It’s been a high-profile year for trans issues in the media. Caitlyn Jenner’s rise to cultural heroism, the award-winning show Transparent and this week’s announcement that 11 states will be suing the White House over its transgender bathroom directive are all small pieces of the larger story surrounding the trans disputation. And let’s face it, things are getting a bit more…messy…for retailers. Clean up on aisle nine, please. Every brand is faced with a new set of choices to make for their employees and customers, and it’s a choice that requires immediate attention. When it comes to the sign on your bathroom doors, what will it say? Who will it show? Will your bathrooms welcome transgender individuals or will they remain as they’ve always been?
When it comes to the potty partitions, will your brand sit this one out or stand up?
Your friendly, neighborhood Target store is choosing to stand. In recent months the national retailer has proudly stood by its open, embracing and inclusive culture in spite of severe backlash. To date, hundreds of thousands of people have pledged to boycott Target over this choice. Yet, it sticks to its values, welcoming “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” At the core of Target’s choice is the steadfast belief that everyone deserves to be protected from discrimination and treated equally, including the roughly 0.2-0.3% of the American population whom identify as a different gender from which they were born. Sticking to its brand values may mean that Target will—or already has—experienced a bottom line decline and negative publicity overflow, but it’s clearly willing to take that risk for sake of brand experience and inclusiveness.
Count Starbucks, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barnes & Noble assuming the same potty position. “As a company, Barnes & Noble treats all employees and customers with dignity and respect,” said spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating.
Then there’s the other side to stand with, the side that errs more towards ‘safety’ versus
cultural progression. There are plenty of stories where sex offenders have used transgender laws and subsequent loopholes for the purpose of victimizing. From the lens of many retailers, this poses a threat to customer safety and “family friendly service.” The decision to refuse transgender bathroom access is as prominent as the decision to allow it and has drawn equal attention for retailers, perhaps even equal consequences.
But, on both sides of the decision one thing is the same and that is each business looks to its set of defined internal brand values to make a choice surrounding this issue, which reinforces the importance of establishing such operating assets. A brand without defined values is a brand that will suffer during social conversations and actionable moments.
The transgender bathroom issue is here to stay and will only grow more powerful in conversation and awareness as the years go on. That is the nature of a highly controversial issue involving politics, businesses and personal lives alike.
Bottom line is, every business—namely retailers—should use this moment to learn and refer back to its set of brand values. The values should be widely shared across the company and used as a foundation to adhere to both internally and externally.
Is your business prepared for every social situation or societal progression issue?
Does your brand need help defining its values? Has your business been through a brand workshop recently? If not, now’s the time to do so. Let HEILBrice help.