Thought Leaders in association withPartners in Crime

We Are Still Queer and Here, Even When the Rainbows Have Been Packed Away

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Rachel Bowen and David Adamson reflect on the successes, the progress made, and the challenges that still lay ahead for the LGBTQ+ community

A creative agency environment has long attracted the more open-minded and forward-thinking members of society, and consequently the industry has a reputation for being one of the most inclusive, opening its arms to those of minority lived experience and benefitting from their unique perspectives.

However, even this unofficial ‘everyone is welcome’ policy had its imperfections. LGBTQ+ representation often didn’t extend to leadership roles, gay men were associated with more creative jobs, and gay women and trans folk were rarely visible, if they were in the room at all.

We’re glad to say that in 2022 this is shifting – thanks to efforts by the community to hold businesses accountable, such as Stonewall’s ‘Inclusive Employers’ List, as well as a deepening awareness amongst our heterosexual, cisgender peers that they have an important role to play in social justice movements as proactive allies.

In spite of positive changes that contribute to more inclusive environments, nothing can replace the feeling of community that LGBTQ+ people around the world know to be intrinsic to their sense of safety and belonging. That is where employee collectives of those with minority lived experience can really make an impact.

Our example of this is WPP Unite, the LGBTQ+ network of WPP agencies, which has stepped in to create both meaningful impact across all WPP businesses, as well as bring together LGBTQ+ employees to connect, share and breathe just that bit more easily amongst peers. WPP Unite’s work ranges from organising socials, events and talks that bring agency LGBTQ+ folks (and their allies) together, being a conduit for WPP to meaningfully engage with and support the community, to unlock opportunities for LGBTQ+ talent to thrive, and create societal impact that LGBTQ+ community cares about.

 A recent example of this, is Unite members across their agencies rallying together to create Pride in London’s 50th anniversary campaign – with an entirely LGBTQ+ team (from media planning, project management and design, to strategy, creative and production). A project that has never been undertaken at this scale before, ensuring authentic LGBTQ+ insight, opinions and representation is baked into every stage of a campaign's creation. And a feat that would never have been possible without the support and backing of the individual agencies. 

This sort of personal and professional time and space for the community to come together is essential, but it also demonstrates the need for agencies to continue to strive towards being a safe environment for LGBTQ+ people where they can bring their whole selves to work, ensuring that the burden doesn’t fall to them to edit and self-select what they make visible at work. This requires genuine allyship at all levels, most especially from leadership. A term easily batted about, but sometimes not clearly understood - WPP Unite believe proactive, year round allyship can generally be separated into three ‘buckets’:

  • Education: Do your team understand what homophobic microaggressions might look like? Are straight staff empowered to call that out, without fear of reprisal? What external speakers or organisations are you partnering with to ensure diverse LGBTQ+ voices are spotlighted. Who are you consulting to have a formal view on whether your HR policies are genuinely inclusive for the community? 
  • Financial: What and when are you either donating money or time and energy from the organisation to benefit the LGBTQ+ community
  • Actions: What safe spaces are you creating for LGBTQ+ staff? Are you using gender-neutral language in all staff comms as standard? Are heteronormative assumptions challenged and conversations shifted on that basis?

As with all social justice movements, there is plenty more work to be done (especially our trans sisters and brothers, who are under constant attack from our Government and media institutions) but as we reflect on Pride Month in 2022, we can look back and feel proud of what has been achieved via WPP Unite, and energise ourselves for the next 12 months, when we are still queer even when the rainbows have been packed away.

Rachel Bowen is division director at PR and influencer agency Halpern (part of The&Partnership network). She is also the lead of &Unite, The&Partnerships LGBTQ+ community. 

David Adamson is deputy head of strategy at The&Partnership, and founder of WPP Unite, which connects up LGBTQ+ communities across WPP’s network of agencies.

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