The power of LGBTQIA+ leadership: Why representation matters

The power of LGBTQIA+ leadership: Why representation matters
Wunderman Thompson’s Ezinne Okoro discusses how LGBTQIA+ leaders inspire progress to break down corporate barriers and increase representation

Representation matters. Having LGBTQIA+ leaders in positions of power and influence sends a powerful message to individuals throughout businesses, encouraging others to aspire to take on similar roles. 

Although an estimated 5.1% of women and 3.9% of men in the US identify as LGBTQIA+, their representation in corporate America is shown to be much lower, according to a study from McKinsey. 

In fact, LGBTQIA+ women make up 2.3% of entry-level employees, which slowly drops as we look further up the career ladder, with only 1.6% of managers identifying as LGBTQIA+. The study continues to state that corporate companies with fewer diverse employees are more likely to make LGBTQIA+ individuals feel more isolated, and thus, less likely to progress in the company. 

In contrast, having a diverse representation of employees has been shown to encourage others exploring their sexual orientation and gender identity to achieve their goals, while also boosting their self-esteem and inspiring others to be authentic and proud of their identity.

Additionally, LGBTQIA+ leaders bring diverse perspectives to the table. Their life experiences and unique insights contribute to more comprehensive decision-making, which has been proven to benefit organisations and society as a whole. 

With Ezinne Okoro, Global Chief Inclusion, Equity and Diversity Officer at Wunderman Thompson, we explore the importance of promoting LGBTQIA+ in a corporate setting, as well as how to increase representation.

Fostering inclusive workspaces at Wunderman Thompson

Advertising agency Wunderman Thompson believes that it is business’s responsibility to champion inclusive and diverse representation of all kinds, with particular importance on advocating the rights and equality of the LGBTQIA+ community. “It takes a lot of courage to walk in your truth and convince others that you shouldn’t be discriminated against because of who you love and how you identify,” Okoro says.

“Yet despite strides being made, the number of people in the LGBTQIA+ community openly discussing their sexual orientation is still marginal. It’s challenging to be the first, the only, and even the face of something that many still deem as ‘different’ or ‘unnatural’, so representation matters.

“All leaders – and by extension, all people – want to be respected for their contributions and not for their sexual orientation. At the same time, the best leaders do so with authenticity and encourage their teams to do the same, so they often have to be cognizant of balancing the two.”

To encourage this, businesses need to foster spaces that are safe for all to self-identify, safe to self-express, and safe to afford the same rights, too. Additionally, Okoro raises the importance of hosting conversations about changes in the world, from gender-inclusive restrooms to non-gender conforming (non-binary) persons – not just in the workplace, but throughout wider society, too.

To achieve this within the business, Wunderman Thompson has set a number of workplace goals to foster inclusive spaces for community, innovation, growth and learning. For example: 

  • Improved ways of working by dropping silos to create spaces to collaborate across functions and geography. As a global organisation, Wunderman Thompson permits staff to work with a hybrid working model, allowing opportunities to collaborate on client projects and celebrate cultural moments.
  • Employee resource groups. Wunderman Thompson’s vibrant and expanding Business + Employee Resource Groups span more than 20 countries across the world, which boast volunteer-led groups that gather to curate special engagements to learn more about one’s culture, build community amongst themselves to discuss challenges and experiences, and bring forth policy changes for the agency’s leaders’ consideration.
  • Learning pathways. The business believes in designing one’s own authentic brand and pathway forward. Wunderman Thompson’s learning opportunities are accessible and vary based on need and style of learning. From online videos to interactive gamified plans, to instructor-led sessions. There’s something for everyone, creating an inclusive environment.

Acknowledging privilege in business

Representation, sponsorship, and mentorship are three critical components in growing leaders. For those from majority demographic groups, it’s understanding and acknowledging the privilege they hold in the rooms they occupy. Okoro says they should ask themselves how they are using their success to provide sponsorship or mentorship opportunities for the next generation of leaders and make space to do so. 

For those in minority groups, these components greatly benefit them as future leaders. Setting them up for success with mentorship; having someone validate your contribution through sponsorship while opening new doors; and seeing someone who looks like you in similar if not senior roles. It shows the potential and hope that you can achieve those opportunities as well.

“Simply put, representation matters,” Okoro says. “It’s important for everyone to see diversity of all forms in leadership roles. Specifically to this topic, it’s vital for those in the LGBTQIA+ community to show others that their experiences and contributions to the business are just as important.

“I am a firm believer that the more we share our personal experiences with others, the more they learn. It’s like borrowing books or stories from a human library. You can inquire more about that person’s experience which will help people arm themselves with more information so they can understand how to support members of the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s not about accepting or agreeing with beliefs, it’s about inclusion and not discriminating against someone because they are different from you.”

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