LGBTQ Inclusion: Why It Matters and How Small Businesses Can Practice It

Small business leaders discuss why LGBTQ inclusion is crucial, as well as how more organizations can practice inclusion thoughtfully.

Air Date: June 3, 2021

Moderator: Rick Wade, Vice President, Strategic Alliances and Outreach, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Lawrence Bowdish, Senior Director of Research and Issue Networks, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wes Combs, Consultant, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Featured Guests: Laurie Paolicelli, Executive Director, Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, Crystal Fisher, Partner and Broker, Weaver Street Realty, Kevin Callaghan, Chef and Owner, Acme Food & Beverage Company, Windy Willer, Training and Development Manager, Weaver Street Market

The business community is one of the most powerful agents of change across industries and issues, including social issues such as LGBTQ inclusion and diversity initiatives. With an estimated 5.6% of Americans self-identifying as LGBTQ+, companies are increasingly looking for ways to actively support the community.

Below, small business leaders discuss the importance of incorporating the LGBTQ community into daily business practices, as well as how organizations can practice inclusion thoughtfully.

Using Demographic Information to Drive Inclusive Marketing

As executive director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, Laurie Paolicelli strives to show the inclusive values of Carrboro, N.C., and the surrounding area.

“There was an inaccurate perception out there that North Carolina was just deeply conservative, period,” she said. “Unless the outside traveling world and business world knows our values and the tenants of which we do business, we’re not going to see any real results.”

After discovering through market research that the LGBTQ market has a higher propensity for travel, the Visitors Bureau focused on LGBTQ-inclusive travel marketing, sharing messages such as “Y’all Means All” and even placing a rainbow ram outside their visitor center.

“Putting that warm, welcome mat out there is critically important, but … so are the demographics and the ROI,” Paolicelli said. “I would encourage [businesses] to look at both.”

How Inclusivity Helps LGBTQ Members Feel Welcome in Business

Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace helps LGBTQ members feel welcome as both patrons and potential employees. This strategy not only highlights the morals of a company but improves its bottom line.

“The idea that we could not pay attention to diversity is just antithetical … we couldn’t exist without the entire community,” stressed Windy Willer, training and development manager at Weaver Street Market. “And our staff needs to be welcomed as well so they can be welcoming to everyone else in the community.”

Kevin Callaghan, chef and owner of Acme Food & Beverage Company, added that restaurants are designed to welcome staff and customers from all walks of life.

“Inclusion makes our business stronger. It makes us a better place to be; a more enjoyable place,” Callaghan noted. “People recognize themselves when they walk into this restaurant.”

For Continued Allyship, Listening and Learning Are Lifelong Processes

While implementing LGBTQ diversity and inclusivity initiatives is an excellent start, true allyship requires business leaders to continuously listen and learn. Crystal Fisher, partner and broker at Weaver Street Realty, recommended social media as a tool to stay on the pulse of LGBTQ issues and terminology.

“We need to always be open to learning ... and realizing that we will be wrong in some cases,” explained Fisher. “We need to always be open to accepting information and not assuming that we have it all, because it’s a really fast-changing world.”

Willer also emphasized the importance of listening to those in the LGBTQ community, particularly those on your staff.

“[Let] folks take the lead and tell [you] what’s right for them,” advised Willer. “Listen to people who are from a different group than you … ask questions and find out what works for them.”

Small Businesses on a Budget Can Still Focus on LGBTQ Inclusion

Businesses don’t need to have endless resources to make a difference for members of the LGBTQ community. Simply having inclusive visuals and language in your marketing can go a long way.

Fisher noted that Weaver Street Realty keeps Pride flags on display, as well as gender-neutral bathroom signs, stating “It’s critical to play the leadership role and [show] everything you believe in.”

“If you’re on a budget, social media is always a good place to launch your thoughts, but I think the main thing … is [to] be involved in the community in some real ways,” stressed Callaghan. “It’s not just you sitting back passively waiting for those people to come to you, but you’re walking out [to them].”

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