Becoming An Authentic LGBTQ Ally

Being an LGBTQ ally isn’t just the moral thing to do, it’s also good business.

So says a survey from Ogilvy released earlier this week in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month. The survey of over 1,000 Americans found that 65% believe that LGBTQ-inclusive brands are good for the economy; additionally, a brand’s LGBTQ-inclusive advertising would make 46% of the surveyed more likely to buy a product or service of that brand.

One of the more stark takeaways from the survey, however, is that consumers expect a lot of LGBTQ ally brands.  Sixty-eight percent said that in order for a brand to be viewed as a true ally, they need to “walk the talk.”

A panel discussion hosted at Ogilvy’s New York headquarters on Monday by Grace Donnelly of Fortune delved deeper into what that really means. How can brands prove that they’re a true LGBTQ ally and not just acting as performative window dressers? For Matt Tumminello, Founder and President of Target 10, it starts at the heart of an organization.

“We always make sure there’s a solid foundation, workplace policy, and then dig deeper,” Tumminello said. “It’s checking that your house is in order, you have the foundation, then you start building the first floor, second floor, and so on.”

Anita Dolce Vita, Owner and Creative Director of dapperQ said that partnerships, inclusive policies, protections for employees and representation from the employers are key to building that type of foundation. Dolce Vita also sees meaningful diversity training as a way for companies to authentically bake an inclusive environment into their core.

“[It’s not about] just lip service, but really understanding what it means to be LGBT inclusive,” Dolce Vita said. “That makes sure the language is inclusive, that makes sure we are seen as communities’, not ‘community’. A lot of diversity training shows that it’s one community and one size fits all.”

A coarse political climate, as much of the world finds itself in at the current moment, can often scare brands off from taking a position on something they feel might affect their business. But for Mark Lane, Director of Corporate Communications at Barclays, brands with strong positions can be the ones to lead. And as the survey reveals, they have the market support to do so.

“I think it comes down to, if a company has values it believes in and those values are embedded, the political climate shouldn’t impact those values,” Lane said. “That culture will carry through. It’s incumbent upon big and small organizations to keep progress going.”

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Tuminello agreed but did point out that many companies still will shy away from certain messaging or positioning, even if the evidence points in the direction of it being good business. The key is doing it in a way that fits the organization.

“Everyone knows where the trend is going, still you have to understand what’s right for your client,” Tumminello said. “So if there’s a good reason for you to really put your values on your sleeve because that’s what your brand is about, then do it. If it’s going to feel awkward and weird, it has to be a natural and authentic fit.”

It’s easy for a brand to have one campaign or initiative that presents a sort of blanket inclusivity. Going public with a generic message can temporarily put a brand on the right side of things with the public, but unless there’s a deep commitment, the brand won’t be viewed as a lasting ally. For Dolce Vita, brands have to understand the intersectionality inherent in inclusion. Putting people into categories and boxes won’t help anyone.

“We’re not just thinking of whites as chiseled guys drinking Bud Lights,” she said. “We are a rich community and people are missing opportunities to build a very robust and loyal following. For me, when I see an ad that’s two gay guys having a great time, I’m like, ‘OK great they’re making a step towards something’ but they’re not really speaking to me.”

The panelists agreed: when it comes to being an ally, you’re in or you’re out. And to truly be in, you can’t take any half measures.

“You have to bear hug diversity,” said Tuminello.

Erika Willrodt contributed to this article.

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