As part of LGBTQIA+ History Month, design experts reflect on practical ways the industry can improve and why more needs to be done.
Design Partners industrial designer Peter Murphy
Design companies need to reach out and engage with LGBTQIA+ organizations directly and ask this question themselves. This is the only way to enable authentic conversations. Being based in Ireland allows me to talk about what IDI, DCCI and our design and technical universities could do to create a more inclusive and supportive industry to be proud of.
From the start, design-led companies need to embrace “diversity in recruitment” and commit to each other to do the same. As an industry, we should all encourage and be encouraged to use inclusive language in products, designs and campaigns. Contact LGBTQIA+ organizations to get this right and never assume.
Companies under the design umbrella must promote LGBTQIA+ organizations (e.g. ShoutOut, Teni, Outhouse, BelongTo, ACTUP) and highlight the benefits that partnering with these organizations can have for their employees.
Finally, I would also like to see targeted LGBTQIA+ design festivals, exhibitions and side events to celebrate and represent our community more.
Jo Barnard, Founder and Creative Director of Morrama
Of course, as a creative industry, this should be a place where people of all identities feel welcome, but sometimes that’s not the case. As with most things, the reason is usually a lack of familiarity. Just as you might see yourself as a supporter of people of color or women in the workplace, the same should apply to LGBTQIA+ people.
Most of us don’t need much more than a gesture of ally when a homophobic attack has made headlines, but for those going through a transition or identity quest, don’t just ignore it. Talk to them about how you can help, be open about the fact that they don’t know much about their world, and let them tell you as much as they’re comfortable.
The Birds design director Matthew Gilpin
When I speak about inclusion in the workplace, I wonder why it is my responsibility as a member of the LGBT community to say how others should be more inclusive? I’m just a voice with my own personal experience. All too often in corporate environments, it becomes common practice to let the minority party address and elucidate opposing views, where in reality it must be the wider community that is developing and opening up to diversity.
In the design community in particular, there is a perception that the industry embraced inclusion years ago, but we need not falter now as indirect biases creep in. Designers should be at the forefront of diversifying the world we live in. Who better to lead the way? to diversify as the people who design the products we consume, the homes we live in and the places we work?
Queercircle founder Ashley Joiner
I have been fortunate to have advised various agencies and brands over the years. It’s often exciting to march proudly and wave the rainbow flag. Much to their surprise (and perhaps dismay), my first question is, “How does your team feel?” The answer to that question reveals a lot about a company’s work culture.
Creating spaces for LGBTQ+ people (and any other marginalized group) to share their feelings is the first step towards a more inclusive workplace. When the Gay Liberation Front started (and women’s liberation before them), they held regular think-ins. These informal discussions were an opportunity to share their feelings as LGBTQ+ people, to challenge their own prejudices, and to build understandings that impacted everything they did.
These workplace discussions could go on to inform future policy developments, changes to internal communications and/or to highlight the need for regular company-wide training – changes and developments big and small, led by those most affected.
Thompson CEO Rachel Cook
The design industry needs to step up its game on LGBTQIA+ inclusion. It’s not rocket science; It’s just a matter of really caring enough to take those small steps. I’m a business owner, I identify as LGBTQIA and I’m a Trustee for LGBT youth organization The Proud Trust so I can speak from some experience but I’m still learning.
I believe it is important to actively communicate to staff/recruits that you are LGBTQIA+ friendly. Introducing pronouns into email signatures opens the door to the right conversations. Pronouns in meeting introductions is something that came to my attention through the Proud Trust board. It felt like a real bite at first, but it soon became second nature and it helps pave the way for others. Removing gender toilets and gender markings from application forms is easier.
For great resources, Outvertising has already done the hard work for Adland by creating a list of the top 20 actions a company can take to become LGBTQIA+ inclusive, and it’s 100% adaptable to broader design disciplines.
Artist and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman
The design industry has come a long way in embracing architects and designers who are queer in their practice. In most offices one can be queer in oneself, even discuss one’s life with others at home, but these offices tend to be very far from accepting differences beyond that. They tend to be very far from accepting an actual expression of differences in the work.
The industry tends to be very afraid of queerness being expressed in any way in outcomes, in actual designs. It’s sort of a deal-with-the-devil, where queer people can exist in the industry as long as they don’t try to change the tastes, culture, and values of the work produced by the industry in any way. This situation has created a silent but pervasive form of forced professional closure.
My challenge for offices would be this: embrace your queer employees in a way that encourages and supports them to bring their unique identities and perspectives to their work. Allow your practice and work to be modified by the preferences and approaches of your diverse collaborators, don’t just erase their differences by training them to replicate your aesthetic and approach. If this were to happen, even on a small scale, we would see an incredible renaissance in the design world.
Echo, Marketing and Customer Relationship Manager, Megan Rae
With the recent widespread focus on inclusivity, it’s important for the design industry to be inclusive. The best workplaces are those built on a community of mutual respect and empathy, which means every individual should feel that their voice is heard. We’re all on a journey of growing and learning about what it means to be truly inclusive – nobody’s quite there yet. A workplace that actively empathizes, listens, and allows employees to feel comfortable enough to speak openly about company improvements is a workplace that will ultimately be harmonious and progressive.
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