The Project Pride Festival: Activating Pride in Times of Challenge and Change

 

By Cody Eastman and Andrew Kyrejko 

It’s been nearly a year and a half since we launched our LGBTQ+ ERG at GPJ, and what better way to celebrate than to level-up! In March, we knew that we wanted to create something that would engage more of the Project Worldwide community and bring a new and exciting DEI experience to life. We could never have imagined how challenging, humbling and truly transformative the journey would turn out to be. 

Coming together 

What was originally imagined as a multi-week, New York-based series of in-person experiences had to quickly turn virtual. We decided to maintain the focus of the program on Activating Pride with colleagues, communities and customers, and clients responded with resounding excitement. Thanks to a united agency/client effort, 90% of moderators and panelists for the Project Pride Festival were confirmed within 10 days. Our entire Project Pride team was now ready to welcome an incredible group of brands and organizations that included Cisco, Cricket Wireless, Estée Lauder Companies, Google, IBM, Out for Undergrad, PepsiCo, PwC, Salesforce, and The Trevor Project.

Curating discomfort

As the Project Pride Festival continued to take shape in the weeks leading up to our first session on June 10th, the significance of what we were doing became more and more clear to all of us. The festival was going to be the first-ever, externally-facing LGBTQ+ content series in GPJ’s 106+ years and the first, externally-facing DEI event hosted entirely by Project Worldwide. We were also shaping a series of conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion in the midst of a historic inflection point on the state of systemic racism and inequality. The entire team knew how important it would be to use the festival to give space, time and attention to the immense DEI gaps that existed within and beyond the LGBTQ+ community. In addition to fine-tuning topics and questions for all sessions, we also took time during session 2 (Pride with Purpose) to make a statement on the biases and blindspots we’re committed to addressing and eliminating. Every word was carefully crafted by the Project Pride team to convey our collective position as a cross-agency group:

Over a year ago, we set out to find ways to bring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts together across Project agencies. And since the creation of the festival, our focus has always been on highlighting diverse LGBTQ+ and ally voices. As we’ve moved forward with this series, what’s become even more apparent is how discussions of intersectionality must include all perspectives. Period. 

So, as we get started today, we recognize the need for more Black LGBTQ+ voices throughout Project Worldwide. We choose to go into the session openly conscious of this and the work that we all have before us to fill gaps. We are profoundly aware of how far we have to go, and how much more action is needed, especially when it comes to elevating Black LGBTQ+ voices throughout the industry and across Project Worldwide. We’re up for the challenge and will be pushing this conversation further with vigor and a focus on action that we can measure and be proud of as a community. 

Our client panelists joined in curating discomfort throughout the series, reminding us all that sustainable change starts with taking well-considered, action-based steps. We aligned on the recognition that while our organizations are at different points in DEI journeys, we share a commitment to moving conversations forward and making a measurable impact. 

Committing to action 

Multicultural advertising icon Aaron Walton once said that, “D&I doesn’t just equate to diversity and inclusion but also to disruption and innovation.” The feedback from the festival’s 1,000+ participants gave us a clear indication that we had done just that! We had turned these moments in June into the beginnings of a movement across the greater Project Worldwide community that the growing number of ERGs within each agency were working hard to drive internally. This passionate drive to make progress in DEI goes far beyond the LGBTQ+ community and has received overwhelming support from clients across the network. Some of the topics we’re starting to act on include: 

  • Doing more than speaking about DEI. We are developing, deploying and measuring action plans.
  • Driving the value of DEI beyond HR-oriented initiatives. DEI is culture-based and a business imperative.
  • Involving GPJ and more Project Worldwide agencies in local community initiatives and more industry-level movements to sustainably bring DEI to life for all. 

In addition, we committed to the return of the Project Pride Festival in June 2021. We’re already planning for a larger series that builds on the success of the 2020 program while incorporating a whole new set of topics and experiences. So many more of our colleagues and clients are eager to contribute and participate which has the entire Project Pride team humbled and excited! This year’s festival was about a movement and we’re holding ourselves accountable to building momentum through action. 

Head to ProjectPrideFest.com to learn more about the festival, view all three panel discussions and review session write-ups. 

About the authors: 

Cody Eastman and Andrew Kyrejko are Co-Chairs of the Project Pride Festival and founding board members of OPEN, GPJ’s LGBTQ+ ERG. Cody is a Registration Project Manager in Austin and Andrew is a Strategy & Planning Director in New York.