How Indian PR world donned the colours of Pride

Thought leaders explain why the industry's first steps towards inclusion, however unsteady and awkward, are nevertheless in the right direction

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Jun 30, 2021 1:27 PM
pride

Today marks the end of the Pride Month. In recent years, pride month celebrations by corporations have become a common sight. Brands don the colours of the rainbow, and roll out targeted campaigns and celebrations to showcase their support towards inclusion and sexual diversity.

In the Pride Month, Indian Public Relations firms also came up with innovative campaigns and social media posts for not only their clientele but also for themselves. They have been walking the talk when it comes to building a truly inclusive culture.

Adfactors PR embarked on a journey and explored a creative route, where they designed a sensitisation session with theatre actors enacting everyday office scenarios of discrimination. It was followed by an open discussion forum where myths were busted and questions answered.

Even at Ruder Finn, there are social handles that have a special series dedicated to celebrating the pride month.

And today, with larger levels of accountability to employees and to society at large, every organisation needs to up the ante in the inclusion space.

The PR fraternity feels that this kind of celebration is still new to the industry and there is a collective understanding to err on the side of caution. We will be seeing that change sooner rather than later.

Are PR firms walking the talk on inclusion and diversity?

Swagato Mallick, Member of the Millennial Board of Directors, Adfactors PR affirms, “Every organisation needs to be able to foster an inclusive culture and challenge biases and deep-rooted societal conditioning related to gender identities, sexual orientations and gender roles and all other stereotypes that lead to a culture of 'othering'. The purpose is to create a safe and inclusive workspace that brings out the best in every person and ensures a sense of belongingness among every employee.”

“As we step into the new decade, agencies too have become more progressive. With the new work from home policy, there is a tremendous amount of trust and independence”, notes Atul Sharma, Managing Director, Ruder Finn India.

 “One of the most important lessons that have come out of the pandemic is that we have to let people decide the way they want to work, what they want to wear and what they want to bring to the table. It is no different for sexuality and the way they want to embrace it. I don’t think any agency consciously disengages with members of the LGBTQ+ community. As a thumb rule, for any PR firm or agency, creativity is king, so irrespective of what your preferences are if you add value to our work, everyone is welcome.”

“Policies on inclusion, however, don’t mean much if people don’t believe in them. You can’t mandate empathy. So as an organization, we have to bring everyone on board. A big part of that is building awareness and understanding of the issues that the LGBTQ+ community is going through”, asserts Deepshikha Dharmaraj, Chief Executive Officer, Genesis BCW.

She added, “I am also proud to be part of an industry that has traditionally embraced both, gender as well as sexual orientation. There is a lot of openness as well as acceptance in our industry for the LGBTQ+ community. Of course, we need to do more collectively.”

Will it become a moment for change and we will see more agencies participating in this?

With millennials and Gen Zs accounting for a larger fraction of employees and other stakeholders and rising levels of accountability, agencies will have no choice but to adopt best practices for higher inclusion.

Sharma believes that the journey to acceptance of different kinds of people and communities is inevitable, so it’s no different for PR agencies as well.

While some are outspoken for the cause, there are others who want to tread cautiously and that too is a choice. “As more and more people start coming out of the closet within the agencies and comfortably begin standing firm for their preferences, there will be acceptance and even celebration of the cause and pride month in general. If we start instilling confidence in the LGBTQ+ community, it is a matter of time that people around us start accepting them as the new normal. As for me, I think that the revolution has already begun.”

“I would also like to believe being creative naturally entails ensuring higher freedom of expression and celebrating the nuances of diversity”, pointed out Mallick.

“Exactly in that vein, if any agency fails to realise the need to support the cause, it shall drastically affect creativity levels, cultural ethos and eventually output shall suffer. Let’s not discount the fact that some of the most esteemed and celebrated creative personalities globally have had different sexual orientations and gender identities and they have all set benchmarks and created masterpieces”, he added.

 

It is not like that the industry has never created compelling pieces of communication representing the community, but the ones that got all the elements right are few and far between.

A lot of organisations have been championing the cause for a long time, thanks to their resolute conviction in dignity of human life. And this is much before Section 377 was repealed in 2018.

This has of course had a telling effect on the perception change and led to many more industry peers adopting best practices in inclusion. But the question is if they are enough? Do policy blueprints always safeguard people from being marginalised and “othered”?

"In the last two years, there have been meek attempts to portray the community in a positive light. As believed, change begins at the end of your comfort zone. While representing any community, there’s a serious amount of thought given so that no one’s sentiments are hurt with the portrayal. There’s a certain method to the madness, and I believe similarly for the LGBTQ+ too," observed Sharma.

Mallick noted that in a country such as ours, where deep-rooted conditioning needs to be addressed, sensitisation is the need of the hour.

He believes that it needs to be addressed through open conversations and sensitisation sessions.

“The onus on agencies is to pro-actively counsel their clientele to integrate inclusion in their overall communications. In conclusion, let’s also soulfully pledge support to the highest levels of inclusion as an industry and continue doing so beyond social media timelines and subsequent pride months”, he added.

“The first steps we take when we are growing up are always awkward and unstable. As we normalise the conversation around the LGBTQ+ community, we will get better at it. It takes courage, patience and purpose-led creativity to make change happen”, concluded Dharmaraj.

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