VMLY&R prides itself on being an agency to be one that fosters an environment that enables employees to bring their whole selves to work. The proof as they say is in the creative, and it is certainly here in a new campaign called the Proud Pronoun Project.
The agency describes the project as a website where individuals have the option to select their personal gender pronouns and produce a beautiful illustration to display as Teams or Zoom backgrounds for meetings as a way to inform the people they work with every day how they should be identified.
The site provides options for all cis, transgender, and non-binary individuals to select their pronouns ranging from he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, or zi/zir/zirs – or any combination of the 24 options on the site. An individual’s choice goes to the very core of their own identity.
Suba Nadarajah, Executive Global Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (she/her) says: “Our usage of gender pronouns at VMLY&R wasn’t just informed in a vacuum. It was created through the process of open conversation from people of the LGBTQ+ community along with allies, and the conversation is still being had. It will never stop. Because the act of becoming more empathetic and inclusive is always evolving. We, as a company, will always continue to listen, learn, unlearn and grow along with it.”
According to the 2015 National Transgender Statistic Survey, 35% of employed adults reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing mistreatment at work because of their gender. Currently, more employees than ever understand that gender can be expansive and experts also agree that correct pronoun usage can empower teams and ultimately is a strong business driver .
Around one in five adults knows someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns, according to a 2019 Pew Research report. Millennials – who will represent three quarters of the workforce in 2025 – are more likely to identify as LGBTQ (20%) than previous generations Generation X (12%) and Baby Boomers (7%), according to a 2017 Harris Poll conducted for GLAAD.
Gen-Z is even more likely to say they know someone who prefers gender-neutral pronouns (35%) than Millennials (25%), according to the Pew Research study. – Due to how easy it can be to misinterpret pronouns, that figure is likely a lot higher.
From a business point of view, the risks of not getting your employee experience right will diminish the ability to attract and retain top talent. A 2020 Harvard Business Review article pointed out often “companies that are LGBTQ+-friendly usually focus more on the ‘LGB’ than on the ‘TQ+’.” Organizations will do themselves a huge disservice by ignoring these shifting gender norms.
The campaign was brainstormed and produced by VMLY&R’s LGBTQ employee resource group (ERG). The ERG is a global employee-led group with the shared goal of creating a place of belonging and safe space for all employees to express themselves across the world. Every ERG at VMLY&R is fully-funded, backed by executive support, and empowered to activate programming that drives culture and awareness.
For this campaign, VMLY&R’s LGBTQ ERG teamed up with illustrators, Lauren Phillips (she/her) and Frank Norton (he/him) to produce the artwork. They are encouraging individuals to display their preferred pronouns across social platforms, zoom backgrounds etc. Take a look below:
Paul Boupha, copywriter, (he/him) said, “We wanted to create something that was simple, beautiful, yet really meaningful. It was a real labor of love that I hope sparks a conversation about personal gender pronouns for everyone, not just people in the corporate world. Like, if I Zoom my mom, and this sparks a whole new conversation we would have never had before, that’s a huge win.”
April Marshall, art director, (she/her) says, “Identity is sacred. For the LGBTQ+ community, especially those who identify as transgender/trans*, this is doubly true. The Proud Pronoun Project is a bold, and needed, step in normalizing acceptance of all identities- including in the workplace. We do not live or work in a binary world.”
This campaign is something that I am thankful to be a part of, and it is my hope that this can start conversations and keep “pride” at the forefront- not confining it to just a day or a month,” adds Marshall.
VMLY&R will always work to ensure the realities around gender fluidly isn’t simply about building new policies, creating new internal systems, or pronouns in email signatures. It’s about understanding how gender norms and the binary affect everybody and reimagining how gender takes shape across the entire company, customer experience and brands.
Earlier this year, VMLY&R received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, the nation’s foremost benchmarking survey and report measuring corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ workplace equality.
An agency spokeswoman says that the website will be live on June 1. The aim is for this campaign to be evergreen, as it’s something the agency wants to celebrate every day.