Let's take pride in diversity

As we approach Pride week I’m con­fi­dent­ly expect­ing the usu­al snip­pi­ness from some quar­ters of the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty about the involve­ment of brands.

It’s easy to be cyn­i­cal – to assume brands are just putting a rain­bow on it to trum­pet their virtue and tap into the pink pound. And of course, in some cas­es this view will be jus­ti­fied. Good­ness knows, many com­pa­nies aren’t above a bit of cap­i­tal­ist appropriation.

But I invite you to park that cyn­i­cism for a moment to con­sid­er the good that comes from brands’ involve­ment with Pride. For me, there are some exam­ples where it just feels right.

Skit­tles (catch­phrase: Taste the Rain­bow) is going all-white for Pride again this year because only one rain­bow mat­ters …’. It’s a wit­ty, self-dep­re­cat­ing approach that clev­er­ly aligns the brand with Pride with­out any sug­ges­tion of inau­then­tic­i­ty con­ceived by Adam & Eve/​DDB.

We’re proud to have worked with Brighton Gin to pro­duce lim­it­ed edi­tion designs to cel­e­brate Brighton Pride for the last two years. It would be easy to sneer at it as an attempt at rain­bow appro­pri­a­tion, but look more deeply and you’ll find a team that’s high­ly diverse, a team that has been involved in the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty for years, and a team that’s giv­ing a cut of the sales of the Pride lim­it­ed edi­tions to The Rain­bow Fund, a local grant-giv­ing fund for LGBT+HIV organisations.

And Abso­lut vod­ka has been sup­port­ing Pride and the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty in gen­er­al since the 1980s in part­ner­ship with Stonewall – includ­ing last year’s kiss with pride’ ad by Bogle Bar­tle Hegar­ty that cel­e­brat­ed the fifti­eth anniver­sary of the decrim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty in the UK. Again, there’s no sug­ges­tion of inau­then­tic­i­ty or cutesi­ness – just a sin­cere and cre­ative expres­sion of support.

All three brands are doing their bit to vis­i­bly sup­port the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty and main­stream vis­i­bil­i­ty helps to nor­malise – just like the inclu­sion of Pearl Mackie’s les­bian char­ac­ter Bill in Doc­tor Who did. And main­stream adop­tion can make a real dif­fer­ence because of the sheer per­va­sive­ness of big brands.

So when it’s done with authen­tic­i­ty and cre­ative orig­i­nal­i­ty, cor­po­rate sup­port for LGBT issues is okay with me. Just like many peo­ple, I’ll cut you a lot of slack if you impress me or make me laugh. But lots has been writ­ten before about why com­mer­cial involve­ment works when it works and doesn’t when it doesn’t. What I’d like to focus on is the effect these asso­ci­a­tions have on employees.

On a Pride march in Lon­don last year, I was struck by a dis­play in the win­dow of M&S on Oxford Street. Don’t let any­one rain on your parade’, it said, tying into an inter­nal cam­paign called Be your­self’ that pro­motes sup­port for its LGBT employ­ees. For LGBT peo­ple in M&S, see­ing this would make a mas­sive dif­fer­ence. It would tell them they don’t have to hide – that they can be themselves.

To a young kid grow­ing up in a small town where atti­tudes might be very dif­fer­ent to those we expe­ri­ence in our met­ro­pol­i­tan bub­bles, the sight of two peo­ple of the same sex kiss­ing on TV, or the knowl­edge that the shop their mum goes to sup­ports LGBT issues, can be lit­er­al­ly life-changing.

The impor­tance of tol­er­ance and diver­si­ty in the work­place feels like a com­plete no-brain­er to me. We know the mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives of a diverse team make for bet­ter design. We know that peo­ple who feel they can bring their true selves to work are more con­fi­dent and pro­duce bet­ter work. We know diver­si­ty makes for bet­ter lead­ers and a hap­pi­er, more relaxed work­place. It’s real­ly not that com­pli­cat­ed. And it’s what we’ve always strived for at Our Design Agency.

You’d think agency boss­es would be falling over them­selves to diver­si­fy their teams as much as pos­si­ble. But they’re not. We have a long way to go as a sec­tor. There’s still too much blokeish­ness among men and women alike. There’s still too much insid­i­ous belit­tle­ment in the name of ban­ter’. It’s still too hard to put your head above the para­pet to chal­lenge inap­pro­pri­ate behaviour.