For LGBTQ+ agency employees, relationships with their workplaces and employers can be discordant.
On one hand, LGBTQ+ pop culture is ascending quickly. On the other hand, their challenges still remain. This kind of divergence is what prompted Graham Nolan and Kate Wolff, longtime agency and marketing veterans, to co-found Do the WeRQ, a community and platform for LGBTQ+ marketing professionals that aims to elevate queer creativity, representation and share-of-voice in the marketing industry.
“If we’re showing up in ads and entertainment at growing rates, certainly that points to greater equity in the actual business of creativity, right? Erasure makes it hard to see our challenges.”
Do the WeRQ is now on a mission to create a community that can provide discussion, programming, data and intel in an effort to move towards equity. We spoke to Nolan about why agencies fail to focus on LGBTQ+ representation and what they must do better.
What made you start Do the WeRQ?
The driving question was: what sort of support was needed for the LGBTQ+ community in our business? What people we spoke to fundamentally told us was that they faced problems that demanded scale: scale of resources, talent, funding, data, leadership, and beyond, which no employee resource group could deliver alone.
I kept waiting to hear, “Oh, that group you’re talking about? It already exists.” But while many trailblazing organizations had a Venn diagram overlap, there was no organization focused on the national empowerment and alignment of the U.S. marketing and advertising community, whether they sit at agencies, brands, social platforms or in their own living rooms as freelancers. At launch, we were not a protected class. Not having protection of your fundamental right to employment is a pretty formidable deterrent to organization; yet, we organized.
Why do you think that in general, LGBTQ+ representation in the industry has largely not been the focus for agency leaders and companies? Yes, lots of them include them in their DEI initiatives. But they’re not the focus.
I think also we weren’t getting focus because LGBTQ+ pop culture was ascending so relatively quickly, there was maybe this assumption that we were simply doing fine. Rainbow washing obscures injustice. Myopic focus on June parades diverts from December dismissal. If we scale, if we form more community, if we advance in our mission, then there’s no denying our potential and existence. That’s how we move gradually toward equity.
What would you like to see more agencies and advertisers commit to?
When you raise all those flags in June? Leave one in July. And August. A prominently placed flag. Don’t pay your office staff to take it down, as you’ve likely done for years. Leave it. Is that slightly uncomfortable? Great. Welcome to the discomfort.
Rainbow flags have become a symbolic gesture; now symbolize that you won’t abandon us. That you’re in it.
What are the core questions agencies must ask themselves?
What are the proven ways you listen to us? What are the proven ways you help us with the problems we state, versus the ones you feel like fixing? Do you make amends when you inevitably misstep along the way, in a way that means something to the community? Do you respect boundaries and operate with integrity that matches your words? Brands can publicly define what those standards mean for them, then share their successes and stumbles to open more discussion – which feeds more listening.
What are some changes you want to see made? How will you measure “success”?
The measure of success is a brand’s stated and upheld commitment – meaning you can innovate in how you set standards and follow through on them. But make a perpetual commitment to a community fighting a systemic, growing, perplexing series of oppressions. We can’t be lovers of your brand if we can’t be friends. And that’s so clear to me as part of an LGBTQ+ community bombarded with rainbow washing. We’re asking brands to stop funding politicians wielding policy that endangers trans youth; they show us ads with celebrities. If you don’t stop the funding, don’t make the ads. Stop romancing me when you won’t support me.