On Wednesday morning at the Mindshare offices in midtown Toronto, 80 or so marketing and communications professionals gathered to start a conversation about what it means to be LGBTQ+ in the industry in Canada, and how it can be better.
It was the first Canadian meeting of Pride in Advertising & Marketing (PrideAM), and its founder Scott Knox was energized by the experience.
“It was electric; it was fantastic,” said the ICA president and CEO, who launched PrideAM in the U.K. in 2015. “It was double the number that turned out to the first London meeting. That is phenomenal.”
Knox began the meeting by sharing his own personal story about the challenges of growing up gay, what it was like in school and at work.
“I was very honest about some of my personally horrible experiences and how they impacted me,” he said. “How I started to conduct myself almost with dual personality, I tried to really check myself and make sure I wasn’t too gay in some situations.” There were lots of nods from those in attendance, said Knox, who felt he needed to share his personal experiences in order to encourage attendees to be similarly open.
Tuesday’s meeting was just a starting point, a safe place for LGBTQ+ identifying professionals to talk honestly about working in marketing in Canada. Knox has another meeting planned for New York in May to launch PrideAM in the U.S.
“While we have made good strides toward having discussions about diversity and inclusion in our industry there is always more to do,” said Sarah Thompson, Mindshare’s chief strategy officer. Aside from helping LGBTQ+ individuals in the industry, the people in the room Tuesday have the unique opportunity to shape the messages of major brands across the country, she said.
“[We can help] ensure that when we invest our media dollars or are creating great creative and stories for brands, that we are including everyone and not excluding anyone,” she said.
“What was amazing was the number of people who seemed to lean in naturally, who were excited to see this group of people come together and discuss how they could help support this community in this business,” said Stephen Brown, president of Fuse.
People shared their own stories about being gay in the industry in Canada, he said. “That was really exciting… Canada is an amazing country, but there are still a lot of challenges that LGBTQ+ people have to deal with, and there were a lot of stories about how this group could really help mentor young people in the industry, students who are thinking about it, or even those who are in the community now but are unsure about how out they can be at work.”
“Establishing PrideAM in Canada is an opportunity to help the industry walk the walk in terms of diversity and inclusion. And beyond being the right thing to do, it’s simply good for business,” said Caleb Goodman, managing partner at Rethink
Canada is regarded as a leading nation in terms of diversity and inclusion, he said, but there’s still a lot of work to do. “Consider the gap in gender diversity that still exists despite the important work that has been done over the years,” he said.
“I think the representation [of LGBTQ+] at the senior levels is kind of non-existent,” added Thompson. “It is great to see young LGBTQ+ people coming into the industry but there is not a lot of representation at the top. It hasn’t changed from being a very hetero-normative, white male-dominated industry.”
Knox shared some of the actions PrideAM has undertaken in the U.K., including a mentoring program, a guide to LGBTQ+ marketing called OUTvertising, and a competition to re-imagine classic advertising for an LGBTQ+ audience.
“There’s also a keen desire to call out those marketing communications that do well or not so well, or miss opportunities in terms of reaching the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. Thompson specifically mentioned this idea as one she supported. “At the end of the day you are doing this [advertising] to connect with our community so why not talk to us,” she said.
During the early days of PrideAM in the U.K., much of the discussion tended to focus on the commercial imperatives, said Knox. “This group [in Canada] wanted to focus on mentoring, creating role models within the industry, on being our own voice in the room,” he said. “I would say there is a passion for making this about people.”
Knox plans to capture some of the themes from the first meeting in writing as a first step toward establishing an action plan and concrete priorities. He wants a volunteer board or steering committee to take ownership of the various initiatives.
Based on the followup e-mails of support and willingness to host the next meeting received by Wednesday afternoon, Knox expects to book another meeting in the next month or so. “There is a passion here and an opportunity to jump on this sooner rather than later,” he said.