Can the design industry better support the LGBTQIA+ community?

Can the design industry better support the LGBTQIA+ community?

Can the design industry better support the LGBTQIA+ community?

As part of LGBTQIA+ history month design experts reflect on practical ways the industry can improve and why there’s more work to be done.

Design Partners industrial designer Peter Murphy

Design Partners is part of PA Consulting

Design enterprises need to reach-out and engage directly with LGBTQIA+ organisations and ask this question themselves. Doing so is the only way to enable authentic conversations. Being based in Ireland, I can speak to what the likes of the IDI, DCCI and our Design and Technical universities could be doing to establish a more inclusive and supportive industry to be proud of.

From the offset, design-led companies need to champion ‘diversity in hiring’ and hold each other accountable to do the same. As an industry, we should all encourage and be encouraged to use inclusive language in products, designs and campaigns. Engage with LGBTQIA+ organisations on how to get this right, never assume.

Companies under the design umbrella need to Promote LGBTQIA+ organisations (ie. ShoutOut, Teni, Outhouse, BelongTo, ACTUP) and highlight the benefits partnering with these organisations can do for their employees.

Finally, I’d also like to see focused LGBTQIA+ design festivals, exhibitions and fringe events to celebrate and represent our community more.

Morrama founder and creative director Jo Barnard

Being a creative industry, this should naturally be a space where people of all identities feel welcome, but sometimes it’s not. As with most things, the reason is typically because of a lack of familiarity. In the same way as you may see yourself as supportive of people of colour or women in the workplace, the same should go for LGBTQIA+ people.

Most of us don’t need much more than a gesture of allyship if a homophobic attack has hit the headlines, but for those going through a transition or identity exploration, don’t just ignore it. Speak to them about how you can help, be open about not knowing much about their world, and let them tell you as much as they feel comfortable.

Free The Birds design director Matthew Gilpin

When talking about inclusion in the workplace, I ask myself why it’s my responsibility as a member of the LGBT community to say how others should act more inclusively? I’m just one voice with my own personal experience. All too often, it becomes common practice in corporate environments to let the minority party tackle opposing views and educate, where in fact it needs to be the wider community evolving and opening themselves up to diversity.

Particularly within the design community, there is a perception that the industry embraced inclusivity years ago, but we need not falter now as indirect bias creeps in. Designers should be at the forefront of diversifying the world we live in. Who better to lead the way on diversification than the people who design the products we consume, the houses we live in and the places we work?

Queercircle founder Ashley Joiner

Portrait by by Deniz Guzel

I’ve been fortunate enough to consult for various agencies and brands over the years. There’s often an excitement to march on pride and wave the rainbow flag. Much to their surprise (and perhaps dismay) my first question is, “How do your team feel?” The response to this question reveals a lot about a company’s working culture.

Creating spaces for LGBTQ+ people (and any other marginalised group) to share how they are feeling is the first step to a more inclusive workplace. When the Gay Liberation Front started (and the Women’s liberation before them) they held regular “think-ins”. These informal discussions were an opportunity to share how they were feeling as LGBTQ+ people, challenge their own prejudices, and build understanding which went on to inform everything they did.

These discussions in the workplace could go on to inform future policy development, changes to internal comms, and/or highlight the need for regular company-wide training – changes and developments, big and small, led by the people most affected.

Thompson managing director Rachel Cook

The design industry needs to step it up when it comes to LGBTQIA+ inclusion. It’s not rocket science; it’s just about actually caring enough to start taking those small steps. I’m a business owner, identify as LGBTQIA and I’m a Trustee for LGBT youth charity The Proud Trust, so I can talk from some experience, but I’m still learning.

I believe that actively telling staff/recruits that you’re LGBTQIA+-friendly is essential. Introducing pronouns to email signatures opens the door for the right conversations. Pronouns in meeting introductions is something I got into via the Proud Trust board. It felt a real mouthful at first but it was soon second nature and it helps pave the way for others. Removing gendered toilets and gender markers from application forms are more easy steps.

For great resources, Outvertising has already done the heavy lifting for Adland, creating a list of the 20 most important actions that a business can take to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive, and it’s 100% adaptable to wider design disciplines.

Artist and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman

The design industry has come a long way in terms of accepting architects and designers who are queer into their practices. In most offices you can be queer in yourself, at home, even discuss your life with others, but these offices tend to be very far away from embracing difference beyond that. They tend to be very far from embracing any actual expression of difference in the work.

The industry tends to be profoundly fearful of queerness being expressed in any way in outputs, in actual designs. It’s a kind of deal-with-the-devil in which queer people may exist in the industry, so long as they do not attempt to change the taste, culture and values of the work the industry produces in any substantive way. This situation has created a silent, but ubiquitous, form of forced Professional Closeting.

My challenge to offices would be this: embrace your queer employees in a way that encourages and supports them in bringing their unique identities and perspectives through into their work. Allow your practice and its work to be changed by the tastes and approaches of your diverse employees, don’t simply erase their difference by training them to reproduce your aesthetics and approach. If this were to happen in even a small way, we would see an incredible renaissance of the design world.

Echo, Marketing and Client Relationship Manager, Megan Rae

With the latest widespread focus on inclusivity, it’s important that the design industry is inclusive of all. The best workplaces are the ones built on a community of mutual respect and empathy, which means every individual ought to feel their voice is heard. We are all on a journey of growing and learning about what it means to be truly inclusive – no one is quite there yet. A workplace that actively puts themselves in the shoes of each individual, listens, and allows employees to feel comfortable enough to speak openly about company improvement, is a workplace that will ultimately be harmonious and progress.

Banner image credit: Maxim Studio on Shutterstock


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