Last week the annual Pride Month began. It’s June, and for the full 30 days companies will change their logos on their websites and LinkedIn, showcase their internal LGBTQIA+ networks, and celebrate the diversity of their teams.
All of that is right, admirable, and to be supported enthusiastically.
Yet each year the campaigns are accompanied by an equally valid discussion: the discussion about the line that is walked between allyship and pinkwashing. Commentric.com describes it precisely with just a few words: “As a growing number of brands celebrate Pride Month, criticism for ‘rainbow capitalism’ has never been louder, with many commentators feeling that corporations approach Pride as a box-ticking PR exercise without actually supporting LGBTQ+ communities.”
So how do you navigate this line as a business?
Or rather, what do we do at MVP Factory during Pride Month and the rest of the year to celebrate past, current and future colleagues, stakeholders and partners who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community?
For those of you who have a busy day, let’s cut it short right here: We push ourselves to keep learning. Thank you for reading.
But, as usual, it isn’t that simple. One of our key values at MVP Factory is “Integrity”.
For us, “integrity” is the foundation of any good relationship, demonstrated by doing the right thing, reliably, even if it is difficult or goes unnoticed. As a team, we listen to and value various opinions, are willing to have direct and honest conversations, and will work to the highest professional and ethical standards to find the best solution for our work. Our team and clients can rely on us to be genuine, transparent, fair, and most importantly - to adhere to our word. We do what we say we do. We are bold enough to say no.
The key terms here are honest conversations, doing the right thing, and being genuine.
When you look at our team setup, we’re the typical Berlin-based tech company in the venture building and digital innovation space. We are still majorly white, male, and cis. We love techno and playing FIFA on the Playstation. We have lunch conversations about NFTs. And the rocket is definitely the most used emoji on Slack. These things aren’t “male”, they’re not true for every team member, but when combined together they can create, or support, a certain image.
About two years ago, colleagues gave us feedback during their exit interview that our culture was a bit too male, a bit too dominant, and kept them from feeling seen or safe enough to come out to their new colleagues—due to a culture of ma(i)nstream ignorance, not due to hostility.
The feedback honestly caught us a bit off guard. None of us felt good about it. The temptation to shake it off and hide behind phrases like “but my one of my best friends is gay!” or “why would they feel they can’t come out to us? They must have been shy…” was big. But not bigger than our urge to follow our values, adhere to integrity, and make sure we became a better version of ourselves.
The next June came around, and with it the question of whether our logo needed a rainbow update. We decided against it, because the feedback we just received made us aware that we, as a collective, had a whole bunch of learning to do before it would feel right to publicly announce our allyship. Being an ally has to be learned and earned.
Instead we wanted to find out where the root of our problem was, and what needed to be done to drive reflection and change. We considered getting an external trainer in to break open toxic dynamics and put the finger on where it hurts, but first we wanted to define the problem, ideate solutions, and build our own way: the MVP Factory way. We gave ourselves a year to see how we can foster growth.
Our mission was to inform and transform. So last June we didn’t post anything on Linkedin, and instead (re)started learning.
Everyone at MVP Factory came together for a number of roundtable discussions to find out what kept us from being truly inclusive and diverse. We agreed on action steps that would help us to make our motives and intentions clearer, and some of them are described below. If the only problem was that we just weren’t proactive enough about allyship, then we felt that this should be fixable.
One thing we learned is that for those who don’t identify as members of the queer community, it’s still too easy to sail past it,simply not knowing what one doesn’t know (the big Cicero hit the nail on the head).
Every Thursday we hold our Weeklies, meetings where the whole company get together to exchange news and share learnings, with one moderator giving a lightning talk about *any* topic, which have so far ranged from African poetry to different hip-hop styles to the beauty of mathematical forms and conspiracy theories. We used one of these Weeklies to educate ourselves about the history of Pride Month and the Stonewall Riots.
Our employee handbook contains a “knowledge base” for people to take inspiration from, or to add books, articles, movies, or show recommendations that celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community.
Walking the talk also meant adjusting policies, contracts and onboarding programs. Our templates got updated, bathrooms became unisex to accommodate non-binary co-workers, and any tool where employees are invited to disclose personal information also offers a variety of pronouns to choose from. Our team also has a Slack channel that offers a safe space for anyone who wants to discuss LGBTQIA+ topics, or is looking for like-minded people.
Looking back at the past year, one thing that seemed to “help” the most was a change in communication styles. Instead of policing how bro-ish some of “the guys” played FIFA, we broke the image of exclusivity by just conquering the PlayStation too—adding diversity to the games offered, and showing that everybody gets to pretend to be a multi-million soccer star. The amount of games where female national teams were chosen increased, as well as the amount of burnt sushi.
Those who already felt confident started sharing more openly about private life topics, from non-hetero dating experiences and partners to relationship constructs and identities, and slowly, more and more people engaged in these conversations, opening up about themselves. These small noticeable changes will one day add up to big results. And even though they're not necessarily measurable, they form the safe, unified basis for our cultural transformation going forward.
Last but not least, we played the numbers game. Whenever direct search is part of our recruiting processes (read: always), we make sure that we build profile lists that cater to underrepresented groups, our 1st call ratio for nearly every position is at least 50:50 (using binary code here). 30% of our budget for job posts go to job boards tailored to LGBTQIA+ communities and other underrepresented groups, and to get out of Covid hibernation mode and back into company events, we’ll be attending the LGBTQIA+ career fair Sticks & Stones on June 11th.
So, have we been successful?
The decisive answer is “maybe”. Our team has learned a lot over the past year, and newer pulse checks and feedback conversations attest to an open, inclusive, and caring culture. But I honestly can’t tell you if we’re there yet. Two things that are definitely missing are a clear and published statement, and a representation of our ambitions in our company KPIs that will allow us to measure success and give us a clearer answer to the question.
But hey, one needs milestones for this year’s Pride Month. So stay tuned.
We’re a team where each team member is valued for who they are, who they want to become, who they love, what they contribute to MVP Factory, and what makes them happy. Our onboarding includes the offer of support for coming out in a way that feels right for the person, and our Talents & Organization team will keep working continuously on making us a more open and inclusive workplace. It’s our way of living our value of integrity.
Our business outlook, our innovation, and our happiness at work wouldn’t be possible without the wealth of diversity our people bring into their work on a daily basis. From client projects to decision making processes, we want to be able to learn and understand how to be a flagship company for inclusion, to shape not only our internal work but also to have a long lasting impact on our clients and the way they continue to work after collaborating with us. Making that a reality has only been possible by humbling ourselves, and listening to and learning from the experiences of those who have been “othered”.
For us, this means that this year we’ll be out and proud. We want to underline our allyship to all our past, current and future team members, stakeholders and partners. Maybe it is still a tiny bit of pinkwashing, but maybe it’s also time to claim space within MVP Factory and use the rainbow logo more as an internal reminder to ourselves that the learning doesn’t stop here.
People of color, neurodivergent, non-binary and gender non-conforming, transgender and female individuals are routinely discriminated against in professional settings, especially in tech. We want to be a model for diversity and inclusion and will not stop improving our processes to secure equal access to career and internal growth opportunities.