Andy Thornton podcast interview – LGBTQ+ inclusion in the marketing sector

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The wonderful Andy Thornton joins me on the show to discuss the important topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the marketing sector.

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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Andy Thornton is a Digital Marketing Executive for Noisy Little Monkey and a Stonewall LGBTQ+ Person of Faith Rolemodel. They trained with the School of Sexuality Education and have delivered workshops on LGBTQ+ identity and inclusion to schools, universities and even festival-goers! 

Andy has a sociology background and won the Peter Cressey Award at the University of Bath in 2020. He’s done research into Queer and religious exclusion and have written, illustrated, and published a children’s book called Rebekah’s Secret Grandpa. Their current obsessions are TikTok marketing, Trans rights and tea.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Defining what it means to be a marketer who is part of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Why pronouns/identity are important to address as marketers.
  • Examples of brands/companies who tackle the issue of community inclusion well.
  • Resources to learn more about this for those who are new to this area.
  • What should non-LGBTQ+ marketers do to make workplaces more inclusive.
  • Advice for queer marketers struggling in non-inclusive workplaces who don’t know where to start.

…and much more!

Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Andy Twitter: https://twitter.com/humansatsuma


Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello. And welcome back to the Razee Digital Asks Podcast. This is the all-round digital marketing podcast. What I was going to say there is, this is a topic that I’m really looking forward to learning more about. My guest is laughing already. We’re talking all about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the marketing sector. I’ve got a wonderful guest called Andy, who I’ll let him introduce himself in a moment. I’m going to start by saying that I’m really, really excited to talk about a topic like this, because it’s something that I shamefully do not know enough about, so I am very glad that he has agreed to join me. My friend, welcome to the show.

Andy Thornton:
Thanks mate. Happy to be here.

Azeem Ahmad:
You are an absolute legend. For those who don’t know who you are, would you mind giving a short intro to yourself? Who you are, what you do, and why you are such a brilliant human being?

Andy Thornton:
My name’s Andy, my pronouns are they and he, and I work in digital marketing for a fantastic agency called Noisy Little Monkey. The easiest way to introduce myself is through a slew of labels. So I’m going to start with that one. I’m a Christian, I’m autistic, I’m dyslexic, I’m non-binary, I’m queer, but I’m also obsessed with the color yellow, it’s becoming an increasing problem. I’m an illustrator. And I really love marketing, like an embarrassing amount. I talk about it at dinner parties, it’s not good.

Azeem Ahmad:
That is what it’s all about. And I was very fortunate to have the chance, thanks to our friends at Noisy Little Monkey to meet you at their most recent version of BrightonSEO and we got to hang out for a little bit. And for those who don’t know, Andy is an absolute legend. And I’m going to say that lots of times during this episode. Let’s get right into it before we start, though, what I’m going to say is what I said to you when I met you in person. And like I said, at the start of this episode, this is something that I am learning about. So for yourself and for the listeners, if I make a mistake, apologies in advance, but please know this is coming from a place of learning and I’m going to make mistakes along the way. So I’m going to hold my hands up in advance and just say, I’m trying to learn more, which is why I’ve engaged with you. Please, don’t hate me.

Andy Thornton:
Can I add my own caveat to that?

Azeem Ahmad:
Go on.

Andy Thornton:
Which is, I think people can always tell the difference between someone who’s trying and someone who isn’t. So for me, I’d much rather that you are engaging in it trying and getting it wrong, but learning from your mistakes, then you’re like that’s too terrifying. I’m not even going to bother.

Azeem Ahmad:
Okay, good.

Andy Thornton:
We’ve all got to learn.

Azeem Ahmad:
Deal made, right? Let’s jump into this. So we’re talking all about LGBTQ plus inclusion in the marketing sector, and I think the best place to start Andy is, essentially, two pronged questions. So either how do you define, or what does it mean to you to be a marketer who is part of the LGBTQ plus community?

Andy Thornton:
So I love this question because it’s not really a thing. In the sense of there’s not a defined community. Often I use queer and LGBTQ plus interchangeably. Some people who are LGBTQ plus may not define themselves as queer, but just to let you know, I’m going to be doing that. But you’ve got women in SEO or you’ve got like the B digital platform for black marketers. That’s emerging at the moment. Like there are loads of communities within marketing for margin groups, but we don’t really have that for the LGBTQ plus community.

Andy Thornton:
But I think for me personally, it’s about kind of the way that we do everything in marketing. So like marketing is power. That’s a bold statement, but I’m going to stick with it, in the sense of, we have the power to kind of change our society, to influence our society if we’re doing our job right. And so, for me, as like a queer person in the marketing industry, I think there’s so much potential for change there and there’s so much potential to kind of show people how glorious and how amazing, kind of like a queer inclusive LGBTQ plus inclusive society can be. We can change that narrative if we know what we’re doing.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that, love that. That’s brilliant. And so thank you for sharing that. I wanted to touch on part of that. So I think part of what you just said, it involves pronouns as part of identity. And recently I’ve noticed that more and more people starts to include their pronouns in their social bios, for example, or for example, at conferences, you can now have them on your badges, lanyards is the word I’m looking for. So for me, I guess I’d love to learn from you directly. Why do you think that that pronouns or identity is important to address for us as marketers?

Andy Thornton:
Yeah, it’s interesting because I think pronouns has become such like a overwhelming social issue that if you looked at the media, you’d think that the number one issue for trans people is pronouns. The number one issue for trans people is like legal recognition and rights, but people getting your pronouns right massively affects your daily life. And it’s a really easy thing to get, right. And it’s a really easy thing to get wrong. So I think pronouns are really important because it kind of demonstrates other issues and it demonstrates like somebody being a safe person or not. And then like identity broadly in marketing is so important. Like that’s all we ever talk about. Right? We’re always talking about like focus on your customers, think about your personas. Like it’s really important to kind of dig into identity. That’s one of the reasons I love marketing, but in doing that often we can kind of maintain these like stereotypes or these kind of binary narratives, which are, I was going to say dangerous. That’s maybe a stretch, but they can be because they kind of uphold other issues.

Andy Thornton:
So if things like, you know, if you are an SEO, who’s worth their salt, then stuff you write is going to be at the top of Google. And if you are doing even small things like using, they instead of he or she that’s, non-binary inclusive, or when you write alt descriptions, if you don’t know the gender of the person you are writing about not if they look male or female, but if you don’t know, like you haven’t been told by them what their gender is, then you don’t know. So you can say, oh, this is a masculine person with short hair doing this. Or you can say, this is a person with long hair doing this. Right. And even things to like that, you are helping yourself get a better idea. And you’re also kind of changing the thing, the way that people see sources of authority, talking about people and talking about these issues.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. You’ve very nicely led me to my next question about sources of authority. And you just touched on what brands can be doing there. Do you have any examples that you can share with the listeners of brands or companies who are tackling this issue really well?

Andy Thornton:
Yeah. I think like gay people love Starbucks. I don’t know if you ever noticed that it’s like a gay people love Starbucks, right. And in 2019 they did this and this is advertising but it proves my point. They did this ad of a trans kid and it was kind of the person wasn’t getting their, they weren’t hearing their name and then they go to Starbucks and they hear their name for the first time. Right. And like that, that’s a real experience that happened to me. That was the first time I heard someone use my chosen name and it’s a true experience for a lot of trans people. So they, they did their research, they worked with trans people and they got it right. And I think people really appreciated that. So the big, any good examples like that. Like happy socks when you recently did a partnership with the fluid project, which is like a, this is like a BTC example, they are a run organization and then they also donated to charity.

Andy Thornton:
So there was a lot of like actual interaction with LGBTQ plus people, as long as you’re asking actual people of the community to do it, then you can’t go too far wrong, but also pay them. That helps. And I think also make sure that you are diversifying who you ask, like there’s a big problem within the community of like what’s colloquially called the hagiarchy, but it’s like white CIS, which means trans gay men who kind of are only one step removed from the like, I don’t know, ideal of like a white CIS straight man. Right. And so often they kind of dominate queer spaces and they can be transphobia or racist. And that’s not like a real kind of representation of queerness. So I think if you’re going to be asking influences or like charities, like who are queer for advice and to work with them on projects, it’s really important to make sure that you’re not just asking white gay men. You can’t, you can’t be queer inclusive if you’re not kind of anti-racist and you’re not inclusive of disabled people as well. That just doesn’t work.

Azeem Ahmad:
Thanks very much for that. So look, we’re about 10 minutes in 11 minutes in and my head is full already. I’m learning a lot. So honestly, thank you so much. This is, this is brilliant. I wanted to move on and say, look, let’s imagine that a brand or an agency is listening to this completely new about this area or aspect of inclusion. And they’re thinking, right. Okay. I need to take action. And what Andy’s sharing with us, what resources would you recommend to them where they can sort of start and get involved and take action.

Andy Thornton:
So Google’s a good one, but it’s good to, it’s good to be careful what you’re, what you’re Googling. So the Stonewall glossary is really good. It’s like a list of kind of queer related terms. So if you’ve got no idea what’s going on, go and read that because then at least you’ll kind of be able to understand some of what people are saying. The things not to say series on YouTube, really good, because it’s, again, it’s actual people from various communities like talking about how to interact with them. And that’s really helpful bit of a basic answer, but like content creators on Instagram and books are really good for like actually kind of getting a personal understanding of people. So Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-menon really good as is In Their Shoes by Jamie Windust and Dr. Devon Price on Instagram. They’ve got like a PhD and they have such a nuanced to kind of understanding of it.

Andy Thornton:
So I, I really enjoy their content, but I think it’s also important to say that we are still working this out, everyone is still working this out. So as long as you kind of don’t work with anyone who is explicitly anti-queer, explicitly anti L G B T like that’s something that at Noisy Little Monkey. We will only work with clients who we kind of agree with morally and learn from the people who are willing to talk about it. So I’m one of them. I’m a queer person, but I’m also somebody who’s studied sociology and who’s really interested in these topics and I’m willing to kind of talk about it. You know, don’t go up to whatever employee you have in your workplace and be like, Hey, so gay rights. But you know, there are lots of people who are doing the work. So I think it’s just about kind of Finding, going to source and finding what they say, which I think is true for all marginalized communities. Really.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely. And I have to side step for a second and say, you are doing my job better than me. Cause the way that you’re linking these together is fantastic. So you mentioned about colleagues there and that’s my next question for you. So what should non LGBTQ plus marketers do to make their workplaces more inclusive?

Andy Thornton:
Great question. This is a shameless plug, but I went on another podcast, obviously not as good as this one called Nobody Panic. And I did a episode on how to be a good trans ally. So if you search how to be a good trans ally on Spotify, Nobody Panic. It should come up. So like listen to that, because I go into like big detail on that.

Andy Thornton:
In terms of like workplaces at digital gaggle, which is the event that Noisy Little Monkey held earlier, we came up with this thing that was like, cry, build a gang leave. So if you are like a queer person, who’s like struggling, then that’s the kind of three step plan.

Andy Thornton:
But I think like if you are not a queer person, then as you said at the start, like putting pronouns in your bio, putting pronouns in your email. So we’ve got all of ours in our signature and that’s really good, challenging things that people say on calls. Like if somebody presumes, if you don’t know the gender of somebody use their pronouns until you find it out because like that normalizes it. And also I think it’s so much easier to do the work when it’s not about you. So go to your HR. If you’re lucky enough to have one go to your line manager, your CEO and say, Hey, what are the queer, LGBTQ plus policies at work? Can I just make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make this a safe space? Do we think about this in our hiring? Like, and actually putting that work in before you need to, does that make sense? So before somebody comes out in the office, make it easy for them to do so because it’s really hard.

Azeem Ahmad:
That is brilliant. Honestly. Brilliant.

Andy Thornton:
You’re so nice to me.

Azeem Ahmad:
Wait till I press stop recording. You mentioned in your previous answer there, Andy, about queer marketers who might be struggling. And I’d love to just pick on that a little bit more. So if there are people listening to this in the marketing industry who are queer and are struggling and who feel like their workplace is not inclusive at all, what advice would you give to them? Maybe if they don’t know where to start for example, what, what advice would you give to those people?

Andy Thornton:
Well, first of all, I’d be on Twitter because we need a community happening here. I think yeah. The first thing would be if you have a HR talk to them. I know a lot of like smaller agencies or in house, like smaller companies, maybe don’t but also sometimes HR can be not great. So I think the first thing would be to identify your biggest ally. So that’s the person who you think is going to be you like most receptive and kind of sit them down in a private like chill environment and just be like, Hey, I’m finding some of these things a little bit difficult. Like, do you think you could help me work them out or help me have those conversations? Just so you know, you’ve got someone on your team and then be clear and focus on small wins.

Andy Thornton:
So like identify the things that are really getting to you and try and fix those first. Like you are not responsible for making the whole company better, but if it’s affecting your experience of the workplace, you should do something about that. It was some thing my colleague, Josh, said to me, because I feel I’m very British. I feel really bad correcting people or I used to feel really bad correcting people on my pronouns. And Josh said, well, you know, if I got your name wrong, you’d immediately tell me. Wouldn’t you? Because like that’s awkward and it’s wrong. So why have pronouns any different?

Andy Thornton:
I’ve found it much easier in these kind of situations to employ the model that cow on sex education, which the team V show on Netflix, it’s great. They get misgendered and they say, oh, I use they them pronouns, but no worries. And it’s kind of firm, but calm and it just deescalates the situation. So when I’m talking to other people in the marketing industry and they’re like, ah. I’m like oh, this is it. Don’t worry about it. Like I’m going to correct you. And then we’re all going to move on, because this is not the most important thing we’ve got to talk about now.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love That. And definitely minus to sex education on Netflix, nobody needs to know about that. All the things that you’ve mentioned, all the resources that you’ve mentioned throughout this podcast definitely share links of me and I’ll add them in to the show notes. Sadly, we do have to part way soon, Andy, but one of the things that I’m keen, I know. Yeah. One of the things that I’m keen to do is obviously just give you an open section for you to talk about anything that you want here that we haven’t covered, that you think might benefit the listeners. So essentially the floor, digital audio space, whatever you want to call it, all yours, mate.

Andy Thornton:
I think I’m going to take this precious moment to say, please stop turning your logos into rainbows simply for the month of June. It’s my biggest pet peeve. Hey, there’s so many memes on the internet about all the rainbow flags being pulled down July the first, right? So yeah, I think the biggest thing is it’s not that hard to avoid tokenism, but you do have to put in the work and I really appreciate you being like, I might get this wrong, but you’re only going to start getting it right with practice and with reading. And you know, we’re all learning. We’re all trying to get better at so many different things. And this is just one of them. Yeah. I think that’s everything. Your questions were great.

Azeem Ahmad:
The listeners can’t see, but I’ve got what I thought was the praying emoji, virtual high fives for you there.

Andy Thornton:
Love it.

Azeem Ahmad:
Before you go, Andy, I would love for people to be able to find out more about you and follow you. So essentially this is the part of the episode, right before the end, where you share all your details and hopefully social media following goes through the roof.

Andy Thornton:
Can’t wait. I mean you are famous. So I’m really, it’s just riff off that. No. So on a LinkedIn I’m Andy Thornton, A N D Y, and I’ve got a blog on LinkedIn of like 10 ways to make your workplace more inclusive. And that’s not just for LGBTQ plus people. That’s kind of for all different groups. I’m on Twitter and Instagram as humans satsuma. My Twitter is like professional marketing based and my Instagram is not professional, but follow it anyway. I do. I do put quite a lot of like resources on there. So if you’re interested in that, then, then feel free to follow it. And I tweet about kind of inclusion quite a lot. I’ve only just got Twitter. So any support is really welcome.

Andy Thornton:
I’m also always happy to field questions, like lots of people aren’t, and it’s not their job, but I am. And I’m explicitly saying that I am. So please use me as a resource. Although I would say if Google can answer the question, don’t ask me, so don’t message me. What does non-binary mean, because you can Google it. And then the final thing is I work for Noisy Little Monkey and we do quite a lot of marketing blogs. I write quite a lot of them. So check those out as well.

Azeem Ahmad:
Also, like I said, definitely share those links with me please. I guess what is left me to say is a massive, massive thank you. This has been really, really insightful. It’s definitely one that I’ll be coming back to, believe me. If these listeners number rise, it’ll probably be me coming back to it over and over again. But I really appreciate you taking the time out to, to share this with me and with the listeners. So thank you so, so much. If you enjoy this episode, please, first of all, before even subscribe and liking all that usual nonsense, I’ll talk about, go and follow Andy. Thank him for sharing his knowledge and wisdom. And then when you’ve done a comeback run this episode up 10 more times and then like it, share it, subscribe it, knock onto your next door neighbor and tell them that you’ve just a lot about this stuff and that you want to share it with them. If they don’t work in marketing, it would be a little bit weird, but still pass the message on Andy, thank you so much and take care.

Andy Thornton:
Thank you so much, mate. I’m so happy to be here. Cheers.