Indie creative agency DNA and LGBTQIA+ advertising nonprofit Do the WeRQ have joined together to develop content that aims to foster more conversation about LGBTQIA+ inclusion and the challenges of coming out within the ad industry.
DNA founder and chair Alan Brown started an initiative called Come Out to Work in 2022 spurred by the fact that about half of LGBTQIA+ people are closeted at work, as well as 4A’s survey data from 2021 wherein 99.983% of the U.S. advertising industry self-identified as straight (equating to 46 LGBTQIA+ people in advertising).
“When it comes to the workplace, people just don’t feel safe to be out at work yet in many cases,” says Brown.
The initiative aims to provide support to ad professionals who are navigating coming out in the workplace by providing a forum for conversations and mentorship with openly identifying members of the LGBTQIA+ community. By showing how others did it, where they work and why they made the decision, it hopes to inspire more workers to feel safe to come out too.
Come Out to Work has now merged its content with Do the WeRQ — an organization founded in 2020 to increase LGBTQIA+ representation in marketing and advertising — in order to engage the wider advertising community.
Bringing DNA’s Come Out to Work to the industry at large means that “now, every agency doesn't have to figure out how they can start conversations about what it's like to come out at work, and they can focus on something else that's reflective of their brand and what they do best,” says Graham Nolan, co-founder of Do the WeRQ.
Rather than “every company trying to boil the ocean,” Nolan says real progress is made when the industry comes together to tackle issues.
“This community is larger than the silos of agencies,” he adds.
He says initiatives like Come Out to Work are precisely what Do the WeRQ had hoped to amplify and spotlight when it was founded. “This is the dream of how we thought that Do the WeRQ would operate once we hit a certain scale,” he says.
As part of the alliance, DNA will also create content together with Do the WeRQ.
The collaboration already kicked off at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity with a series of videos that asked industry professionals what the ad industry should be doing to stand up for the LGBTQIA+ community and create measured change. The videos were posted to the Do the WeRQ Instagram page.
The video series also asked ad workers to imagine how a major ad agency’s product might change if half of the company’s workforce was LGBTQIA+.
The results “brought up some important points in terms of where we still see some barriers and where we still see some opportunities,” says Brown.
Improving LGBTQIA+ representation and inclusion is especially important now as the U.S. becomes more openly hostile towards the community, and specifically trans people.
Specifically within the ad industry, the recent choices of some brands to lie low for Pride month or backpedal their LGBTQIA+ support when met with opposition has an effect not only on their consumers but also their employees.
Brown believes the ad industry still harbors a problematic culture for LGBTQIA+ individuals despite often publicly claiming to support the community. “In the ad industry, we talk about being progressive, we talk about being inclusive. We've committed to DEI and all of the important things in the past few years — at least we said we have.”
“If you're a safe and friendly environment for anyone of any [marginalized group], what do you do?” asks Brown. “Do you give people the opportunities to indicate who they are, use pronouns in your culture, provide health care benefits? What are the things that you do to walk the talk of those things in your company?”
“There are a lot of people in a lot of agencies that don't feel like they work at a place that is necessarily supportive of them, because they're not behaving in ways that strongly signal that it's okay to be out,” he adds.
As younger generations are more likely to identify as LGBTQIA+, companies need to make coming out at work safer for everyone —not just those in leadership positions.
“A lot of these people are in entry-level positions, started during COVID and don’t have the advantage of working in an office or understanding the corporate culture,” says Brown.
Through a mirroring initiative called the Project 47 Pledge, a mentorship program that matches LGBTQIA+ industry leaders with burgeoning creatives, Brown has found that those in more junior positions or early in their careers are hesitant to come forward for mentorship.
This may be because LGBTQIA+ members of leadership “have some degree of success built in their career already and the perceived risks may feel less,” he says. “There's a certain amount of safety that's been built in through time, tenure, pedigree and success.”
The conversations started by Do the WeRQ and Come Out to Work aim to prove that there are benefits to making a meaningful effort to create inclusive workplaces, and being openly LGBTQIA+ at work should be seen as a career asset.
A recent Kantar study noted the potential loss of $499 billion in revenue for failing to include LGBTQIA+ representation in advertising. Authentically representing and reaching the community requires investment in talent and an inclusive workplace.
“Once you do create that space, the benefits are huge — especially in our industry where creativity and connection to culture and consumer insight is so important,” notes Brown.
To Brown, this is exactly the type of industry where these issues should not exist.
“We should be on the forefront of culture and at the forefront of what's happening in people's lives in order to understand consumer insight, and we still aren't.”