We ideate, we build campaigns, and we educate and sensitize audiences with meaningful discussions. We build trends, we create value for our brands, and we are nothing without our biggest weapon: research! Pride month is a celebration for the PR industry, to leverage as many eyeballs as possible we can via brands to create impact and further the movement.
But, in this hullabaloo of getting our conversation and a hashtag trending, do we turn the lens to ourselves? Do we really live and breathe gender inclusivity as we propagate, the answers may be limited.
A PR comrade, Indranil Roy shared his experience with the Indian PR community being openly gay in the recent episode- ‘The power of being who you are’ of the podcast UnBoundwithMamtaa.
He recalled an incident from his previous work life in the IT industry where some colleagues tried to publicly shame him. But, as strong headed as he is, he lashed back. Interestingly, Corporate Equality Index (CEI) 2021, around 767 companies achieved a top score for LGBTQ inclusive workplace policies as reported by the Economic Times.
Inevitably, incidents like these triggered him. He said, ‘There were nights when acceptance would go out the window, as he cried out loud wondering why he couldn’t be like other boys. I remember a few incidents where I could figure certain people talking behind my back, who aren't that comfortable with someone's alternative sexuality and are very vocal about it. It’s the whispers, it’s in those whispers and the gaze that gets your heart pulse mounting.’
The PR community has transformed unquestionably, not only in terms of its role and how it has established a strong hold with small, mid-sized and large companies. A full-fledged PR arm is undebatable and especially post pandemic, brands have accepted that purpose-led communications is the need of the hour. PR isn’t limited to a few sectors but has strengthened its roots and has become a significant part of sectors such as social impact & development too. The industry as at the cusp of dynamic transformation and leading from the front and yet, isn’t kind with its army till yet. There are still many who haven’t accepted queers and hence, they choose to be closeted to avoid gender-based discrimination.
Hope After All
Thankfully, there is a haven and wide acceptance in the fashion & lifestyle sector. Indranil shares his experience of meeting a diverse set of people who have welcomed him warmly always because a great section of this industry is led by gay or bisexual artists, designers, publicists, and professionals who find their creative expression with fashion & style.
He said, ‘Fashion & lifestyle PR presents itself like a ramp to me, to be my dynamic, loud, and chaotic self but at the very same time extremely accepting as it is for itself. It may or may not be very sensitive, but it is inclusive.’
But the question remains, what if this is isn’t a desire for every other queer publicist? They may want to be in technology or leading communications for a corporate giant, a BFSI sector or a maybe a financial arm. Are introducing policies enough?
It's challenging, more for a PR professional because it requires them to be “seen” and socially available a lot of times for networking, expose the brand activity to the right profile of audiences etc. As a coordinator, it requires them to be hands-on and oversee the events. It could be overwhelming for anybody, tougher for someone who is sensitive to a distant gaze.
‘I remember a journalist at a PR gathering came up to me to share how she shared my trauma of being a certain skin shade. It may have been a shared moment of misery, but I felt like I belonged there. I hadn’t felt like that in a long time especially at a work gathering.’
Undoubtedly, the industry has come a long way and has evolved from what it was to now when it comes to inclusion, but, selectively towards gay, lesbians & bisexuals and has still a long way to go to be welcoming of the trans community. There’s a lack of education and the change-makers are reduced to unintentional hypocrisy. So, here are some things that organizations must take care of:
- Be cognizant towards hiring the trans workforce. Review your company policies to adjust them to the trans force instead of secluding them
- Create a dialogue among the employees about alternative sexuality and how not to make their colleagues uncomfortable who are out of the closet
- Educate, empower, and encourage people into being allies by equipping themselves with correct information
- Be stricter against discrimination, bullying and what could be passed as “casual harassment”
- Practice gender neutrality and stop with that gaze & the whispers. Make them feel comfortable instead of trying too hard
There’s a need to take a step back and question whether the PR firms have equipped their people to maintain an inclusive environment for anybody to feel comfortable in being themselves. Now more than ever, when people are no longer trudging through their jobs because of limited options and a market closing in rapidly during the pandemic but are freeing themselves to explore what they have really wanted to do. Toxic workplaces are a strict no-no, mental health has become non-negotiable and work models have become fluid, as they should.
The global pandemic introduced a new lesson to industries far & wide about empathy, compassion and gratitude and helping each other when they’re suffering. Sadly, it still failed to eradicate preconceived notions among people, especially in India, which as a society has an extremely long journey to cover to be truly inclusive. We need more allies, and we need more education instead of painting the logos in colours, it’s never too late to start.
In the end, we need more dialogue by, from, with more professionals who have come out and learn from them. Listen and learn from their experiences and educate people around you.
To sum up, in the words of Jason Collins, “Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.”
Catch the complete journey of Indranil Roy in the episode ‘The power of being who you are’ on UnBoundwithMamtaa: A podcast to self-discovery, at any of your favourite listening apps –
Authored by Mamtaa. Dhingra, Podcaster, Communication Advisor and Founder, Lateral Sutraa