February is LGBTQ+ History Month and, over the next four weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of thoughts, inspirations, and stories on how our profession intersects with the LGBTQ+ community. That’s both the experience of LGBTQ+ people working within PR and communications and the impact of our work in shaping attitudes and fighting discrimination. 

To kick-off, I wanted to talk about the former. This is something front of mind after joining the panel for the PRCA’s LGBTQ+ Workplace Advocacy Report last week. The PRCA worked with YouGov to commission the report to help shape the agenda of the PRCA’s work in this space in 2021, by revealing where it should focus to best use its platform for positive change.

On the panel, it was truly a privilege to share space with some incredible communications professionals and activists in this space including the PRCA’s LGBTQ+ group chair Katie Traxton, Chloe Davies (Head of PR and partnerships at myGwork, volunteer executive and finance officer with UK Black Pride and Community Lead for the London Queer Fashion Show), Ant Jackson (senior copywriter at Wunderman Thompson where she was 2020 Vice-Chair of the agencies’ D&I council Mirum Roots and also a panelist for and member of Outvertising), Martin Kmiecik (CEO of the equality, diversity and inclusion consultancy, Diversity Pride, delivering Executive Education programmes at London Business School, ESCP Business School, and MIT), and Amelia Stevens (researcher at YouGov, co-chair of BeYou, YouGov’s diversity and inclusion network). 

The results, and the discussion in the panel which included incredible engagement from those joining online, showed that there is still much to do to create a truly inclusive industry. The theme of the discussion was “Does your gender or sexual identity impact how you’re treated at work?”. The headline was…. Yes. And that one in five LGBTQ+ people in the PR and communications industry have experienced discrimination of some kind. Some of that is overt, some microaggressions, but all of it has stuck with respondents enough for them to tick ‘yes’ when asked that question.

Reading the stories shared in the chat on the panel, some of the things still happening in our industry are unforgivable, from policing people’s appearance and mannerisms to being told to ‘just laugh it off’ when clients use homophobic slurs. When it comes to challenging these behaviours it is on all of us to step up. One important conversation in the panel event was on allyship, and the power of challenging discriminatory behaviour when it is not targeted at you, or even when it is not targeted at anyone in earshot. Martin Kmiecik of Diversity Pride says “true allyship is standing up for people when they are not in the room.” That’s a powerful standard to set ourselves in 2021.

Another important result of the research is on visibility. 24% of respondents noted that they assume a colleague is cisgender and heterosexual unless informed otherwise. Heartbreakingly, that number is higher for LGBTQ+ respondents. We do not walk into workplaces expecting to find people like ourselves. That’s why visibility around the agency, for those who feel comfortable doing so, is so important. There’s an important line between privacy and secrecy and while some people may prefer to keep their private lives out of work, the idea that people feel they have to actively lie or cover up their identity while working in PR in 2021 is shocking. 

I have never felt I need to hide my identity as a gay woman at H+K, and this is the workplace I have been the most comfortable being my most authentic self. But that journey has not been easy. It is LGBTQ+ History Month so a moment for reflection. My whole time in the education system, from starting primary school in 1986 to finishing university in 2003, was in the years that Section 28 stated that local authorities in England “shall not intentionally promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” I often look back and think how much happier I would have been, especially as a teenager, if I had had the positive, visible role models that are available today. 

Looking at the PRCA study results, the idea that others working here at H+K who identify as LGBTQ+ (especially new joiners) may feel that there are not others here like them, or that there are no visible role models in the PR industry, serves as a timely reminder of the importance of EquALL’s mission: To create a louder culture of inclusivity at H+K. The EquALL team would love to hear from anyone who has ideas on how to do this.

You can watch the PRCA’s panel on YouTube here.