Microsoft leaders and employees gathered Tuesday afternoon in Redmond, Washington, to kick off the company’s worldwide Pride celebrations, underscoring its longstanding support for the global LGBT+ community.
On a soccer field outside The Commons, the campus’s dining and recreational hub, dozens of employees donned turquoise Microsoft T-shirts with rainbows and listened to speakers discuss the company’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and LGBT+ rights.
Kathleen Hogan, executive vice president of Human Resources, spoke on behalf of Microsoft’s executive leadership team. She lauded GLEAM — Microsoft’s employee resource group for LGBT+ workers, which formed in 1993 — for helping foster an inclusive environment that she said is integral to the company’s culture.
“We are recruiting people from the community because of your work,” she said. “If we’re going to build products for everybody on the planet, we’ve got to represent everybody on the planet and we’ve got to include everybody on the planet. You make such an important difference for our people.
Hogan thanked attendees on behalf of Microsoft’s senior leadership team and CEO Satya Nadella. “We stand with you proudly,” she said.
Microsoft is sponsoring Pride events in 29 cities this year — the most to date — from Charlotte to Copenhagen, Toronto to Tokyo. In Seattle, the company will have a float in the June 25 Pride parade. There are internal events for employees in other cities, and Microsoft stores in the U.S. and Canada are also hosting community events. Last year, about 2,500 Microsoft employees participated in Pride parades and other events in 23 cities worldwide that drew an estimated 10 million attendees.
“Pride is an opportunity for LGBT+ people to be out and visible and see that support,” said Alex Mullans, GLEAM’s Pride director.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve really expanded to this global celebration we have now.”
Though Pride parades are the focal point of those celebrations, Microsoft’s commitment to the global LGBT+ community extends to a number of other areas. Microsoft business leaders in Ireland supported the country’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2016, new GLEAM chapters have started in Mexico and Brazil, and Microsoft employees will be marching in the São Paulo Pride parade this year for the first time.
Microsoft increased its financial support for Pride this year, said Steve Petitpas, general manager, Microsoft Digital Stores and Microsoft.com Services. The move makes good business sense — the LGBT+ community represents a combined buying power of $917 billion, and more than 54 percent of consumers under the age of 34 say they’re more likely to do repeat business with an LGBT-friendly company, according to a 2016 study.
“When you look at the business case for this, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” Petitpas said at the event. “LGBTQ is not a niche community. It’s not a niche market. It’s close to a trillion dollars in buying power. It is a substantial market.”
But Microsoft’s support of Pride is important for less tangible reasons, he said.
“We all know the power of relationships and of love, enabling people to overcome adversity and do amazing things in their life,” Petitpas said. “This is a community that has been the advocate for equality in relationships and for everyone having access to the relationships that they want. So thank you all for being part of that movement, and for continuing to remind us all of how important that is.”
While Microsoft’s involvement in global Pride celebrations is relatively recent, its support for the LGBT+ community goes back decades. Microsoft was one of the first companies worldwide to offer employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners and one of the first to include sexual orientation in its corporate non-discrimination policy.
For the 12th consecutive year, Microsoft scored a perfect 100 on the 2017 Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks U.S. companies for their corporate policies and practices impacting LGBT+ employees. Microsoft has fought anti-LGBT+ bills in several states and endorsed Washington Won’t Discriminate, a campaign opposing an initiative that would require public schools to maintain gender-segregated bathrooms and allow businesses to set their own locker room and bathroom policies.
Despite advances in the global LGBT+ community — including Taiwan’s move toward becoming the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage and Ireland’s recent vote for the country’s first openly gay prime minister — the fight is not over, said Anand Eswaran, corporate vice president, Microsoft Services and Microsoft Digital.
“There is still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “We have a lot of opinions to change. We have a lot of people to get on the movement along with us. Let’s use [Pride] month to bring our communities together, to gather the allies and create the energy.”
Microsoft’s global Pride theme for 2017 is Proud Together. The words, Mullans said, signify that the company is proud to stand with LGBT+ people, to celebrate what they have achieved — and to fight with them when needed.
“There’s certainly some concern in the U.S. LGBT+ community about the political climate,” he said recently. “Clearly, we’ve seen a number of people in important positions who may not have the best interests of the LGBT+ community at heart.
“We want to make sure that Pride is not just an opportunity for us to sell you the next product, but it’s really an opportunity for us to say, ‘We stand with you and we use our resources to support and believe in the community.’”
Photos by Steven Didis and Elizabeth Ong