MARDI Gras and workplaces are words that not that long ago, would never have been used within the same sentence.

However, times are changing and employers now make up a significant contingent of Mardi Gras floats.

Now for the sceptical, I’d argue that this is not driven by a blatant grab for the pink dollar but rather a genuine effort to support inclusivity at work.

ACON established Pride in Diversity with the assistance of Stonewall UK and Diversity Council Australia in 2009 as a social inclusion initiative to improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people in the workplace. Initiatives were developed that would drive the reduction of exclusion, invisibility, homophobia and stigma. In 2011, the year after the official launch of the program, Pride in Diversity marched as a proud group of 17. Admittedly there was some nervousness among some of our members so we didn’t mind that a couple of those marchers were supporting us from non-member organisations (originally from the ACON float) as we felt it was an important message, and our first year.

Four years later (2015) our 100 spaces filled within minutes, and this year for the first time we have a 200 place allocation with members on a waiting list.

So what has changed in the eyes of employers to move them from nervousness to anticipation, and what does Mardi Gras mean to them?

While it may be understandable why many claim that this is all about the pink dollar, we see a very different picture. I had a conversation with a member this week that was very keen for the organisation to participate but was tackling reservations from their LGBTI employee network. The message from the employer was clear: “we’ve done a lot this year to really make a difference to our LGBTI employees and we’re proud of that. We want other organisations to do the same and we want to march in support of LGBTI workplace inclusion.” It was a handful of LGBTI employees that were nervous about the backlash, but the reality is, we see more support than negativity. It is now employers that are not active in LGBTI inclusion that are more likely to be questioned as to their silence than those who openly support celebrations such as Mardi Gras.

And Mardi Gras is definitely a celebration. It’s an evolving story of the fight for inclusion, equality, equity and respect and that’s not so different from the story that is still being played out in many workplaces today.

Despite any scepticism, you cannot refute the significant amount of work that is being done by Australian employers in this area. Employers across all sectors and of all sizes are taking a stand. They are not only implementing significant initiatives within their own workplaces, but publicly showing their support for marriage equality and utilising their professional relationships to support and advocate for LGBTI workplace inclusion both nationally and internationally.

At the Pride in Practice LGBTI Workplace Inclusion Conference this year we held our first CEO Roundtable, hosted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Chief executives active in this space called on their peers and invited guests to be a part of this critical discussion among the leaders of some of Australia’s largest organisations. The conversation was incredibly motivating and to engage so many CEOs in this discussion during an LGBTI workplace conference is a significant reminder of just how far we have come.

This year, we even have some of those CEOs marching with us.

As we celebrate Mardi Gras, let’s also celebrate the social change that is happening. No, it’s not perfect and yes, there is still a long way to go — but let’s applaud those organisations that are putting their hands up to march alongside us in support of inclusion and equality.

We certainly sense a great deal of pride knowing that every person marching under the Pride in Diversity banner this year belongs to a workplace that is active in LGBTI inclusion. From 17 in 2011 to a waitlist with a group of 200 in 2016.

Their workplace is better for it, and so are they.

Today, the words workplace and Mardi Gras are not so ill-fitting. They mark the change that is occurring and one that we can be really thankful for.

Dawn Hough is the Director of Pride in Diversity.

ABOUT PRIDE IN DIVERSITY:

> Pride in Diversity is Australia’s national not-for-profit employer support program established by ACON in 2009 to assist employers with all aspects of LGBTI workplace inclusion.

> Pride in Diversity is also the developer of the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) resulting in the annual top 20 employers for LGBTI employees and workplace inclusion awards, and the producers of the Australian National LGBTI Recruitment Guide (ANRG).

> Details: prideindiversity.com.au

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The Star Observer is a proud media partner of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

For all of Star Observer’s Mardi Gras coverage, click here

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**This article was first published in the March edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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