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How businesses are working to attract LGBTQ clients

Canadian businesses are increasingly adopting practices that promote LGBTQ equality in the market and workplace, says Darrell Schuurman, co-founder of the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC). He should know; he’s been working with small, medium, and big businesses since 2003 promoting diversity.

“It’s become important for a corporation to not just try to buy the pink dollar by going after the consumer base,” said Schuurman, who is also CGLCC vice-chair. “They really need to do what they’re preaching by supporting the entire LGBTQ community.”

It’s been 10 years since companies started to realize the buying power of the LGBTQ market, which in the U.S., was pegged at US$884-billion by Washington, D.C.-based Witeck Communications. The CLGCC puts Canada’s LGBTQ purchasing power between C$84-billion and C$90-billion.

The travel industry was ahead of the curve and the first to see the untapped capital in the LGBTQ market, beginning to heavily advertise in trade publications about 20 years ago.

Since then there’s been an evolution in the way both agencies and tourism operators work hard to attract consumers. Schuurman says, “You want to ensure that if you are a tourism business you are actually ready to be serving LGBTQ customers. For instance, are your staff trained in terms of language?”

Last May, Travel Gay Canada operated workshops in P.E.I. giving tourism operators lessons in how to make their businesses more LGBT-friendly. In the sessions operators learned the meaning of acronyms and how to be welcoming.

“I’m checking in with my partner and we’re both female and we want one bed. And it’s like, ‘Oh, right.’ Little things like that, eyebrow [raising], whispering behind the counter, and it all undermines my sense of ‘I want to be here’,” Anne Marie Shrouder of Travel Gay Canada told the CBC.

The evolution continues. In 2014 Tourisme Montreal ran a lively LGBT campaign called “Queer of the Year” contest. Partnering with Air Canada, it also created a six-part web series, Montreal Boy: Some Strings Attached, which debuted that spring on LogoTV.com.

Changing how employees are treated

Going far beyond just the travel industry, many other companies are striving for diversity and inclusivity beyond Gay Pride Month; it has become a year-round, change-the-culture-of-the-business endeavour. As noted in a report by the Center for Talent Innovation, Out in the World: Securing LGBT Rights in the Global Marketplace, fostering an LGBT-inclusive workplace helps companies win and retain top talent, attract key consumer groups, and innovate for under-served markets.

As Kristina Leung, senior editor at Media Corp, publisher of the annual Canada’s Best Diversity Employers list, noted when the 2016 issue was released: “Some employers are actually putting inclusion before diversity in terms of their literature, how they present their strategies or their titles as inclusion officers rather than diversity officers.”

Banks, airline leading industry in change

TD Bank is the highest-profile sponsor of Pride Toronto and the Pride Parade. Schuurman praised the company for its LGBTQ ad campaigns that appear in mainstream press rather than only appearing in trade press and the fact that the company has made benefits for same-sex partnerships standard for its employees. “They are an example of a company that walks the walk year-round and the manner in which they support the community,” he said.

[More than 100 TD Bank Group employees march alongside the company’s float, called “Forever Proud,” in the 35th Annual Vancouver Pride Parade, Sunday, August 4, 2013. (Canadian Press)]

Another bank, RBC, has introduced an LGBT inclusion webcast series to introduce LGBT and awareness training. They also have new workplace gender transition guidelines that includes checklists, transition plan guidance, resources and information for managers and colleagues to facilitate awareness and integration.

In Nova Scotia, Jazz Aviation has mandatory diversity and inclusion training as well as a monthly diversity and inclusion newsletter and it celebrates International Pink Day. It offers scholarships for students who identify as an equity group and employees in the head office helped found a Diversity Association, which meets monthly to discuss diversity and inclusion. They also launched a Safe Space campaign to promote an inclusive work environment. For these reasons they were recognized among Canada’s Best Diversity Employers in 2016.

The next frontier

The third area of diversity and inclusion, diversifying supply chains, is in its infancy. The CLGCC helps LGBTQ-owned businesses bid for supply contracts with large corporations.

Schuurman says supplier-diversity practices need to be the norm not the exception. Securing additional bids ensures a company will get the best prices and it creates opportunities for suppliers that are historically disadvantaged, he adds.

A company will want to diversify its supply chain to reflect the customer base, he said. It shows support for different communities. And smaller suppliers can provide more innovative solutions with cost cutting opportunities.

“There is a lot of value here,” he said.

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