Ethan Spibey, founder of PR and comms LGBT+ networking group InterComms, discusses being named an outstanding contributor to LGBT+ life in 2018 and what the industry can do better for the LGBT+ community.
You’ve just been selected as one of the 10 Outstanding Contributors to LGBT+ Life in 2018 by the British LGBT Awards for your FreedomToDonate campaign, what was your reaction when you heard you’d been selected?
I thought it was spam. The title read: “Congratulations you’ve been short…” and being someone of a somewhat modest stature, I could only assume someone was making a height-related comment!
But in all seriousness, when I saw the people in that category, the genuinely inspirational work they are doing, I just had to text my mum and tell her: “Imagine what grandad would say”. I began the FreedomToDonate campaign to repay the donor who saved his life and to be nominated in this category is purely testament to the passion and dedication of the campaign team who have worked so so hard on this.
I feel a little out of place to be among such LGBT+ activist/campaigning giants but I’m looking forward to meeting them and celebrating all of our work.
What led you to founding InterComms?
A conversation in a friend’s kitchen. I’ve always worked in small-ish companies (between 20-50 people) and I knew from friends that across communications, whether that be PR, public affairs or in-house, although some larger companies have an LGBT+ network, there was a distinct lack of a network which brings that together.
InterComms is that network, serving the entirety of the communications industry whether you’re part of a charity in-house team of three or part of an already established LGBT+ network within a company.
What sort of work does the network do?
The network has three simple objectives; to provide an LGBT+ supportive network and a space for the whole of our industry, to champion and promote the people who work within our industry and to introduce a charter to offer a baseline of support.
To do this, we run events, workshops, senior roundtables, committee meetings and collaborative partnerships with a wide range of LGBT+ groups so we can bring together the best practice in the industry and introduce tangible benefits for those in communications.
Is the PR industry a positive environment for members of the LGBT+ community?
It can be, but it can also be a pretty lonely place. Long hours and a focus on delivering for clients can sometimes mean organisations forget about the people within. That’s exactly what InterComms is about, offering a hub and a network for those people and opportunities to partner with organisations that can affect real change for them in their day-to-day work.
What can the industry do better for the LGBT+ community?
Of course, there is good practice out there. We work with organisations with great schemes to support their employees, but too often, companies tackle LGBT+ issues in a one size fits all approach.
Ignoring the distinct needs of people within our communities, from trans employees facing daily unconscious bias in their role, to bisexual mums facing stereotypes from colleagues, it’s about recognising the individual challenges and tackling them in a collaborative way. This is exactly what we intend to do with our charter.
How important is PR and comms in helping to change attitudes to LGBT+ rights in society as a whole?
Vital. I’ve worked in comms for a few years now and I can see the real, tangible benefit people in comms can have, after all, it is our job. We all have a role to play, whether that be with our clients and customers, or external engagement with consumers.
Organisations like PrideAM do a fantastic job at advising the work of advertising and media, but on an individual basis, we can all make an impact if we recognise the benefits of collaboratively working together.
Finally, if you could enact one thing for the benefit of the LGBT+ community, either in PR or society as a whole, what would it be?
Bias. In 2018, when we still can’t walk down the road holding the hand of the person we love without people looking, pointing, or even worse abusing, we still have a long way to go.
This translates to the workplace and our social lives as many in our community face stereotypes and discrimination at the hands of bias. Together, we can change that, but it’s not going to be easy.