It’s Pride month. This week’s 52INSIGHTS explores youth's take on Pride today - what it means to younger generations and their take on brands and businesses activating in this space.
SHIFTING NORMS & THE RELEVANCE OF PRIDE
As a generation, Gen Z are outspoken on issues of social justice and equality. Gender and sexuality is a key area where Gen Z are challenging tradition. The root of this is in their own make-up, values and experiences; Gen Z are the most diverse generation in history. With this, there is a desire for everyone to feel represented - a recent UK study found:
- 85% of Gen Z would like to see more diverse representation in advertising.
- 87% of Gen Z would actively support a brand if they felt represented in their advertising.
Gen Z are also much more likely, compared to older generations and millennials, to define their sexual orientation as bisexual, homosexual or other. In fact, a majority agree that gender is a spectrum rather than a man/woman binary. Harvard Business review reports:
- In the U.S., 56% know someone who uses a gender neutral pronoun and 59% believe forms should include options other than “man” and “woman.”
- Globally, 25% of Gen Zers expect to change their gender identity at least once during their lifetime.
Culturally, gender fluidity certainly seems to be entering a new phase as men increasingly don skirts and dresses loudly and proudly. The likes of Harry Styles, Jayden Smith and Billy Porter have all been wearing more traditionally ‘feminine’ styles.
For youth, Pride marks a time to mark and celebrate these modern shifts as individuals and communities, while also looking back at how far things have come:
“For me, pride month is a time to celebrate the gay liberation movement. It’s a time to think back to the movements origins at The Stonewall and thank the black femme queens who kicked it off.
Pride month is a time to celebrate queer history.. and to remind ourselves of the key people who got us to where we are today. Pride month is a time to reflect on my own personal inner sense of pride... and how much that’s grown since my teens when I struggled.” Billy (26), PR & Advocacy Exec, Thinkhouse
COVID, CULTURE & THE IMPORTANCE OF PRIDE
The Covid-19 pandemic has been held responsible for widening inequalities. The LGBTI+ community has had to face unique challenges throughout the last 2 years. New figures from BeLonG To Youth Services, the national organisation supporting LGBTI+ young people in Ireland, show a huge spike in demand for support in 2020. Anxiety, isolation & fear of family rejection have all led to an increased demand for LGBTI+ support services (up by 113%).
“It has been alarming to witness the impact of Covid-19 on LGBTI+ young people in Ireland. Even before the pandemic, this group experienced a significantly increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. The global pandemic has compounded these mental health challenges, and we saw demand for our frontline support services soar over the past 12 months. This demand for one-to-one and peer group support comes at a time when we see the rise of a small but loud group of far-right actors in Ireland attempting to undermine LGBTI+ rights and the existence of trans people. It is really troubling to see a growth in incidences of hate speech targeting the LGBTI+ community, particularly across social media platforms.” Moninne Griffith, CEO of BeLonG To Youth Services
As a result of this, youth who can are pushing even more for radical inclusivity across the spectrum of LGBTI+ experiences:
“Pride month is a time to remind ourselves that while the L, G and B can often feel celebrated, accepted and respected (you know... the basics) our brothers and sisters who represent the T, oftentimes, do not. We have to fight for love and acceptance for the entire community. Trans people of colour paved the way for us, we have to raise them up and fight on their behalf. I also think that pride is extremely personal, it means something different to everyone. June is a time to unite and celebrate together, differences and all.” Billy (26), PR & Advocacy Exec, Thinkhouse
BRANDS X PRIDE
Every year, Pride seems to be a hotter and hotter topic in the world of brands. The importance of diversity and inclusion is well established - and it's been proven good for business (companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 15% and those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 35%. Source here). So, it’s no surprise to see businesses and brands changing their logos and adoring social media feeds with rainbows - showing solidarity in pride month. But logo-fatigued youth and LGBTI+ communities today are looking past hollow displays of solidarity and speaking out in search of earnest signs of support through real representation and action.
“It’s lovely to see businesses, brands and big corporations whip out the (often outdated) rainbow flags every June. But for me, personally, I would love to see businesses, brands and big corporations engage with queer people in a genuine way, speak out on our behalf and advocate for change.... all year round.” Billy (26), PR & Advocacy Exec, Thinkhouse
“A lot are using the ‘plaster’ approach with pride. There’s a lot of black and queer washing right now - we even saw it last year when companies came out for Black Lives Matter and there was no diversity on their boards. I do feel like a lot of it is performative - people speaking out because they feel like they have to and it doesn’t feel sincere. We are getting somewhere - at least people are willing to do campaigns now! But these people need to be part of those teams. Representation needs to be part of the internal team, making the content. There's a huge opportunity with diverse and inclusive marketing too - I feel like there’s this assumption sometimes that a certain cohort won’t buy something...People should be more open to selling to other ethnicities and genders.” Zeda, 25
Part of this response involves calling out hypocrisies or appropriation, but most of all the rallying cry is for real change. This kind of change goes beyond logos and annual statements of support to programmes tackling unconscious bias, ensuring diverse teams and more authentic, year-round support.
Pride is still a protest. It also still presents opportunities for brands and organisations today - to think beyond tradition and champion change that connects with younger generations’ values.
Responding to new expectations and concerns around sexuality and gender is not just about policies (even though these are important - from bathrooms to recruitment!). It goes deeper than declaring your pronouns in emails (welcoming, inclusive culture is also important!), to actually understanding the approach more systematically and how bias plays out across the entire organisation. This means tackling tokenism and ensuring that a variety of voices (including the most vulnerable and marginalised) are really being listened to and considered.
“Organizations that respond to this change may start to recognize the much bigger business opportunity in front of them: a chance to create products and experiences for a growing body of consumers that no longer buy into traditional conceptions of gender [or sexuality] and the stereotypical, binary classifications attached to it. It starts with awareness… The first step is to become more aware of the assumptions you’re making… For example... Are you making assumptions about what your customers are looking for because of their gender [or sexuality]? This could be off putting, or lead to missed opportunities. For example, many women aren’t interested in or don’t have the money for cosmetics and facial care products; on the flipside, more than 56% of U.S. men used some sort of facial cosmetic at least once in 2018.” Harvard Business Review.
Access IAPI’s new Diversity & Inclusion policy for the commercial creative communications industry here.