A little less advice, a little more action please: Comms can do more for LGBTQ+ people

The communications industry talks a good talk when it comes to authenticity and representation.

Talk is cheap; it's time for action, argues Ethan Spibey
Talk is cheap; it's time for action, argues Ethan Spibey

From marketing to advertising, we launch campaigns, create adverts and build initiatives that underline how important diversity and difference are. But for an industry so good at making itself heard, we could all do with taking a moment to listen.

The fact is that of the top 100 employers in 2020 according to the charity Stonewall, just one of them is a communications agency.

Real representation across communications, especially in senior positions, is far from diverse unless you consider diversity as which college you attended at Oxbridge.

The result is that for many LGBTQ+ people, working in communications can still be quite tough.

Challenges around workplace culture, lack of representation and the seeming absence of ambition to truly support LGBTQ+ people in the industry means that we are not only failing our friends and our colleagues, but we are in danger of flinging boulders around the most delicate of glasshouses.

The real indictment is that it’s not hard for us to do better as an industry.

First, let’s get our house in order

Workplace culture is an overused term that essentially boils down to how we foster and nurture the very best in all of us. A focus on improving LGBTQ+ inclusion isn’t mutually exclusive to others. Building a culture internally which recognises, celebrates and supports difference benefits everyone.

Policies such as exclusionary healthcare policies for trans people or unwritten rules that “are just how we’ve done things in the past” are exacerbating underlying inequalities and perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

Second, businesses must step up

If our product is our people, it’s time organisations ramped up their ambition in how they’re supported. Launching employee groups can be seen as tokenistic without centring the expertise and lived experience in decision-making and resourcing them equitably and fairly. They are not a free resource to be exploited. Alongside these, proactively encouraging diverse applicants for new positions, providing opportunities and support for career progression and pushing for change on behalf of those most marginalised is also vital. And no, changing your logo for a week in June won’t cut it.

Finally, we all have a role to play

D&I isn’t a job for HR, it’s business-critical and purpose is no longer a “nice to have”. Supporting our LGBTQ+ colleagues is good for people and it’s good for business. Rising expectations around how businesses do business are transforming the way we engage with consumers. And a new purpose-led generation won’t just change business from the outside. Millennials and Gen-Zers are firmly within our workplace and rising up the ranks. Companies that embed purpose and diversity into their DNA will reap the rewards in a new age of purpose.

So, less advice, more action, and let’s make 2022 the year we changed communications for good.

Ethan Spibey is chair of the InterComms LGBTQ+ Network and director at Purpose Union

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