As an LGBTQ+ ally, P&G is navigating the complexities of operating in anti-gay markets

Shelly McNamara, P&G’s chief diversity and inclusion officer

Procter & Gamble’s record for supporting the LGBTQ+ community is near-immaculate in its consistency. But how does such a large multinational built on such a liberal brand purpose handle the hypocrisy of operating in countries where being gay leads to ostracization, incarceration and death?

P&G’s LGBTQ+ community and allies will be out in force at New York City’s World Pride celebrations on Sunday (30 June), alongside some 144 other brands, media titles, charities and activist groups.

The annual march, which this year marks 50 years since the city’s Stonewall riots, has become somewhat of a corporate-palooza: brand managers from Pepsi to Pret a Manger have rainbow-washed their logos, decked out their trucks and ordered the face paint. But history shows that when the streets are hosed down, many will revert on the logo and not mention LGBTQ+ pride again until following June – an approach drawing mounting criticism.

This has meant a number of brands have begun to demonstrate their authentic support of Pride with activations outside of the procession. Advertising at large has been shot through a distinctly LGBTQ+-friendly lens this month; Diet Coke has taken its own ‘labels’ off its cans and JetBlue has renamed one of its planes Shantay Blue Stay in homage to RuPaul.

And over in Hudson Yards, P&G has teamed up with CNN and BMW to build Queer City – a pop-up exhibition exploring the lives, loves and tensions of New York’s LGBTQ+ scene before and after Stonewall. The CPG conglomerate is screening its latest 25-minute film, 'Out of the Shadows', in a side room.

The documentary is an exercise in self-reflection for P&G, which witnessed a group of its employees band together in the early 90s to fight for equality in their workplace. The company has since built a strong culture of LGBTQ+ support, reinforced by solid HR practices.

“Today we have 5,000 P&G employees connected into our LGBTQ+ network around the world,” said Shelly McNamara, P&G’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “I travel to key markets, engage leadership on the ground and ... identify policies or practices that needed to shift in order to better that support.”

Externally, the company is striving to get better at its inclusion of LGBTQ+ in its communications, according to P&G’s Brent Miller. Officially he is a PR guy – associate director of global beauty communications – however, as an active member of the company’s LGBTQ+ network, Gable, he has been brought on to consult when it comes to the portrayal of gay or gender non-binary people on screen.

“When you have things that are made by people who aren't really immersed in the community, there's just nuances that you can get wrong,” said Miller, who is the creative director and executive producer of ‘Out of the Shadows'.

“I help work with them on that and also with Glaad [Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation], who come in as a third-party expert in that space, and work with our brands to make sure they get everything from the casting to the portrayal to the language nailed.”

P&G’s support of LGBTQ+ also extends to its corporate governance and lobbying – unlike brands such as AT&T, Comcast and FedEx, which have recently been called out for making substantial donations to anti-gay politicians despite publically supporting events such as World Pride.

The brand isn't perfect – in 2016 it donated $10,000 to Roy Blunt, a Republican senator who is against gay marriage and prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation, for instance. However, it memorably lobbied against Cincinnati’s Article XII, which blocked any laws aimed at protecting those who identified as gay, way back in 1993, and has been given a perfect score of 100 in the Human Rights Commission’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index.

Now, P&G’s real inner tussle comes from operating in countries with anti-gay legislation in force, such as Indonesia, Russia and Egypt.

“There are always questions that come up like, ‘Can you sponsor Pride and then sponsor a sporting event that happens in Russia?’” said Miller.

“If we pull out [of Russia], we’re actually missing an opportunity to continue a conversation. And if we pull out, that's not going to change their policy. But if we have a positive and active conversation within these markets, we have the opportunity to bring people with us and to drive things forward.”

He continued: “Being very visible in markets such as the US and the UK is role modelling and influencing those that have some ways to go. We are up against some really interesting societal, religious, cultural challenges and we recognise that we're not going to be the ones to change that.

"But I think if we role model workplace change, policy, culture and behaviour in those markets, we can at least make our employees feel safe and welcome.”

Making sure LGBTQ+ employees feel safe in these kinds of territories is P&G’s priority, according to McNamara, who recalled numerous accounts of the company moving workers to different offices to guarantee this.

Additionally, it works with organizations such as HRC to encourage change with regards to LGBTQ+ discrimination. This allows P&G to play a more active role on a socio-political level but protects its employees from any backlash on the ground.

“We can come together as a band of organizations helping drive the conversation,” said Miller. “When we do that, we're less likely to make local employees vulnerable, because it is not one company vs a country, it is a group of people in business that are working to create change.

“It’s a way to make people see this is something that's important not just to one company, but to a host of people looking to do business in that market.”

Back on home soil, one of McNamara’s goals in her new role is to make LGBTQ+ staff in the organization as visible as she is. Tracking staff sexuality and publicizing the results is a complex task, however, namely because of its multinational status.

“We need to work through all of that as a global company to make sure we're not putting our employees at risk. [We need] systems that will ... not expose something staff in certain areas would not be comfortable sharing ,” she explained.

“We want to intentionally develop, support and grow [our LGBTQ+ base] and have evidence of that. But today, given that there's an inherent risk in having a system that identifies people as LGBTQ+ in certain areas, we need to find a way to have both. We don't know how to do that just yet.”

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