Adland's LGBTQ+ community

A Future of Fairness includes a roadmap for companies to follow no matter where they are on their diversity and inclusion journey.

Our new report, A Future of Fairness, aims to give brands and agencies a series of tangible actions to consider on diversity and inclusion. In this chapter, we explore how work is still not a place where everyone feels comfortable to be open about their sexuality.

Mark Runacus, chair of LGBTQ+ lobby group Outvertising believes the excuses for not measuring orientation in the industry ran out long ago, and that knowledge is vital if we want to conquer prejudice in the workplace – and in the creative output.

He says, "People say that it’s intrusive to ask, but we’re beyond that – we’ve got over the ethnicity question. People from a different generation might think it’s embarrassing, but if you asked a roomful of people under 30 about their sexual orientation, they wouldn’t care." (Dentsu asks employees this question on an optional basis, and the response rate is 65%.)

Runacus himself didn’t come out fully at work until he started his own business in 2016, but 30 years ago he found an oasis of acceptance at Ogilvy when a couple of European leaders put down the names of their same-sex partners in an agency publication. "I was so grateful that I was allowed to be gay," he says. "I’m ashamed of that now, but that’s how I felt."

For the trans and non-binary community, acceptance can also be an issue.

Paddy Paddison, an art director at TBWA, says, "Being trans isn’t something you can leave outside the office like most personal aspects of life. I’ve been misgendered countless times, not from a place of prejudice but from a lack of understanding." Genderneutral toilets and language, backed by inclusive staff policies, are "little things that go a long way."

Rich Miles, co-founder of the Diversity Standards Collective, has worked in a number of agencies. He says, "We can’t make agencies a Noah’s Ark of diversity, but we can and should make ourselves more diverse. I was always the one gay guy in the agency, so if anything LGBTQ+ came up, it would always come to me – but I’m not the voice of the entire community and that’s a lot of weight on someone’s shoulders."

Society and advertising have moved on since Runacus started out in the 90s, and now many agencies have LGBTQ+ groups, which bring members of the community together in a very visible way. They give people a place to turn to, but they don’t work in isolation, Runacus says: "Don’t just think you can find somebody to lead it and give them £500 for some soft drinks on a Wednesday afternoon. Like any organisation, it needs purpose, and to be part of a wider network."

Mandy Rayment, now Communications Director at Publicis Media, spent four years as co-chair of the &Proud network at Dentsu. Her work in building &Proud across the whole UK group, and making it a genuine force for positive change, helped Dentsu this year to become the first agency to enter the rigorous Stonewall Workplace Equality Index Top 100 (at number 59).

People do go back into the closet when they start work. For a white gay man, it’s probably OK and acceptable, but for all other areas of the LGBTQ+ community it’s still quite difficult for people to be who they truly are.

A lack of representation in agencies results, inevitably, in a lack of representation in the creative work produced.

While 6% of the population identifies as LGBTQ+, only 3% of ads feature this community, and too many of those ads rely on stereotypes and tokenism.

Every year, Pride brings the LGBTQ+ community together, and while many brands contribute positively to events across the country, Pride all too often exposes the shortcomings of the advertising industry’s efforts.

The inevitable 'pinkwashing' backlash around Pride has become an annual event in its own right. In 2019, the attention focused on Marks & Spencer’s now infamous LGBT (lettuce, guacamole, bacon and tomato) sandwich, which was pilloried by many for paying lip service to the cause.

Outvertising’s approach, however is always to be forgiving.

I can see why people get angry, but there are positive consequences too. For every person who’s annoyed, there’s probably a shy 17-year-old queer employee of the company who feels a bit more confident in the workplace.

Mark Runacus

As a lobbying group, Outvertising will get in touch privately with brands that misfire. "We won’t create a Twitter storm," Runacus says, "we want to talk quietly about how to do it differently next time, and also to make sure that the best work is amplified and appreciated."

Public shaming of brands around their LGBTQ+ initiatives can have negative long-term repercussions.

Miles says: "Brands end up getting scared of doing things wrong, and it stops them from making any diverse work at all. That’s why you need to put checks and balances in place with the relevant community, to avoid potential pitfalls."

Tokenism, stereotypes and inauthenticity are the enemy of diversity, whether that’s in the workplace or in the work. The LGBTQ+ community intersects with all elements of society, so for brands, it’s not about speaking to a defined pocket of people, but reaching a mainstream audience with a message that reflects the world we all inhabit. In the end, as Miles says: "We need to hold ourselves to higher standards of diversity".

Continue reading A Future of Fairness

The opinions expressed here are those of the contributors and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024