Pinkwashing – all foam or real inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people?

The rainbow is in high season during Pride Month in June. The rainbow flag flies on company roofs and messages, logos and websites become colourful. Is there real commitment to LGBTIQ+ people behind it or is it all just marketing?

June is Pride Month. Christopher Street Day (CSD) Pride Parades take place in many countries. The LGBTIQ+ community comes together loud and colourful to parade through the city. Bars and stages invite people to linger on the festival lawn, LGBTIQ+ organisations and initiatives present themselves. The population is invited and celebrates with them. In open societies, Pride has become part of the summer festival programme. In the big parade, company floats and groups of employees walk along in T-shirts with their company logos. And they are proud of it. Why?

Inclusion and belonging

In uncertain times, people are looking for belonging, security and meaning. They are looking for work that is valuable, interesting, fun and fulfilling. They want to feel included and valued. Companies and organisations have recognised this and are aligning their employer branding accordingly.

According to the Achievers Workforce Institute’s Culture Report 2021 on Belonging in the Workplace, a sense of belonging is the best kind of employer branding, with 51% of respondents with a strong sense of belonging recommending their company to others as a great place to work and 40% rarely considering looking for another job, compared to 4-5% each of respondents with a low sense of belonging. However, not only economic but also value-based reasons speak for open, inclusive and diverse organisations.

“Going pink” Business case and human rights

Employers have recognised the economic benefits of an inclusive and open corporate culture. They understand that young professionals and managers no longer measure employer attractiveness only in terms of career opportunities and income. Social commitment, values such as equity, belonging and psychological security are gaining in importance. A commitment to diversity and inclusion, especially taking into account the diversity dimension of sexual orientation and gender identity, has the potential to position the company as an attractive employer.

The inclusion of diverse people with diverse experiences enriches teams and broadens the experience of their colleagues. Companies with an open and inclusive culture are attractive employers and attract and retain motivated, productive and innovative employees. Despite major societal changes in recent years, members of sexual and gender minorities experience discrimination and exclusion in the workplace. In a less inclusive environment, where employees cannot be themselves and have to actively hide their private lives, they cannot perform to their full potential. For fear of social exclusion or discrimination, they hardly talk about themselves, keep to themselves, do not take part in joint lunches, shy away from team events.

There is a lack of exchange, colleagues and superiors are less aware of them or their potential. They do not feel they belong, they do not feel safe. In a survey of over 3,000 LGBTIQ+ people in Switzerland conducted last year, one third of members of sexual minorities and over half of members of gender minorities reported experiencing discrimination at work. Accordingly, only just under half, or a good third, have come out to most colleagues. Exclusion and discrimination do not always have to be conscious and explicit. A lack of knowledge and processes, for example in recruiting and promotions, can also lead to exclusion, make a transition more difficult or prevent it. The employee then often leaves the company.

Living inclusion

Fear of negative consequences is the main reason for not coming out. Coming out is easier if there are already role models in the company, for example if a manager has already come out and this is known in the company. Clear messages from the top management and especially encouraging messages from the immediate superior are important. Communicating the positive and inclusive attitude of the organisation externally and internally also strengthens the feeling of belonging. An appearance at Pride with a float or a visible group of employees, also financially supported by the employer, is a clear signal and makes LGBTIQ+ employees proud.

So there are good reasons to show rainbow colours, especially during Pride month, when the media are also increasingly picking up on the topic. However, word gets around quickly if inclusion is not lived internally. If there is a lack of genuine commitment and lived inclusion, the corresponding initiatives are viewed negatively by employees and the community. It is pinkwashing if it remains a public announcement, the flag is hoisted, the logo is coloured, but inclusion is not lived internally and corresponding inclusive measures are missing. LGBTIQ+ organisations support employers in their efforts to increase the inclusion of members of sexual or gender minorities. In Switzerland, the Swiss LGBTI label recognises organisations with an open and inclusive organisational culture. This is to ensure that LGBTIQ+ inclusion is not just lip service, but that members of sexual and gender minorities also feel safe and included in their working environment.


Gurtner, Andrea (2021) Anchoring diversity & inclusion sustainably in companies and organisations: factors of an open and inclusive corporate culture for homosexual employees Journal of Diversity Research and Management, 6(2), pp. 169-183. Budrich Journals 10.3224/zdfm.v6i2.05

Swiss LGBTI Label awarded for the 4th time

The fourth awarding of the Swiss LGBTI label took place last week. A total of 18 new organisations were awarded the label; from the Bern region, the City of Bern and Swiss Post joined them. The label recognises organisations that work for the inclusion of #LGBTI persons in Switzerland.

From the BFH side, Lena Scheidegger and Andrea Gurtner (she, her) from the Institute New Work, are members of the core team and ensure a scientifically correct evaluation of the participating companies and organisations.

More information about the award and the label in general.


The acronym stands for members of sexual minorities (lesbian, gay, bisexual) and gender minorities (trans, intersex) and opens up for further identities (queer+).

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AUTHOR: Andrea Gurtner

Prof. Dr Andrea Gurtner heads the New Work Institute at the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Business. In her research and teaching, she is particularly interested in how companies and organisations can value the diversity of their employees and facilitate an open and inclusive working environment. She is co-initiator and editor of the Swiss LGBTI Label.

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