Brands failing non-binary people despite incorporation of Pride colours
An LGBTQIA+ campaign [called Include Mx] is calling out big brands which adopt the colours of Pride this month but exclude non-binary customers by failing to include the gender-neutral title on their forms.
When creating an account online, within registration or setting up your profile, you would typically select a gendered honorific such as Mr. or Ms. The campaign is calling out for retailers to adopt the Mx honorific.
The campaign officially started in 2020 however, the ‘Mx’ honorific was developed in the late 1970s as the most common gender-neutral title among non-binary people and people who do not wish to imply a gender in their titles.
Tom Pashby (they/them), founder of Include Mx and LBBTQIA+ campaigner said: “The campaign was started because I was frustrated with having to misgender myself to buy everyday basics. Some companies were already leading the way by either getting rid of titles altogether, by having a blank box for titles, or by including Mx.
Pashby continued: “Companies which force people to choose a title and don’t include Mx are alienating customers like me. When those same companies adopt the pride colours, it reeks of hypocrisy – pretending to be queer inclusive while excluding a whole group of LGBTQIA+ people.”
Include Mx has successfully encouraged brands such as River Island, Next and Wilko to add Mx to their forms.
Other retailers that are using Mx include Asda, Ocado, Specsavers, Boots, Tesco, Screwfix and Morrisons. Using the Mx title is not a new customer requirement, HSBC have included Mx since 2017.
Some retailers and service providers such as Argos and The Post Office have not been so quick to react and yet both have incorporated the pride colours within their logo this month.
Although Sainsbury’s do use the Mx title within some areas of their business, the Argos brand have been approached ‘repeatedly’ without success since 2011.
In 2012, one year after initially contacting the retailer about gender neutral titles, the retailer responded with “Argos is committed to ensuring that we are inclusive to both customers and employees alike, so we will therefore take the information you have provided into consideration when developing future communication material.”
Over the last 3 years, the campaigners have received the same repeated response and still no change.
The Retail Bulletin approached Sainsbury’s who provided the following statement:
“We want to be an inclusive retailer where everyone feels welcome. Some of our colleagues and customers have told us they would like to use a gender-neutral title when they work and shop with us. We have listened to this feedback and added Mx as an option on our Groceries Online service and colleague HR system. But we know we need to go further and we want to offer this across our entire business.
“We wish this was a quick and simple process. Unfortunately, it involves updating a range of different and complex systems, so we’re asking our customers and colleagues to bear with us while this is worked through.” – Sainsbury’s Spokesperson, 2 June 2023.
The Post Office has added the Pride colours to its logo on Twitter, but has failed to include Mx on its general inquiry form. The title section of its form is optional. The company indicated that it would look into adding the gender-neutral title nearly three years ago.
A spokesperson for the Post Office told Include Mx on 3 June 2023 that they would “reach out to our web team and find out why this amendment hasn’t been made to date”.
So is this Pink Washing?
Pinkwashing refers to the practice of attempting to benefit from purported support for LGBTQIA+ rights, often as a way to profit or to distract from a separate agenda. During Pride month, Pinkwashing refers to companies’ use of the occasion as a marketing and sales opportunity without making meaningful contributions to the cause—or, in some cases, even working against it, such as by donating to politicians who support anti-LGBTQIA+ policies.
The Retail Bulletin spoke to legal experts DWF. Kirsty Rogers Head of Environmental, Social & Governance Employment commented:
“Including the option of a gender-neutral title on retail account forms and employment application forms demonstrates a commitment to inclusion of non-binary people. Retail account forms and employment applications forms are ordinarily steps taken at the beginning of the relationship between the retailer and the customer/employee and provide a great opportunity to demonstrate that the retailer is inclusive in every aspect of how they operate. Authenticity is of paramount importance.”
“The world is changing at an unprecedented speed and it is vital for retailers to keep up. There is an expectation on big brands to be inclusive in every aspect of their operations – from the workforce to the suppliers to the customers. ”
“There is greater scrutiny on statements and commitments made by organisations and any retailers advertising themselves as progressive will be held to account by all stakeholders and will be called out when statements are seen as disingenuous.”
“Whilst it is questionable whether there is any direct legal claim specifically in relation to pink washing, it will undoubtedly impact the brand in terms of PR and also engagement with the workforce. Although pink washing itself may not lead to legal action directly, it is important for retailers to be aware that non-binary people are covered by the definition of gender reassignment under the Equality Act 2010 and so depending on the circumstances retailers may see claims if individuals are discriminated against on the basis of their non-binary status.”
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