when working towards diversity and inclusion.
Allies shouldn’t be left out either, as they are so important in the D&I and equality fight. Strength is always in numbers. Allies can help drive change, elevate the voices of the community, provide much needed support and push LGBTQ+ D&I agendas. Realistically, the majority of company boards and management teams are heterosexual, and having allies within these ranks can result in change in policies, higher LGBTQ+ employment, and overall better businesses.
Success for initiatives like yours is, I suppose, obsolescence, inasmuch as if everyone were treated fairly, irrespective of their sexuality, there would be no need for Pride 365. When do you think that day will come?
At Pride365, we strongly advocate that no one is perfect, and when it comes to committing to LGBTQ+ D&I, it’s an ongoing challenge. It would be amazing if everyone were treated equally and fairly, but in most cases, you have years of policy, attitude and internal communications to break down and improve and this doesn’t happen overnight.
Our companies that we accredit are excelling in what they are doing and they have to go through the seal of approval process annually to ensure they are meeting their commitment to change. There is always room for improvement, and the irony is, as companies improve their D&I, expand their team or implement new policies, there will always be new challenges, or obstacles that have to be overcome.
That said, smaller companies and start ups are certainly leading the way in LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion, and all other areas too, with millennials and GenZ leading the way. These generations have grown up with the community, and have a larger acceptance for it, so when they start their businesses, or go into their roles, they start off on the right footing, and with the right attitudes, and often have diversity and inclusion at the heart of their organisations and work ethics. There is still work to be done, but the foundations are sometimes easier to springboard from. The only downfall for smaller companies is budget restraints for internal communications, PR, marketing and HR strategies so the progress is a little slower than in larger organisations, but this can be matched with innovation and enthusiasm.
Finally, if you had one message for those in the corporate world, what would it be?
Just the above really. You don’t need to have to be perfect, just try. Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be about numbers, or it shouldn’t be a bandaid, or temporary fix. It’s more important to acknowledge the issues internally, as once these are recognised, you can start to make real change.
Also, if you don’t know where to start, or want to improve what you are already doing, there are so many companies out there that can help you achieve your D&I objectives. Invest in them, and do it properly.