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Good Morning McCann: Out in the Workplace

Good Morning McCann: Out in the Workplace

Between queer shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and queer politicians like Danica Roem winning public office - it’s a great time to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Today, as part of McCann’s Pride Week, in a panel moderated by Michelle Kiely, four McCanners gave insight into what life and work are like for LGBTQ+ people in 2018. These four panelists, each from a different part of the community, gave dimension to the LGBTQ+ spectrum:

                Mel Senecal - Production - Lesbian (or FemQueer)

                Mariano Pintor - Account Services - Gay

                Nina Kossoff - Strategy - Non-Binary

                Lucas Crigler - Creative - Trans Man

identity and intersectionality

Most of the panelists were able to speak about their experience with intersectionality - an overlapping of social categorizations like race, gender, and sexuality, that often result in compounded discrimination for an individual. Being a member of two minorities can lead to a confusing relationship with oneself. Mariano is 27, but between being gay and Hispanic, he feels like he’s still grappling with his identity and figuring out how to move around in the world.

As an “undetectable” gay person, Mel admitted that she’s a recipient of privilege that many queer people don’t get. When she’s out walking in the world, it’s less likely that she’ll experience discrimination or disadvantages because she can “pass” as straight. But, that privilege also has it’s downsides - like when Mel encounters people who can’t seem to get over the fact that, while she’s gay, she “seems straight”. In the face of these people, she has to reiterate her identity.

For non-binary and genderqueer people, reiterated your identity can be a part of daily life. Nina went over the process of teaching people their preferred pronouns - as non-binary people like them don’t just go by the binary he/she him/her, but by they/them or ze/zir. While their experience getting people to use their preferred pronouns at McCann has been positive, they mentioned that they sometimes get pushback from people who think they/their/them is grammatically incorrect when used to refer to a single person. While explaining this over and over may seem like a pain, Nina said that there are benefits to teaching people their preferred pronouns: it gives Nina a chance to see people are paying attention to what they’re saying or not.

Lucas, a trans man, had a complicated experience asserting his identity. In elementary school, he had short hair and was naturally masculine, but was bullied for it, so he attempted to look and act more feminine throughout middle school and high school. He came out as a lesbian at 25 and began to express his gender identity with more masculine visual cues. “I had a big truck and two big dogs. I just really felt like I needed to make it obvious that I was masculine.” After beginning hormone replacement therapy and physically transitioning (an experience that not all trans people undergo), Lucas felt that he was able to “pass” as a male and didn’t have the same pressure to cue people into his identity. 

myths and misconceptions

Sexuality and gender identity can be subjects shrouded in misinformation, so Michelle asked the group to clear up some misconceptions about the LGBTQ+ community:

  1. Misconception: The LGBTQ+ community is one big, happy family.
    1. Reality: According to Mariano, the truth is that you’ll find a good deal of cliques and discriminatory behavior internally. “It’s like that cafeteria scene in Mean Girls, when Janis and Damian break down all of the school’s cliques and groups.”
  2. Misconception: Legalized marriage is the end of the fight.
    1. Reality: Mel pointed out that, while the legalization of gay marriage made things cool in the coastal states, it didn’t have the same kind of effect in many other parts of the country. “Lots of states still have a lack of adequate workplace and housing protections.”
  3. Misconception: There is a man and a woman in every relationship.
    1. Reality: Nina explained how problematic this misconception really is: “It just traps us in an old definition of what relationships are.”
  4. Misconception: It’s ok to ask trans people about what procedures they’ve gotten/plan to get.
    1. Reality: Lucas kept it simple: “Don’t do this. It’s rude. Only ask questions you want people asking you back.”

how to be a better ally

As a friend to the community, or as Nina calls her, “a kick-ass ally”, Michelle was curious about what people can do to be better allies:

The general consensus was that the most important thing you can do is show up for your LGBTQ+ friends. Be a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen, a set of arms to give a nice big bear hug. 

Being an ally shouldn’t just be limited to how you act around the LGBTQ+ community - in fact, sometimes what you do when a queer person is not around can be even more important. Straight allies are in rooms with other straight people, who might not be as accepting. “If someone says something off-base, you owe it to you them to correct them”, Mariano says.

But really, “allies should start with themselves,” Mel noted. “Look at how you’re treated by other people compared to those around you. Get an understanding of what you get and don’t get about others.” The other panelists agreed that understanding one’s own privilege is a key element to being a better ally - then it’ll be easier to be take actions like conscious inclusion. “If you’re in a meeting and you look around and only see people who look like you, make an effort to include others from different backgrounds and cultures who can offer other perspectives.”

Mariano noted that allies can share certain responsibilities that tend to fall on the shoulders of the LGBTQ+ community. “We are forced to challenge the status quo, but allies should try to confront social constructs too.”

being out at work

Nina pointed out the slight absurdity of even having to be “out” in the workplace in the first place: “LGBTQ+ is defined by gender and sexuality - rationally, sexuality shouldn’t have anything to do with the workplace. It should be limited to a mention of your girlfriend or partner.” Unfortunately, because humans are crazy curious and far from rational, coming out is a reality most LGBTQ+ employees have to deal with. Thankfully, those who’ve come out at McCann had positive things to say about their experience.

Nina recalled coming out as non binary to the entire department before even meeting them. “[Former Head of Strategy] Veda asked me to write a little introductory bio on myself that she could send around to the department on my first day. I just kind of threw in that I prefer the they/them pronouns.” When they stated this for the first time to department heads, Gemma Craven and David Broad, she said they didn’t bat an eye.

Mel, who was living with a man when she started at McCann, came to terms with her sexuality for the first time during the beginning of her tenure at the agency. McCann was the first workplace where she lived as an out gay woman and she “felt very comfortable coming out here.”

Some people, like Mariano, are fortunate enough to have never come out during their career in advertising. “In my first interview for my first agency job in Texas, I just went in as my full self and didn’t feel the need to say anything about my sexuality.” He experiences the same thing when he began work at McCann XBC. “I feel like I’m allowed to be my full self here.”

However, coming out is something most queer people will have to repeat with each new job. Take Lucas, for example, who has had multiple stages of coming out: “I came out as a lesbian at my agency in Rhode Island. I was kind of hoping that they would just catch on.” He came out as trans at his agency in LA, but McCann is his first job where he’s officially known as “Lucas”.

Michelle pointed out that this acceptance isn’t completely surprising in the agency world, but in a year where we’re seeing more clients ask for LGBTQ+ related work, it’s clear that that acceptance is spreading throughout all components of the industry. “I’m working on a pride campaign for MasterCard and the I’m gay, the client is gay, the producer is gay, and the strategist is non-binary. The client wanted to make sure that our team was reflective of our audience.”

As the panel came to an end, it was hard to not be struck by the surrealism of the moment. It’s 2018, we’re at work and we’re steeping in the experience of LGBTQ+ employees who get to live fully and freely each day.

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