LGBT+ History Month is a good moment to reflect on obstacles to equality in PR and comms

This month is UK LGBT+ History Month, marking the steps toward equality and the achievements that LGBT+ people have made in recent history.

We've come a long way on LGBT+ but there is still a long road to to travel, argues Stephen Day
We've come a long way on LGBT+ but there is still a long road to to travel, argues Stephen Day

British Social Attitude surveys have shown a transformation toward LGBT+ people in the past 30 years. For example, more than sixty per cent of the population now support same sex marriage, from a low point of below 15 per cent in the 1980s. A significant majority now favour adoption and parenting by gay people.

Both of these issues were ones in which Government took a bold and decisive step forward ahead of public opinion.


Also see: Seven LGBT comms icons to celebrate LGBT history month


Similar leadership is constantly required on diversity issues in business, with the best leaders and businesses pushing the envelope by advancing diversity and promoting role models across the piece.

They are also ensuring that their business practices and norms make everyone feel not only included but empowered to make the best of themselves in their entirety.

It is perhaps a good time for those of us in communications to look at LGBT+ issues and diversity in our own industry.

PR and media more generally is perceived (and indeed likes to perceive itself as), an industry that is progressive in its outlook across the spectrum of diversity issues.

There is certainly still a lot of work to be done and this is also true in the case of LGBT+ opportunity and representation in the higher echelons of PR.

Many individuals still experience prejudice, rarely explicit and often tacit indirect and unseen.

My own experience has, thankfully, been largely of minor, sometimes unspoken, often unintended prejudice. It has on occasion been a cause of mirth when good intentions are laid low by a lack of understanding, or an out of date lexicon unfit for modern social intercourse.

But there are issues that still arise for many LGBT+ people.

They are serious and prevent them from progressing in their careers as they otherwise might and it falls on those with leadership roles in the industry and a platform to voice those concerns, to do so.

There are also still occasionally more serious issues that I hear of where individuals are removed or not considered for client work in agencies or jobs in-house because the client is family orientated.

Stephen Day, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller UK

These issues include overcoming lazy stereotypes about LGBT+ people, what they might be good at and what roles they might "fit" best.

Addressing tacit prejudice where language and structures either in agencies or amongst clients cater toward hetrosexual norms is vital, as is the removal of the need for an LGBT+  person to constantly have to "come out" to avoid awkward or indeed inherently dishonest conversations  for the sake of not causing a stir.

Some good examples of this include: invitations to events which automatically assume a partner invited along to be of the opposite sex; forcing an awkward "coming out" moment for the recipient of the invitation or a decision to avoid the issue by attending unaccompanied; or not going at all so as not to have to have "that conversation".

These, although seemingly trivial issues can be trying and often knock confidence over time and do act as obstacles to LGBT+ people getting on.

There are also still occasionally more serious issues that I hear of, where individuals are removed or not considered for client work in agencies or jobs in-house because the client is "family orientated", often making comments around not understanding other forms of relationships, as if those are bars to them having an LGBT+ person lead their account or do a good job.

Those are not acceptable terms of engagement with clients and should not be heard or tolerated any more than if we tolerated discrimination by clients on the grounds of race, religion, gender or any other.

They need to be challenged.

The most enlightened businesses know that diversity in business is not just a nice to have or indeed a regulatory requirement to be complied with.

It is at the core of success, particularly in an ever changing world where adaptability and variety of experience, not uniformity and convention are now the norm.

Stephen Day is chief executive of Burson-Marsteller UK and in 2017 was listed in the Financial Times/Outstanding Top 100 LGBT+ Business Executives

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