Exxon Mobil Corp. plans to prohibit the rainbow-hued LGBTQ-rights flag from being flown on its flagpole outside of its corporate offices.
The decision comes after the company updated its guidance and banned “external position flags,” such as Pride and Black Lives Matter, to maintain a uniform look across corporate campuses, according to the policy obtained by Bloomberg News.
Exxon told Bloomberg that it would permit displaying flags of LGBTQ employee resource groups that do not prominently feature the company’s logo. Employees can continue to display these flags in office windows, workspaces, or on digital or social media.
“The updated flag protocol is intended to clarify the use of the ExxonMobil-branded company flag and not intended to diminish our commitment to diversity and support for employee resource groups,” Tracey Gunnlaugsson, Exxon’s vice president of human resources, said in a statement shared with Newsweek. “We’re committed to keeping an open, honest and inclusive workplace for all of our employees, and we’re saddened that any employee would think otherwise.”
But the move has angered many company employees, some of whom say they will not represent Exxon at a Houston Pride Parade in June. And many within the oil giant’s LGBTQ employee resource group have criticized the company for the ban.
“While they may say nobody has lost anything, the symbolism is unmistakable,” J. Chris Martin, a former employee and head of the resource group, told The New York Times. “Employee resource groups were consulted only in a perfunctory way regarding this matter, based on momentary discomfort with displaying a symbol of open-mindedness and support for long-suppressed voices.”
In a LinkedIn post, Linda DuCharme, executive sponsor of Exxon’s LGBTQ employee resource group, wrote that the company still values LGBTQ workers and is committed to diversity.
“I am crushed that the recent news has hurt so many of you,” DuCharme wrote. “Let me say that our company in no way intended to diminish its commitment to an inclusive and diverse culture or our full support for all LGBTQ+ employees. The trust you have placed in your colleagues and this company to accept you as you are, and to allow you to be yourself has not been misplaced.”
LGBTQ Organizations Respond
On April 22, the Human Rights Campaign denounced Exxon’s refusal to fly the Pride flag outside of its offices.
“We support the LGBTQ+ employees at Exxon and hope Exxon’s leaders understand there’s no such thing as ‘neutrality’ when it comes to our rights,” the company wrote in a Twitter post. “Our flag isn’t just a visual representation of our identities. It is also a staple of allyship.”
Brian K. Bond, executive director of LGBTQ rights organization PFLAG, expressed his disappointment in Exxon’s move and added that, “we support employees [who] have chosen not to represent the company in the Houston Pride Parade.”
He noted that Exxon’s statement that the decision does not diminish the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is not reassuring, especially considering their history of rescinding LGBTQ+ inclusive nondiscrimination policies after a merger and shareholders’ consistent vote against inclusive benefits and policies.
Bond also mentioned that LGBTQ adults, youths and their families have been the victim of harmful rhetoric and physical abuse. He believes that the Pride flag can be a symbol of optimism for this community.
“When organizations fly that flag, especially when they do so in conjunction with programming and activities that make them more LGBTQ+-inclusive, it is a very visible, public declaration of where their values lie,” Bond explained. “And for those employees who are LGBTQ+ as well as their families and allies, it is an affirmation of the organization’s pride in doing this work. It’s a signal of inclusion.”
Workers Becoming More Vocal
The outcry over Exxon’s policy change is part of the growing trend of workers protesting their employer’s stance on social issues.
In March, Disney employees staged a walkout to boycott the company’s initial silence over the passage of a Florida bill that would restrict discussion of LGBTQ issues in classrooms. And the management services company ADP found that 76 percent of more than 32,000 workers globally would consider leaving their jobs if they discovered an unfair gender pay gap or no diversity, equity and inclusion policy.
Bond said it’s important for employees to speak out against mistreatment and discrimination in the workplace to create positive change.
“It is not enough to be silently dismayed by the atrocious labels that are being batted around about your employees, their families, their children and trusted members of the communities where you work,” Bond said. “You need to speak out and be visible.”