Blue background image with purple graphic circles and headshots of Ray Van Der Fort and Dylan Choong

Engaging authentically with LGBTQAI+ communities

Exploring inclusion through a market-specific lens

Ray Van Der Fort (RVDF), DEI & WPP Unite lead at WPP in South Africa, and Dylan Choong (DC), CPO at GroupM in APAC, discuss culture versus constitution, the differing approaches to inclusion in their respective markets, and offer advice on how brands can avoid rainbow washing.

RVDF: I feel strongly about the need for a market-specific lens on DEI. In South Africa, for example, we have majority marginalised groups, not minority marginalised groups. In fact, people of colour make up 90% of the South African population. That is why we need a market-specific lens.

This year we’ve been focused on operationalising and executing what we want to do around DEI and one of my highlights has been witnessing inter-agency collaboration at WPP. This applies in particular in relation to setting up WPP Unite in South Africa. Our launch event, part of WPP’s Making Space to Unite with Pride, was a panel session entitled Culture vs Constitution.

South Africa is the only country on the African continent where same-sex marriage is legalised. It’s the fifth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage and it's the first country in the world to codify – in its constitution – the banning of discrimination based on gender and sexuality. In terms of progressive constitutions, our constitution is ranked close to the top. And it's a very robust constitution in that you cannot change it.

The panel conversation explored what it means when the constitution entrenches your rights, but culture is still playing catch-up. Queer people still don't feel safe in South Africa.

There’s a saying that I think started in the disabled community but has been appropriated by the queer community as well: “Nothing about us without us.” Don't design brand campaigns, workplaces, ideas, even panels and initiatives without getting that community's input.

DC: I love that idea, and I would have loved to have seen that panel discussion. In Singapore, it's the exact opposite. The constitution follows the culture of the generation.

RVDF: There’s a saying that I think started in the disabled community but has been appropriated by the queer community as well: “Nothing about us without us.” Don't design brand campaigns, workplaces, ideas, even panels and initiatives without getting that community's input.

Do you think there’s been a shift on how brands are engaging with the LGBTQAI+ community?

DC: I think brands are becoming more open about having a point of view and coming out in support of the LGBTQAI+ community – whether in branding campaigns, or in actions and grassroots movements. But as a person in the community, I shudder when I see a lot of voices emerging around Pride month. And it's this tipping point between what is rainbow, or Pride, washing versus a brand genuinely having a point of view around it.

An example of a brand doing this well is Starbucks. I have a lot of respect for a brand that's willing to break taboos and speak to what matters in a moment where it’s truly meaningful.

RVDF: I totally agree.

DC: Are you seeing a shift in conversations on inclusion and diversity in South African workplaces?

That’s why the work we do, and training such as WPP’s Inclusion as a Skill, is so important. It does not have just an annual or five-year focus, it’s generational in scope. We're changing to accommodate the next generation of people coming into the workplace.

RVDF: Definitely. Prior to 2020 and Covid we were not having these conversations at an organisational level or with any sense of urgency. For all communities and identities in the workplace the pandemic was difficult. It surfaced so many issues around, not only how different people experience the workplace, but also mental health, burnout and more. And we know that, in terms of mental health and how people experience organisations, marginalised identities feel negative impacts more keenly.

That’s why the work we do, and training such as WPP’s Inclusion as a Skill, is so important. It does not have just an annual or five-year focus, it’s generational in scope. We're changing to accommodate the next generation of people coming into the workplace.

published on

28 September 2023

Category

Communications Experience

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