The third blog in our Pride series continues to celebrate this years theme#AllOurPride and what it means to those within the industry. This week our Head of Content Laura sat down with Tamara Littleton to get under the hood of what Pride means to her, as well as her personal experiences of coming out and open within the industry in this very personal and insightful chat..
Who are you and who do you work for/do?
I’m Tamara Littleton the CEO and Founder of social media activation agency, The Social Element which I founded in 2002. We work with amazing brands including OREO, Dr Pepper, Visa, Nissan and Peloton, helping them have genuine human connections with their consumers on social. I’m also Co-Founder of Polpeo, a crisis software company that creates realistic and immersive crisis simulations that prepare teams to communicate successfully in a crisis.
For you personally, what impact do you think it has not being able to come out or be yourself?
I came out when I was in my early twenties and I worked in publishing and then at The BBC so it was a very liberal work environment and people were very accepting. I wasn’t hiding my sexuality at work but when I started my own company I didn’t make a big fuss about it either. I was open with clients and staff but not as part of my public persona. I didn’t think that was a big deal, after all it was my private business but then I was educated by speaking at conferences like EUROUT, Europe's leading LGBTQIA+ business conference for graduate students and alumni from top business schools. I found out that I was super lucky with my experience and that so many people go back in the closet when they start work. Vodafone did an independent study back in 2018 which seems to be the last time this was done and 41% of of LGBT+ people go ‘back in the closet’ in first job
I can’t imagine not being out now and if anything, I use my platform to out myself as often as possible as I think it’s important for younger people coming into the industry to see CEOs and senior leaders be comfortable in their own skin.
For you why is Pride so important? And how do The Social Element/yourself get behind this?
Pride is a celebration of our LGBTQIA+ community and a great time to acknowledge how far we’ve come and how it’s easier for younger people now than it was. And also how brands are working to be more inclusive and you see this in advertising and marketing on a daily basis. I used to be so excited when I saw a same sex couple featured in an ad - now we’re reflected on a weekly basis rather than annually! It’s great. But it’s also a time to reflect on what still needs to change. The trans community could still be better reflected in marketing and advertising and they come in for a lot of grief and harassment which is unacceptable. At The Social Element we activate campaigns on social media and as we speak on behalf of the brand to consumers we get to see all of the feedback. There are times when our brand clients do great work to support the LGBTQIA+ community either as part of Pride month or just part of a campaign and the backlash can be really harsh. It’s up to us to support our brands, make the social media space safe for their consumers and stand up to the bigots and the bullies. I’m so proud of my team for their role in this important work.
What do you do in your business to make sure its open and honest, to make it inclusive for those who are different?
It does help that I’m out and proud as the message is very clear, bring your own authentic self to work. We have invested in external auditing. We work with Creative Equals who have audited our whole business and we’re at Bronze status and working towards Gold. We have ERGs and they help drive the business forward as well as being an important resource. And we listen. Our changes to using pronouns on our email signatures and profiles as a default was very much driven from within the agency.
How has being gay, and your experiences impacted the way you run your business?
Really hard question as it’s hard to think of how I would run things differently as I’m just me. But I suspect it has given me some different advantages. For example, if you’ve always felt a bit of an outsider and very different from the mainstream it gives you a very different perspective. Throughout my career I’ve worked in very pioneering and new industries. I was running a team in the mid 1990s focused on publishing digital journals online which was groundbreaking at the time. I ran the Webmaster team at BBC Online when we were literally defining the new standards for digital and the BBC that impacted the industry in ways people don’t realise. And I started a social media agency before social media really got going and co-created a crisis software platform when brands were only just starting to mess up on social. I believe that being an outsider and happy with being different allowed me to be comfortable in the unknown and more creative and pioneering.
Also, I came out reasonably late, at the age of 21. There was a lot of shame when I was young and I was at a Catholic convent school where sex education was really thin on the ground let alone talking about sexuality. There was also Aids and later, Section 28 as a backdrop to my teens so coming out wasn’t easy and there was a lot of homophobia. It teaches you to be brave but more importantly it teaches you to be protective of others and inclusive. It’s no accident that our agency is very focused on inclusivity and no accident that I ended up creating an agency that is very focused on genuine human connections between brands and consumers. It’s about being yourself and looking out for each other too.
What advice would you give to anyone who hasn’t come out yet but wants to?
Surround yourself with a supportive crew, people who will lift you up when you are down and be your cheerleaders. Get involved in groups like Outvertising in our industry so you can hear how others have done it at work for example. It’s important to feel ready and don’t feel pushed by others but know that it really is the most wonderful feeling to be yourself and not wasting energy trying to hide an important part of yourself.
- Tamara Littleton, Founder and CEO of The Social Element