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P&G's branding boss on what it means to be an ally

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·8-min read
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Photo: Involve
Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G. Photo: Involve

Allies and advocates form a central part of realistically building equal and equitable workplaces.

Being an ally is not just about evangelising the need for diversity and inclusion (D&I) — it requires action to see results. It is for this reason, among many, why Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G (PG) was crowned the number one executive in D&I membership organisation INvolve’s OUTstanding Top 50 LGBT+ Ally Executives in 2021 list, supported by Yahoo Finance.

The 2021 OUTstanding LGBT+ Role Model Lists, supported by Yahoo Finance, are a powerful reflection of the incredible achievements of LGBT+ people and their allies in the business community.

The lists, prepared by diversity and inclusion membership organisation INvolve, highlight role models for others to follow when it comes to being out and proud at work, driving positive change in the office, or supporting your LGBT+ colleagues.

Executives on the allies list work within at least three levels from the chief executive at large companies or lead small organisations themselves. 

All of the allies on the list — who are not LGBT+ themselves but support LGBT+ inclusion — were nominated by peers and colleagues, or put themselves forward. 

Nominations were then reviewed by the OUTstanding judging panel, who scored each person on the influence of their role, their impact on staff inside and outside the workplace, and their business achievements.

Read more: Leading Diversity & Inclusion in the legal sector: Lex Shu Chan

Yahoo Finance spoke to Pritchard after he topped the INvolve OUTstanding Top 50 LGBT+ Ally Executives 2021 list. He told us why now, more than ever, allies need to step up.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell me a little bit about what an ally and role model means to you and your journey in that process?

You need to make it personal, and you have to embrace true diversity, equality, and inclusion as something that is meaningful to you as a human being first and foremost. For me, I feel that it has been somewhat my destiny.

I had an experience more than 20 years ago when I was running our CoverGirl business, where I was at a spiritual ranch with my wife, Betsy, and our three young daughters. At the end of the week, the leader came up to me and said: "You know, I hope you know the good you can do because you're in business and business will someday be the greatest force for good in the future. And if you choose to do so, you can do a lot of good."

That was this moment of clarity where I realised that the work that I'm doing, particularly in advertising, really means something. We had just created the 'Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl' campaign, and our spokespeople were too young, too thin, too white, all cisgender, no differences in terms of ability, or sexual orientation, or gender identity.

It was a very, very homogenous look and feel. So we set out to make changes over time, bringing in people such as Queen Latifah and Ellen DeGeneres, and really putting great diversity into what it beautiful— inside and out.

That was just the beginning. During the past several years I've had the opportunity to work with great partners like Brent Miller at P&G (PG) and Sarah Kate Ellis from GLAAD, and to really focus on actively promoting visibility, equality, and inclusion with the LGBTQ+ community and using our voice in advertising to be able to get representation and accurate portrayal in our advertising.

That’s what starts to create inclusion, and that's what I think an ally is about. Active action to really make sure that you're promoting equality, inclusion, and visibility. Every once in a while you have to take a stand and take some heat. That's the real proof point.

Could you share a couple of experiences in your career related to the LGBTQ experience that you're particularly proud of?

The first example is when we chose Ellen DeGeneres to be a spokesperson for CoverGirl because she's a wonderful human being. I was at a meeting with a group of people who were objecting to our advertising. One of the people said, "Look. Why do you have Ellen DeGeneres as a CoverGirl spokesperson?" I said, "Because she's a wonderful person. That's why she's a great spokesperson."

They objected to that because her sexual orientation was problematic in their view. I said: "You know, we're just going to have to agree to disagree on that, and so we're going to keep moving forward."

Another thing I'm proud of is the work we've done most recently with Can't Cancel Pride, which has been spearheaded by my friend and colleague Brent Miller and several other people who, during the pandemic, wanted to make sure that they could find a way to give LGBTQ+ people in need visibility and help because they were really suffering disproportionately.

Read more: EY's Moriaki Kida on driving change and inclusion for LGBT+ employees

So we've raised now more than $8m (£5m) supporting six LGBTQ+ charities, and we've reached millions of people with a beautiful intersectional message of hope, support and love. It's now a programme that is an annual platform, and our brands are jumping into it, which is great.

The brands are supporting it in addition to these six charities that we're funding. It's one of our tentpole activities and we're looking forward to our third year this June.

As you think about the progress that P&G have made, what advice would you give to leaders in other companies that look to you?

The biggest piece of advice I would give is to build in equality and inclusion into the fabric of how you run and build your business, and don't think about it as a bolted-on strategy.

In our business, it's one of the ways we work to develop irresistibly superior products, packages, communications, retail execution, and value. What you need to do here is you need to deliver irresistible superiority in an equal and inclusive way as though you've built it in.

That means you make sure in your advertising you have representation, but in your representation you also have accurate portrayal, no stereotypes, no objectification, no diminishing, no denigration. And then you go deeper to get specific insights into what your brand or product means.

For example, Pantene has done brilliant work. They recognised that more than 60% of people who are LGBTQ+ change their hair when they come out. Well, that demonstrates that hair is one of the major ways that people express identity, and so that makes Pantene a more important part of the LGBTQ+ community.

So we've done some work along those lines. Pantene has done some really good work to promote that. We've also done work in partnership with GLAAD called The Visibility Project.

They've given tools, resources and created best practices to represent, be accurate, be insightful, build it in, not bolt it on. 

Frankly, it's really good for business because it creates trust and familiarity of our brands with the LGBTQ+ community and allies, which really enhances the growth opportunity for our business.

How do you measure success? What does that look like to you in this area?

You know, what I view as success is when our business grows. Equality and inclusion is a way to drive business growth by having equality and equal representation across every aspect of your business, including the partners you work with.

It has been demonstrated time and time again that it gets better ideas, better innovation, better teamwork, which leads to better growth.

The second thing it does is, it helps you get better insights. If you have people who are on your team who are LGBTQ+, you're going to have better insight into what it's like, which is going to allow you to be able to create better work.

Could you talk a little bit about how you've adapted your approach to D&I during the pandemic?

The pandemic has affected the LGBTQ+ community, but has also affected people who are Black, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, Native American and people with disabilities. There's an intersectionality that comes along with this that really makes the efforts that we do now far more integrated.

So our work has elevated on equality and inclusion: to be able to make sure that we can shine the light on bias; where we can identify these ways that we can provide visibility; provide accurate portrayal; find these ways then to work with the different communities to be able to improve economic inclusion.

This is how we're really trying to use the strength of our brands, their ability to be able to reach out and connect with these consumers, drive growth while doing good at the same time, and doing good in order to drive growth. 

That's why Can't Cancel Pride was such a powerful program. It's why the work that Pantene, and Gillette, and others are doing good work to reach out to the LGBTQ+ community. 

I think what this has done is it's helped us really figure out what we need to do in order to be able to do much more good in society and in such a way that also is good for our business.

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