The phone rings and I speak to one of my long-suffering recruiters. It’s another no. It’s another no after six weeks, three rounds, a written task and a rotating cast of straight men staring inquisitively at me.
How was my task response? "Yes, they loved the thinking."
And my answers to the questions? "They were impressed with your responses."
It’s "gravitas", you see. Apparently, I still lack it – despite more than a decade in the industry, a proven track record and glowing references.
To these heterosexual mad men, I couldn’t possibly do what they do. Because I don’t look like them. I don’t talk like them. And I definitely don’t carry myself like them.
You see, I’m gay. And if we were to be binary about it, you’d say that I possess a lot of "feminine" traits.
What these straight men don’t know, though, is that the way I carry myself works. It’s empathetic and intuitive. It’s caring and kind. It’s vulnerable and diplomatic. And it’s even sometimes apologetic. It gives me the ability to make tea without worrying it’ll dent my ego. It’s all the things that go into building any successful relationship.
But, traditionally, my traits aren't those of someone you trust with the strategic direction of your account, are they? Because that's "not the way it’s done". I know this for a fact, because I’ve been asked to be "less gay". To suppress my sexuality because the client is former army or they’re "into Star Wars". Yet, here I am. Refusing to be anything less that my whole self. I’m listening, gently challenging and building a consensus around new strategic thinking. It’s different and it’s powerful.
I might not be the traditional choice. But I see no evidence that the all-too-common dick-waving benefits our industry. Quite the opposite. Toxic masculinity is damaging adland. The sooner we’re able to acknowledge this, the better. On many occasions, my clients have expressed their disapproval in the behaviour of my agency superiors, how alienating it is. Because if it’s alienating for me, it is for them.
I’ve embraced and nurtured a few relationships with mentors throughout my career; some queer, some not. What they’ve all had in common is that they see my difference as a strength. Their confidence in my ability has resulted in a better work culture and, ultimately, better work. Recognising another’s difference as a strength doesn’t just benefit the individual, it benefits our whole industry.
What advice would I pass on?
To be yourself at work is a radical act when you’re queer. If you’re investing mental energy in hiding yourself, you’re not giving that energy to your work. It’s self-sabotage. Be that inspiration to someone coming up behind you. Fly the flag on LinkedIn, stick that rainbow flag sticker on your laptop and be #proudatwork.
Find your tribe
Seek out a queer support network of other adlanders through Outvertising (formerly PrideAM). Come along to the next monthly social. Find a mentor. Head to outvertising.org to read the LGBT+ jobseekers' guide and get involved with the next role model training workshop.
Embrace your 'weaknesses' (they are your strengths)
Many people will tell you that you lack this or that, and that you’re doing it the wrong way. But change only happens when people (like you reading this) refuse to let that narrative continue.
Leave toxic agencies
Don’t allow yourself to be gaslit by your agency. Many either can’t see or refuse to see that they need to change. Toxic agencies don’t deserve the best of you. Leave and find an environment that you can thrive in.
Be an ally
Recognise that structures persist to favour heteronormative society and sideline queer people. Support difference. Embrace change. Lift up queer talent.
Have an experience you think should be shared? Help our industry take action by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
Picture: Getty Images