Little Yadav
Jun 25, 2024

Needed: More LGBTQIA+ leaders who call the shots

Despite their enthusiasm to appear inclusive, many in the advertising industry observe that few agencies still have substantial LGBTQIA+ representation in their C-suite in India.

Diverse groups can consider multiple viewpoints, enhancing decision-making processes. Image source: Pixabay
Diverse groups can consider multiple viewpoints, enhancing decision-making processes. Image source: Pixabay

The advertising industry prides itself on being at the forefront of innovation and creativity, a necessity given the daily creative challenges it faces. It boasts some of the finest creative minds, yet there's a lingering question: Is it as welcoming to individuals from all backgrounds as it claims?

Many sectors, including advertising, vocally support inclusivity, particularly during Pride Month. However, there remains a pervasive sense that these declarations are seldom fully realised. While some agencies make genuine efforts toward inclusivity, the broader industry still seems far from truly embodying the ideals of Pride.

The Government of India estimates the LGBTQIA+ population at 2.5 million, though actual numbers could be significantly higher. Public awareness of the community has undoubtedly grown, but acceptance and inclusiveness, particularly in senior workplace roles, lag behind.

Focus on expertise, not proclivity

Most advertising professionals assert that talent and creativity are the primary criteria for recruitment, not community affiliation. They strive to hire the best talent transparently, and some argue that touting inclusiveness as a selling point can diminish its significance. They aim to foster a workplace where sexual orientation is irrelevant.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), 91% of Fortune 500 companies now "prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation" and 83% "prohibit discrimination based on gender identity" a significant increase from just three companies in 2000.

Yet companies who are increasingly dedicated to creating a corporate culture centered on inclusivity also recognise the value of demonstrating their commitment to LGBTQIA+ inclusion not only differentiates them in a competitive job market, but also attracts top talent.

Tusharr Kumar, COO, OML Entertainment.

OML Entertainment is one such company who do not implement a quota system for hiring from the LGBTQIA+ community. This policy stems from their practice of not asking candidates to disclose their sexual orientation or preferences during the recruitment process. Instead, they make a concerted effort to ensure that the onboarding process is welcoming to all and does not cause discomfort to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The company’s chief operating officer, Tusharr Kumar, asserts that OML has long been committed to inclusivity in hiring. "We do not differentiate among candidates for any roles. Our hiring process is designed to be fair, ensuring that both HR and business teams are mindful of this commitment," he explains. 

Sensitisation is the key

The advertising and media industry plays a crucial role in fostering change for the LGBTQIA+ community. By being more vocal and decisive in their support, they can significantly advance the cause of true inclusivity.

Studies show that diversity significantly enhances productivity. Research from the University of Illinois links diverse workforces to increased sales revenue, more customers, and greater market share. A study by the Peterson Institute also found a 6% rise in net profit margin in companies with gender-diverse executive teams.

Fortunately, most agencies are eager to be on the right side of history. They do not proactively keep a count of people from the LGBTQIA+ community unless individuals proactively declare it. This is because while some people are open about their identities, many are yet to come out or could be unsure about how they would be treated by their peers.

It is here that companies can truly demonstrate their inclusivity by promoting awareness, sensitisation, and acceptance. This effort is essential to prevent any unintentional or inadvertent speech or actions by other team members towards their Queer colleagues.

Agencies should collaborate with third-party diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) specialists to educate and sensitise their staff. For instance, OML collaborated with Harappa to engage all teams across the organisation to create greater awareness and sensitise employees on working with different minority groups.

"While LGBTQIA+ are one of the minority groups, we also spoke about other minority groups like differently-abled people and women and to make sure that all employees at OML are sensitised and also have the right tools to be equipped with how to make sure that they are integrating all them into our company culture seamlessly," Kumar adds.

No seat at the table

While the above actions indicate that ad agencies are trying to take steps to showcase that they are forward-thinking and committed to inclusivity, one stark observation is that very few have LGBTQIA+ members at the decision-making level or in the boardroom.

They can take a leaf from several openly LGBTQIA+ chief executive officers (CEOs), including Apple CEO Tim Cook, former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, or former Fidelity International CEO Anne Richards. These executives are also champions of equal protection and benefits for LGBTQIA+ employees within their companies.

Shubham Singhal, co-founder, Dot Media

While agreeing that the percentage of people from the Queer community in powerful roles is dangerously low in India, whether in advertising or other sectors, Dot Media’s co-founder Shubham Singhal lays the blame on India’s societal fabric. “The culture we have as a community at large is a ripple effect of what parents, families, and friends or just people in general perceive and their acceptance of another person's orientation,” he said. “There are great thought leaders in the media scale who are leading the change, and we stand firmly behind them as they lead the much-needed change."

Although corporate boardrooms have historically been predominantly cisgender, there is optimism for change as companies recognise the advantages of a diverse work culture. Inclusive workplaces foster open communication, allowing individuals to voice their opinions and challenge the norm. According to a Cloverpop study, diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time compared to uniform teams.

This is because diverse groups can consider multiple viewpoints, enhancing decision-making processes. They combine various perspectives, experiences, and skills, leading to greater creativity and problem-solving. In the fast-paced advertising industry, the collaboration of employees from different backgrounds results in innovative and effective solutions.

Campaign India

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