LGBTQ+ Representation in PR: Progress Made, Challenges Ahead
June 1, 2023
Over the years, we’ve seen a steady uptick in the number of brands showing gestures of support for Pride Month. This is because diversity, equality and inclusivity (DEI) has quickly shifted from ‘nice to have’ to a smart business decision. Brands that prioritize LGBTQ+ inclusion specifically and DEI generally are not only more likely to succeed financially thanks to a strong pink economy, they are also in a great position to connect with a wider range of customers.
While this annual public display of affection is positive (except for those brands whose Pride efforts generated a backlash on Twitter), it doesn’t always translate into solid returns for the LGBTQ+ employees of those brands. That’s why it’s important to remember that the outpouring of rainbows should not be limited to a single month of the year, as discussed in my previous blog.
Supporting diversity in the workplace
In my experience, the importance of a year-round, safe and supportive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees can’t be overstated. Beyond the basic measures – such as access to appropriate resources, visibility, equitable benefits and pay, etc. – organizations should take proactive steps to ensure that their brand and workplace are continually reflective of LGBTQ+ values.
Celebrating diversity at work, and creating an environment where employees are comfortable to be themselves is crucial to business success. Inclusive language and messaging in communications (internal and external) should also be prioritized. Gender-neutral language should be considered wherever appropriate and stereotypes, generalizations or unconscious bias should be avoided at all costs. Working with LGBTQ+ employees can help to develop company policies and communications that accurately reflect their experiences.
Of course, any attempts to promote inclusivity are only effective if they are sincere and authentic. For external efforts, brands should do all that they can to avoid tokenism and avoid superficial bids to appeal to a particular audience. Again, this means involving LGBTQ+ employees in marketing decisions, listening to their feedback, and genuinely respecting their opinions.
The role of PR
As PR professionals, we have a huge role to play here. But, as the experts responsible for crafting brand narratives and messaging, it’s equally important that we look inward and make sure we’re practicing what we preach when it comes to inclusivity. In doing so, we might see that the PR industry, like many others, still has a long way to go when it comes to being fully representative of the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the 2021 PRCA UK PR and Communications Census, almost 100,000 people worked in the industry at the time of the research, 87 percent of respondents were white and 84 percent were heterosexual. In the U.S., 73 percent were white and 70 percent were heterosexual, while 14 percent identified as gay/lesbian and 9 percent as bisexual. In the UK, just five percent identified as gay or lesbian and four percent said they are bisexual. While the latter is an increase in representation of three percent since the previous study, it still points to an environment where LGBTQ+ individuals – particularly those from minority groups – may not feel seen, or experience what McKinsey describes as ‘onlyness’ at work.
And, the shortage of LGBTQ+ representation in PR is not just a problem for those of us who work in the industry. As mentioned, we play a role in shaping public opinion and influencing cultural norms, and lack of representation can lead to communications that further marginalize LGBTQ+ audiences. As an example, the language and messaging used in some PR and marketing campaigns can be unintentionally heteronormative and exclusionary.
Across the industry, we need to focus on targeted recruitment to actively seek out and hire diverse candidates, including those who identify as LGBTQ+. Only then can PR and marketing agencies ensure that their workforce reflects the diversity of the communities they serve.
We must also ensure that LGBTQ+ voices are properly represented across leadership positions and involved in decision-making processes. This means actively promoting LGBTQ+ employees, creating an inclusive office culture, and addressing any biases (conscious or not). By acknowledging the problem, spotting knowledge gaps and investing in training, we can start to crack the ‘rainbow ceiling.’
Building meaningful connections with diverse audiences
From a business perspective, it makes total sense for CMOs and other decision makers to partner with agencies that can demonstrate consistent LGBTQ+ allyship. These agencies have the required skills, experience and expertise to help brands effectively engage with the LGBTQ+ community – especially in the months beyond June, which is usually the tricky bit.
When choosing a communications partner, thorough research and due diligence will uncover whether they do indeed prioritise LGBTQ+ inclusion. This can involve reviewing past campaigns and agency initiatives to ensure alignment with their goals, values and vision. As communications professionals we have a responsibility to ensure that our industry is inclusive, and at FINN, one of our core values is to ‘commit to diversity.’ This keeps us accountable.
By taking these steps, brands and agencies can build more meaningful connections with diverse audiences. So, as we celebrate Pride 2023, we should work towards truly supportive spaces for LGBTQ+ employees, because despite many outwardly visible signs of progress, the challenges persist. Most importantly, we communications professionals must ensure we are at the forefront of promoting authentic representation and inclusivity in our work. At all times.