How can brands be better LGBTQ+ allies?

Brand LGBTQ+ allyship is more important than ever.
17 June 2024

Partner, Sustainable Transformation Practice

Kelly Andrews

Global Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) Manager

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The need for allyship

We are living in a time of great progression and fighting for social justice. Pride month is an excellent example of this. But progress also sparks backlash and polarization. The progress made in the last year - like same-sex marriage legalization in Greece, progress on conversion therapy bans, and adoption rights in Taiwan - stand in stark contrast to troubling events. Most evident of these is the increasing use of LGBTQ+ rights, like gender identity, as a weapon on the battleground of politics that are becoming more and more polarized. This is something impossible not to notice in 2024 when more people will be casting votes than ever before. 

Kantar’s Global MONITOR datasets cover 28 markets and clearly indicates the need for LGBTQ+ allyship. It tells us that the vast majority of people (78%) around the world want equal rights and opportunities for everyone.

But it also tells us that the LGBTQ+ community are much more likely to face discrimination. And that discrimination is not equally felt by the community: with people who identify as lesbian being more likely than those that identify as gay, and 4 times more likely than heterosexuals, to experience discrimination. 

Deep diving into those who experience discrimination a bit further with our Brand Inclusion Index, we uncovered that half of people in the US who experienced discrimination did so in commercial locations like shops, restaurants, hotels and so on. It begs the question – what does this mean for brands, and what are they doing about it? What’s their role in helping create safe spaces in the real world and online?

The case for allyship

The LGBTQ+ community is a growing community that has significant and increasing spending power.

The global spending power of LGBTQ+ people was recently estimated as USD 3.9 trillion by Bloomberg. Brands should also know that global MONITOR data shows that LGBTQ+ shoppers are usually the first person within their social circle to adopt new ideas and try new things. As early adopters, they are usually the go-to person when their family or friends need new product and brand recommendations. So, they can be worth more than their buying power alone. 

To further the business case to be an ally, we also know that half of Americans say that it is important that the companies they buy from actively promote D&I, rising to 63% of American LGBTQ+ people. As well as being a business case for allyship, a recent survey from GLAAD showed two thirds of Americans think that advertisers have a responsibility to give LGBTQ+ visibility within their content. 

But only a third of people around the world think brands in their country do a good job of representing LGBTQ+ people in their advertising (Kantar Global MONITOR, 2023).

Reality confirms this perception. Only 1% of the tens of thousands of adverting tests Kantar have done around the world since 2018 overtly showed gay or lesbian people. It is of course hard to achieve this in a short piece of creative but clearly there is a long way to go. 

Even when a brand features lesbians, they never look like me. They are always young, beautiful, skinny, able-bodied (and let's face it, usually straight models pretending to be lesbians). 
Kantar DIVA Report 2024

When I'm thinking about brands' approach to the LGBTQ+ community I'm incredibly wary of pinkwashing. I want to know how a brand treats its LGBTQ+ employees. I want to know if it's just putting a queer person on a billboard or if it has policies in its workplace which actively make it an inclusive place to work for all levels of employees.
Kantar DIVA Report 2024

Examples of good allies

In 2024 the Brand Inclusion Index has been rolled out across 18 different markets all around the world. Within the survey the respondents vote for which brands they think are best for being a brave champion for LGBTQ+ people. Results for the wider Brand Inclusion Index will be available from July 2024. So before the results are available, here are two brands we think are being great allies.

An inspirational client example from the 2024 DIVA Report highlights complexities faced by the transgender and non-binary communities in particular. The card in their pocket can serve as a source of sensitivity, misrepresenting their true identity when shopping and going about daily life. Mastercard therefore announced that its ‘True Name’ initiative lets you use your chosen name to appear on the card, rather than any current legal, given or dead name, on your credit, debit and prepaid cards. This taps into the sensitive nature of the names we go by and how they’re linked to identity.

Nike is being recognized for its long record for celebrating diversity and supporting the LGBTQ+ community, more specifically the trans community. Sadly, their inclusive efforts have been met with backlash. But Nike’s response to hate is always with compassion and a firm commitment to maintaining a positive and inclusive space.

They hold their ground in supporting their LGBTQ+ partnerships and athletes. Nike’s support for the community goes beyond brand partnerships and into product innovation with gender-neutral clothes.

Nike’s allyship is both advocacy and with their products and partnerships, and it values the importance of the LGBTQ+ community, which helps explain the affinity for the brand with the LGBTQ+ community.

Steps to be a better ally

  1. Understand the evolving landscape.
    If your picture of who LGBTQ+ people are, how they identify, and how they act isn't keeping pace with all the rich nuances and rapid evolutions, you're going to risk falling behind with your customers and your employees. 
  2. Lead by example, start from within.
    Start within your business. LGBTQ+ people want the brands they support to be walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Plus having a strong network of internal LGBTQ+ stakeholders is going to let you lean on them for guidance and make each of these steps much easier.  Consider more inclusive recruitment practices to better reflect society and starting an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for LGBTQ+ employees to feel safer being their true selves at work.
  3. Get skin in the game, don’t outsource.
    For many LGBTQ+ consumers, brand efforts can seem like they start and end with a rainbow logo during Pride Month or a single donation to an external charity. Think carefully about what existing capabilities you can use to make a difference in-house, and what capabilities you can build to make an even bigger impact. And when you do partner with external advocacy groups, make sure that’s exactly what it is -– a partnership, where your own teams are actively and passionately involved. 
  4. Be prepared for potential backlash.
    In an increasingly polarized cultural and political climate, staying neutral often isn't an option. It's important to recognize how taking the safe route is itself an increasingly risky strategy, and that a bold and compassionate effort today may pay massive dividends in the future. It’s important to do the internal self-work and determine right to play before making bold public announcements of allyship.

To know more about how we can help you in your inclusion journey contact our experts or visit our sustainability page.

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