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Pride Month is a big deal for companies. Are values and actions actually aligned?

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A man walks on steps covered in rainbow colors for Pride Month at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City.

A man walks on steps covered in rainbow colors for Pride Month at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City. JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

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June is Pride Month, and, along with the celebration of LGBTQ communities and the commemoration of their years-long fight for equality, companies around the world rally to outwardly show support for those communities.

In the past, many have been accused of “rainbow washing,” pandering to the public by painting their brands and goods with flags for one month of the year.

This year in the U.S., in the wake of recent anti-LGBTQ legislation in several states, experts suggest people will be taking a closer look at how corporations treat Pride.

“Companies are no longer able to straddle a fine line. Investing in one side with hostile intent while, frankly, seeking to profit from the other side, begs the question of whether a company lacks values entirely,” says Andrew Isen, founder and president of WinMark Concepts, a marketing and communications agency focused on the LGBTQ community.

Marketplace’s David Brancaccio spoke with Isen about the push for companies to prioritize values-based practices. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: The political situation is changing and you are seeing examples where firms, where companies, are recognizing that and changing their posture in a way that is more active.

Andrew Isen: That’s correct. I think that what’s happening is the companies have realized, you know, particularly with the LGBTQ segment, that they have to now speak in a solid voice. It’s about a company’s values. Previously, it was about profit. And very frankly, their consumers and their employees and their shareholders want to see a company that believes in diversity, equity and inclusiveness.

Brancaccio: And that can show it, you know, with data, that this is actually what they’re doing. That isn’t just a goal.

Isen: Oh, certainly. Diversity, equity and inclusion programs are quantifiable. There are studies throughout the United States, and throughout the world, that show that commitment to equality is directly correlative to a company’s bottom line.

Brancaccio: Now, when a company gets punished for taking a stand — let’s say by the state of Florida, for being an ally — it could persuade other firms to keep their heads down. A theoretical risk, but are you seeing the effects of that with other companies in practice?

Isen: Companies are no longer able to straddle a fine line. Investing in one side with hostile intent while, frankly, seeking to profit from the other side, begs the question of whether a company lacks values entirely. You talk about punishment. There is no punishment per se, there are short-term actions and reactions. But in the long-term, prescient companies will value their shareholders, their stakeholders, and they will demonstrate that. And in the end, their value-based business practices will win and it will translate directly to their bottom line.

Brancaccio: All right. I’ve been framing this in terms of external communications with external stakeholders, but companies have their own employees and those employees have power and companies have to recognize that.

Isen: Companies cannot succeed today, if their employees, both existing and the ones that are trying to recruit, don’t share the equality and equity that these people demand. Gen Xers and millennials want to work for companies who demand equality from their corporate management at all levels. And it’s not just hiring, it’s retaining. And that’s a challenge that companies are facing across the board and I hear it from everyone.

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