Sarah Kate Ellis, R. Alexandra Keith and Shelly McNamara.

Corporations play an important role when it comes to the conversation around promoting inclusion, acceptance and equality for the LGBTQ community.

This was a key point made by panelists, GLAAD president and chief executive officer Sarah Kate Ellis, Procter & Gamble chief diversity and inclusion officer Shelley McNamara and Alex Keith, P&G’s ceo of its global beauty business, during the first session of the morning at WWD’s Culture Conference.

Ellis, a former media executive who moved over to GLAAD six years ago, spoke about the organization’s commitment over the years to placing LGBTQ storylines in the mainstream media, dating back to the AIDS crisis in the Eighties. But the organization’s reach has extended far beyond Hollywood and publication — it now works with companies on fine-tuning their messaging around LGBTQ outreach and acceptance. “Now, cultural epicenters are everywhere,” Ellis said. “Ceo’s are leaders of culture and what they say now matters sometimes more than celebrities.”

She spoke about the importance of companies in being vocal allies to the LGBTQ communities, particularly as Gen Z grows up — GLAAD’s research indicates that 40 percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ, versus 20 percent of Millennials. “If you don’t market and become part of the movement, you will be left behind, as a product, service or company today because it is such a big part of our population,” Ellis said. “If you’re going to do it [just] for your bottom line, please do — if you can’t lead with morals and values, we’re here to help you.”

Joking aside, she did advise strongly against “pinkwashing” — marketing with no authenticity behind it — and urged companies to find a genuine way to market to their consumers their commitment to including and recognizing the LGBTQ community.

She pointed to Procter & Gamble as a company that has made strides in communicating authentically its commitment to the LGBTQ, ticking off several examples, including a documentary released on CNN about the struggles of LGBTQ employees at P&G in the early Nineties.

Things have changed at P&G since then, said McNamara, the company’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, a relatively new role. McNamara, spoke to the importance of corporate policy changes in communicating to the LGBTQ community that they matter and are equals. Before 2001, for instance, McNamara’s partner and one of her three children were not included on her company’s life insurance or health-care policies, because they were not recognized as her family members. Policy shifts at P&G changed this, and she said the company is still “on a journey” of equalizing LGBTQ h.r. policies. For instance, the company recently issued a policy allowing gay males at the company parental leave to bond with a new baby. “Policy changes are really important because they communicate to people what matters and allows for [alleviation of] differentiation in privilege,” said McNamara, who also stressed the importance of giving LGBTQ employees access to the same benefits and policies as straight employees. “At the core of the conversation, it’s relationships and the power of being allies,” she said.

Alex Keith recognized the power of being a vocal ally when a colleague told her that he was preparing to come out, and that he was fearful of repercussions he might face in the workplace. “It really made me realize that I had to move from being to what I now call a silent ally — someone who was an ally but an ally when I needed to be — to be a much more vocal public ally in terms of creating a culture and team environment and internal environment of inclusion and acceptance.”

Keith’s role extends beyond creating an internal environment that is safe and accepting for the LGBTQ community — she is also tasked with marketing the company’s efforts to do so to its consumer base. She talked about some of the work Pantene is doing as an example. The brand recently partnered with Dresscode Project on a campaign highlighting trans people. “Ultimately the science of Pantene is transforming damaged hair to healthy hair, and the power to transform has become a much broader platform around the role that hair can play in a particular trans person’s journeys,” Keith said. “We know that 60 percent of people going through their trans journey change their hair as one of the first outward signals of personal expression, and Pantene has elevated [the theme] of transformation from a product [standpoint] to a [brand theme].”

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