An open letter calling on adland in the UK to step up its inclusion of LGBT+ women in advertising is gathering pace, with senior signatories from agencies including Creature, Grey London, The Brooklyn Brothers and Wavemaker.
The letter was born when Outvertising, a not-for-profit LGBT+ advertising advocacy group, held a roundtable event during the week of International Women’s Day to turn its shared stories, struggles and perspectives into proposed solutions for a commitment to change.
It has now been signed by some 222 individuals, with all signatories to receive a newsletter containing further resources, including training schemes run by Outvertising and the introduction of an Accelerator Award for creatives to pitch LGBT+ inclusive ad ideas in partnership with GSK.
Laura Jordan Bambach, president and chief creative officer at Grey London, is among those to have signed the letter.
She told Campaign: “Until we have a truly diverse industry where we can build a culture of belonging for people regardless of who they are and who they love... then we are not as open-minded as we think we are. It starts with understanding that the best work comes from difference and putting that at the centre of the business from hiring and retention, to processes and culture.
“There’s been little visibility and representation of queer women like myself out there in our agencies and it shows in the work we collectively make. We’re getting better, but we can’t represent a person without having someone in there to make sure that it’s a respectful representation and we show a multifaceted human rather than a stereotype.
“At Grey we have a rule, which is ‘nothing about us, without us’ on projects. It is also a question of bringing our clients in and showing the power of diversity within the agency, and the work.”
The letter says queer women are one of the least represented groups in the ad industry, with negative stereotypes portrayed in both media and society, making them twice as likely as men to remain in the closet at work.
Ant Jackson, senior copywriter and editor, who drafted the open letter and attended the event, told Campaign: “As a child, I didn’t conform to gender stereotypes. Other girls liked Barbie, I liked Action Man. They went to dance lessons, I went to football practice. They wore dresses, I wore tracksuits. I’d always known I was different and I was proud of that, until I reached my teens and felt the need to hide my true self, to such an extent that I was in complete denial about who I truly was.
“The idea of being a lesbian felt disgusting to me. I hated the word and its connotations, and the idea that I might be one myself one day terrified me. This fear and shame was massively fuelled by the views of those around me, which were in turn fuelled by the portrayal of queer women in the media. Even though I eventually had a same-sex partner, it took me about five years to accept myself.”
The letter proposes members of the industry take action and hold themselves and others accountable in 10 distinct ways, including ceasing the use of stereotypical images and clichés that portray queer women negatively and to never disclose that a colleague is LGBT+ in the workplace without their permission.
Jackson added: “I looked for every psychological reason that would explain why I might not actually be gay. I actively looked to find something that could have been wrong with me, because that was easier than accepting that being a queer woman was natural. It took me years to come out at work through fear of being treated differently, and a lot of self-work to be proud of the person I am today.
“Nobody should have to feel like this – and I’m one of the lucky ones. From receiving microaggressions to being beaten up on buses, it’s no wonder that many women and non-binary people aren’t comfortable showing their truest, proudest selves to the world.
“As advertisers, our position of influence gives us all the power to change that for the better. The more we can show queer women and non-binary people in a positive light, and the more we can support those who work with us, the more fear and prejudice we can eradicate.”
The letter in full
People of our industry,
Have you ever noticed that there are more openly out LGBTQ+ men in your workplace than LGBTQ+ women?
Have you ever wondered why that might be?
It isn’t because there are fewer LGBTQ+ women.
It’s because fewer LGBTQ+ women are out at work.
Queer women are one of the least represented groups in our industry.
With so many negative stereotypes still being portrayed in the media and society, it’s no wonder that queer women are also almost twice as likely as queer men to stay in the closet at work (Pride Matters Survey, 2018).
In an age where we should feel comfortable being our most authentic selves at work, it is clear that many queer women do not feel comfortable at all.
And that is simply not good enough.
As members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s our mission to change this. Queer women should not only feel like they belong in our industry, but they should feel like they can thrive. So on 11th March 2021, we came together as LGBTQ+ women and allies. We shared our stories, our struggles and our diverse perspectives.
And we shared solutions – that we can’t implement on our own.
Which is why we’re asking you, at every level of every communications agency, to take action and hold ourselves and each other accountable in the following ten ways:
1. To stop using stereotypical images and clichés that portray queer women negatively.
2. To never disclose that a colleague is LGBTQ+ in the workplace without their permission.
3. To create safe and inclusive workspaces and events to help queer women feel included and supported to come out.
4. To call out any microaggressions overheard in the workplace and report if necessary.
5. To work with media publications that are actively inclusive of queer women (Curve & Diva are notable examples).
6. To support more research and insight into queer women to better understand this group and their attitudes and beliefs, ensuring that "lesbian" is listed in a separate category to "gay" in surveys to achieve a more accurate representation of "L".
7. To establish and monitor company KPIs specific to supporting queer women, especially around recruitment and progression.
8. To stand in solidarity to support transgender women and those who identify as non-binary.
9. To actively support the promotion of queer female and non-binary role models within the communications industry.
10. To represent at every level, within employee network groups – appointing more queer women as co-chairs – and most importantly, on our leadership teams: welcome, champion, and celebrate queer women.
We, the signatories of this letter, commit to making our industry more welcome, open and inclusive for all, and we ask you to join us.