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    Pride Month is about authenticity, not ‘rainbow washing’

    Pride Month is about authenticity, not ‘rainbow washing’

    Phil Schraeder is CEO at GumGum, the contextual intelligence company. He joined GumGum as COO and CFO and has been with the company almost 14 years. Previously, he had worked in a number of finance roles and has a bachelor’s degree in accountancy. In the midst of Pride Month, we spoke with him about being gay and out in the advertising and marketing tech space (interview edited for length and clarity).

    Q: Let’s start with your individual perspective on Pride and go from there.

    A: I’m originally from a small town outside of Chicago, Illinois, from a conservative Catholic family. After university, I started to work in finance and accounting at KPMG in downtown Chicago and I was struggling to come out of the closet. It was very difficult to be my authentic self in that world, so I ended up just leaving everything and moving out to LA without a job or without anywhere to go. That’s where I just kind of found some self-discovery. And then from that coming out in LA, my whole career and all of everything else just kind of went with it, and in quite a powerful way.

    Once I realized I could be myself, all parts of myself, it was amazing how open I became to opportunities, to people, to experiences and I think that really helped shape my career. When I joined GumGum, I joined as the VP of Finance. I’ve been there going on 14 years now. I became the CEO five years ago. I had to make sure I was going to be ready to come to the table with 100% authenticity around who I am.

    Phil Schraeder, CEO of GumGum

    Q: Has that affected what you do for advertisers, as well as what you have done internally for diversity, equity and inclusion on your team?

    A: Yes, helping advertisers to meet their target audiences, in the moments that matter in digital environments, both current and whatever is to come in the future, by holding to the commitment to create a more equal, more equitable message that can be impactful for everyone.

    Pride for this year is no different. You know, we had seen historically over the last couple of years continued excitement and doubling down on Pride activations from brands. And then you come into this year with brands realizing that some of their own tried and true consumers are vocalizing backlash around seeing brands that they love go aggressively into very visible support.

    We have also seen brands this year realize that the LGBTQ+ community, is also really focused on bringing awareness to brands that truly are authentically connecting rather than “rainbow washing” — they’re putting a flag outside the door, but you peel back the onion and they’re donating to anti-LGBT causes, or there’s no other presence to the community.

    Q: For brands, then, supporting Pride should be a considered response?

    A: Leaning into moments like Pride needs to be really thoughtful and really aligned with an understanding of what that brand’s values are and what they stand for. Because if they are not representing an authentic, true commitment, in the way in which they choose to support the LGBTQ+ community all year, as well as within Pride Month, you are going to be hit with pressure from the community saying, “I don’t care you put a rainbow on, don’t try to act like you’re supportive when you’re not.”

    One other thing, I think it’s important to note on this, is that around one third of Gen Z currently identifiy somewhere within the LGBTQ+ world. That’s just a critical audience for brands to be attracting in order to continue to show growth. Not only the new trendy hip brands, but the legacy brands too. Additionally, that third will become a significant amount of talent — future leaders, future entrepreneurs. The other element is the investor community realizing, oh my gosh, I need to be more ready to be accepting of the diversity of entrepreneurs and how they show up.

    Q: It’s good to know that the VC community is waking up to this, because probably about a year ago, we saw research about which founders got funding. If you’re a woman you didn’t do well; if you’re a black woman you did worse; and if you’re a black woman who identified as lesbian, you are absolutely at the bottom of the pile. So you think that is changing?

    A: Let me start by saying I think it’s changing. I think it’s changing with respect to, if I’m going to be direct, white gay men. I mean, I walk around in my daily life with white privilege and white male privilege as a white gay man. It’s changing in the way in which things continue to evolve in society. Fifteen or 20 years ago, when I was coming out, and you’re at a party or at your family events, there’s the snickers, there’s the conversations.

    Right now, all of a sudden, everyone wants to be my friend. Right? And now I’m the funny one. Now, I’m the cool one. That’s not the case with our trans peers; they’re fighting for their survival. I would be remiss, if I didn’t address the fact that as a white gay man, I’m at the top of that list in the sense of how the investors feel, because there still is a relatability. Even if it’s not on my sexuality, it’s on my gender identity.

    Dig deeper: Black History Month: The mistakes waiting to be made

    Q: It’s a really important point you make that these are not monolithic identities. LGBTQ+ is not a monolithic identity. And similarly with people of color, because while there are many Asian CEOs and CMOs in tech, you have to really search for an African American tech CEO or CMO. So again, it’s not monolithic.

    A: That’s true, and also as CEO of an adtech company, I’m very lucky that we are in advertising and technology, which is at the forefront in innovation. With that comes immense responsibility, but also comes a lot more accelerated mindsets around diversity, equity and inclusion. That doesn’t exist in many other industries.

    Do I have specific examples where someone has said, I don’t want to work with GumGum? Because of maybe how I show up, how I dress or being openly gay? No, but can I read a room when I know we have the best solution, and you’re not really sure how to show up with me. I can feel that. As GumGum grows and we become more successful, we get to choose who we partner with and what values they stand for.

    Q: Let’s finally relate this to brands. As you have said, brands, like Bud Light and Target for example, are confronted by a vocal pro-Pride voice and a vocal anti-Pride voice. They’re kind of trapped in the middle. This year, Target is putting out Pride apparel only in selected stores and they’re not selling it to anyone under 18. A brand can know where its target demographic is, whether it’s the Gen Z or whether it’s older, potentially more conservative consumers. And they could make a kind of calculated choice about how vocal to be in Pride Month, in Black History Month and throughout the year. But if they’ve got authentic values, if they actually believe something about this, the question answers itself, doesn’t it? Or am I being too idealistic?

    A: No, I think the question answers itself. If I feel supported, heard, valued as a core customer of a brand, am I going to sacrficie that for a decision you made to put more Pride merchandise out? You might have a few of those loud voices, but please have some more self-love and trust in your brand. Otherwise you’ll always be chasing your tail. If it’s not Pride, it’s going to be something else. Target had better be ready for the next thing they’re going to activate on; it’s a very dangerous game.

    Let’s look at Nike, with Colin Kaepernick. Was that not a polarizing decision? How many people said, “I’m never going to support Nike or buy Nike shoes”? Well, look at Nike now.

    Dig deeper: Don’t stop thinking about diversity

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    The post Pride Month is about authenticity, not ‘rainbow washing’ appeared first on MarTech.

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