Members of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Nissan (GSAN rhymes with Nissan) march in the Nashville pride parade in June. / Photo Kelly Gilfillan
By MATT BLOIS
A number of companies from Williamson County participated in Pride events last month in an effort to make sure queer employees felt supported at work and to attract the best workers, they said.
Representatives from Mars Petcare North America, Nissan North America and CKE Restaurants all marched in the Nashville Pride parade last month. All of those companies sponsored the event — Nissan even has a rainbow car that drove through the parade.
Pride parades and events offer companies an opportunity to show employees and consumers that they support equal rights for all people — though many activists criticize large companies for using Pride events as an opportunity to promote a brand rather than push for equality.
A group in New York City hosted an alternate Pride parade without corporate sponsorship to protest large companies profiting from the main Pride celebration.
Cathy Lively, a manager for diversity and inclusion at Nissan, recognized that Pride events are good marketing opportunities, but said the festival is more importantly an opportunity to make Nissan employees feel comfortable at work.
“It’s really important for us to allow all of our employees to bring their whole selves to work,” she said. “We mean that very genuinely … When we allow them and give them the opportunity to bring their whole self to work, that’s when we get the best innovation and the best collaborative ideas.”
With an unemployment rate hovering around 2 percent in Williamson County, Lively said it’s important for employers to show potential hires that the company has an inclusive workplace.
Lively said one of the main ways that Nissan maintains an inclusive environment is through the Gay-Straight Alliance at Nissan (the acronym GSAN rhymes with Nissan). The group is led by employees and there are chapters at the Franklin headquarters, a location in Dallas, Texas, and a manufacturing facility in Canton, Miss.
Employees at the manufacturing location in Smyrna are planning to start the newest GSAN chapter.
In an email, Dave Bradey, vice president of people and organization at Mars Petcare North America, agreed that supporting LGBTQ employees is simply good business because it ensures that companies have access to the best workers.
“A company cannot be successful without great people. And for us, it’s really important that we foster an inclusive culture where all of our Associates can be themselves, be respected and feel supported,” he wrote in an email. “The research is there that when companies increase diversity and develop more inclusive environments, they achieve better business results and attract and retain stronger talent.”
Outside of pride events, Bradey said a group at Mars also offers inclusive leadership trainings, conference opportunities and networking events focused on LGBTQ issues.
Jeremey Fyke, a communications professor at Belmont University currently teaching a summer course called Organizations in Society, said in a hyperconnected world basically everything companies do is symbolic.
“All organizations have an identity or a personality, just like people. The things they choose to get involved with communicate that identity,” he said.
Decades ago, Fyke said companies mainly focused on making a great product. Without Facebook, Twitter or smartphones consumers didn’t have as much of a direct window into a company’s inner workings. Companies still have to make good products, but now they also need to show that they’re good corporate citizens.
Even if a company’s customers don’t agree with a company’s values, Fyke said many consumers appreciate an organization that will stand up for what it believes in. That idea extends to employees as well.
“If I’m not a member of that community but I go to work there, I am probably going … to know that these people will take a stand for me,” he said. “My employer will take a stand for me and my unique interests.”
Diving into a social issue can spark backlash against a company (remember all those people destroying Nike socks after the company featured activist and athlete Colin Kaperknick in a commercial).
However, Lively said Nissan’s commitment to diversity doesn’t change based on the company’s location.
“Making sure that we’re projecting the company culture in diversity and inclusion and belonging is just simply part of our culture. Whether we’re in Williamson County or Canton, Miss.,” she said. “We are who we are, which allows our employees to be who they are.”