The importance of LGBTQ+ authenticity at work and in the work
First published on BITE, Creative Brief
A strong sense of community and inclusion is essential for employees to bring their full selves to work
What are your personal experiences of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community working in the advertising industry?
I was still in the closet during most of my first job after university. There was only one or two other openly gay men in the company, in different teams. Some of the isolation I felt was self-imposed, but the rather drinks orientated culture and occasional laddish pub chat about everyone’s straight romantic encounters didn’t help provide me with much sense of belonging. Looking back, the lack of diversity probably delayed me coming out to friends, families and eventually colleagues, delaying my general happiness and quality of life.
Fast-forward many different workplaces and my sense of inclusion is at the other end of the scale. I have more LGBTQ+ colleagues at The&Partnership, and I’m part of our LGBTQ+ network ‘Unite’ which is part of my agency and connects up LGBTQ+ people across other WPP agencies – building community, putting on talks and events relating to the community, and driving better representation in the work of the industry. Whilst there’s always more work to be done, this shows a positive change and the impact of a concerted effort to ensure everyone feels seen, understood and represented.
The more direct LGBTQ+ events and conversations around the workplace, the more I’ve felt comfortable being myself and talking about my sexuality, in passing as a general comment or at a deeper level.
There were jobs in the past where I didn’t feel comfortable referring to ‘my boyfriend’ and dressed up comments in language such as ‘partner’ or ‘other half’. Now I’ve no qualms referring to myself as a gay man who has a boyfriend. This positive change and the greater comfort of being my authentic self can only be healthy for not just my general wellbeing, but the quality of my work and the health of the agency at-large.
How can the industry create authentic representation on screen?
Agencies and brands can help to create authentic representation on screen by ensuring that their approach to storytelling and casting is open and diverse. The 2.4 children stereotype isn’t as representative as Britain’s modern mainstream families as it once was, if it ever was. It’s not always a busy mum that’s head of household shopping which brands need to get the attention of. Real world situations, experiences and consumer problems don’t solely play out between heterosexual man and woman, boy and girl, husband and wife.
How can brands and agencies avoid Pride washing?
We’ve all seen endless stats about how consumers are becoming increasingly cynical of advertising and how much convincing they need to believe in, trust and buy the products of a brand. If a brand’s creative goes down the tick-boxing route, it will get spotted as tokenism a mile off.
Both agencies and brands need to ensure what they do and say around Pride doesn’t begin and end with a rainbow-wash of their Instagram profile image for a couple of weeks and that their commitment and celebration is underpinned by long-term company values and action. What a company does around Pride shouldn’t be limited to their public-facing comms and should run right through all areas of business, internally as well as externally.
How can we work toward creating a more inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community
At The&Partnership, there is a genuine commitment across all areas of diversity and inclusion, with regular agency and employee network-led talks, events and socials – all supported and attended by people at all levels, whether they’re part of a community in focus or not.
It’s a strong, consistent and genuine effort which I’ve not experienced to such a degree at any previous work place. It makes working here more enjoyable, everyone’s performance better and therefore the agency’s output stronger.
Workplaces that want to follow suit and enjoy these benefits need to be dedicated in the long-term and go beyond nice-to-hear but arguably shallow rhetoric, focusing on the doing as much as the saying. This could look like a broad range of things, from encouraging diversity through recruitment, marking calendar events such as Pride and LGBTQ+ History month with talks and events, ring fencing employee networks enough time to come together and plan them or simply funding social occasions on specific calendar dates.
Regular staff surveys and consultancy can help to assess and inform ongoing efforts so that things keep moving in the right and vital direction.
Written by Tony Wright, Senior Strategist at The&Partnership.