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Out of the closet and into the agency

Digitas

Amy Nield

Out of the closet and into the agency

The realities of being LGBT+ in the marketing industry.

As a board member of Publicis Égalité (Publicis Groupe’s LGBT+ network) and very out and proud gender-not-always-conforming lesbian working in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, I am often asked by agency colleagues, “Why do we need LGBT+ networks? Can’t we just treat people as people?”

Well, yes, ideally. But until we’re at a stage where everyone, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity can go about all aspects of their work with complete acceptance and understanding, we can’t just ‘treat people as people’. We must address the things that hold some people back and allow others to the front.

It is no use to claim to be blind to these things, just as it is no use to claim to not see gender, race, religion, disability or class, when we know there are structural inequalities in our industry that reflect those existing in wider society.

I believe we often think that because the industry feels open minded and liberal, we don’t have problems, particularly when there are industries and countries that have it much worse. That argument doesn’t sit well with me. When have we ever accepted sticking with business as usual from our clients, or in the work we produce? We should hold ourselves to the same standards.

I know many people feel the effects of covert homophobia or transphobia at work. But if straight people don’t believe there is a problem, we must show them the reality. And you don’t know what the reality is until you ask. So, we asked.

We asked a panel of over 200 people working in agencies across the UK about their experiences at work. We included both people who self-defined as LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ to compare perceptions to lived experience. As with the gender pay gap reports that were published earlier this year, measuring inequality is an important first step to addressing it. We hope to rerun this research each year to track changes to the industry as more LGBT+ friendly policies are enacted.

From 2018's research, it’s clear we need to continue talking about the overt and covert homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in our industry, challenging those who perpetuate it, and providing support for LGBT+ people who need it through specialist networks like Égalité. By bringing these things to light we hope to be able to turn our straight colleagues into allies, and drive LGBT+ friendly policies and attitudes right into the fibre of our organisations like we are trying to do at Digitas. It’s something the next generation of young talent will expect with no exceptions. By creating an environment where everyone can be themselves we’ll truly be able to do our very best work, doing what the best advertising does: changing minds.

Key take outs:

  • Agencyland’s reputation precedes it: 22% of LGBT+ people said their sexuality influenced their choice of career, and they are more likely than their straight colleagues to place importance on being fully themselves at work. Generally, LGBT+ people felt able to be out at work, either with colleagues or clients. Few were hiding their sexuality. Overwhelmingly, those who hadn’t come out said they weren’t actively avoiding it, it just hadn’t come up yet.
  • However, sometimes being out at work isn’t someone’s own choice. Almost 1 in 3 LGBT+ people said they had been outed at work by a colleague (that they knew about…). And things don’t stop there. 15% of LGBT+ people had experienced verbal or physical harassment at work, and 39% of LGBT+ people had experienced homophobic or transphobic jokes directed at them.
  • Not only did we find evidence of overt homophobia like the above, but we also found evidence of covert homophobia. These are things that are harder to put a finger on, harder to prove, harder to go to HR about. Almost a quarter of LGBT+ people we surveyed said they believed they had been left out of plans because of their sexuality or gender identity. Respondents described the advertising boys’ club affecting the LGBT+ community, with gay and bisexual men being left out of ‘beers with the guys’, right up to not being put in front of clients because they were ‘too camp’.
  • Straight people don’t always understand the nuances of what is and isn’t homophobia or transphobia, and so they perpetuate it without thinking. For example, if you are LGBT+ you are twice as likely to be asked about your sex life at work than if you are straight. The way the media, and the advertising industry itself, has portrayed LGBT+ people has relied on deviant, overly sexualised stereotypes and caricatures that reduce our humanity and make straight people objectify us so they believe questions like ‘are you a top or a bottom?’ are not only welcome, but appropriate.
  • Straight people didn’t believe there was a problem. Less than 1% of straight people we surveyed believed LGBT+ people faced any form of discrimination in their agency, and most of them believed there was no need for LGBT+ networks in our industry. This is in contrast to over 70% of LGBT+ people, who believed they were important.
Amy Nield

Amy Nield

Creative Strategist AT Digitas

Amy joined global marketing and technology agency Digitas as a graduate in 2014. She works as part of the creative strategy team, specialising in social strategy for Honda. Amy is a member of Publicis Égalité, Publicis Groupe’s LGBTI network, and was the recipient of Google Squared’s Next Generation Leader Award in 2014. Amy also has extensive knowledge of Harry Potter.

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