“I’d walk down the hall and get called ‘faggot’ by some folks. That’s the work environment.”
That’s how P&G veteran and LGBTQ activist Michael Chanak remembers working at the company’s Cincinnati headquarters back in the 1980s. Chanak, and a core team of fellow employees, are featured in The Words Matter, a new short film created by P&G and CNN’s Great Big Story, to mark the 25th anniversary of the company including sexual orientation into its diversity policy. It’s a fascinating, challenging, and ultimately heartwarming story that also happens to outline the business case for inclusivity. It’s also refreshingly honest, free of the kind of corporate revisionism one might expect from the world’s biggest marketer.
It’s that honest look at its past that actually makes P&G come off even better, making the film a pretty brilliant piece of brand marketing. But when someone first approached Brent Miller about finding a way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of P&G including sexual orientation in its diversity policy, the associate director of beauty communications didn’t initially see the point.
“I was rather dismissive about it because I just thought, who really cares about an internal anniversary of something like this?” says Miller. “I was so dismissive about it, I actually started to feel guilty. So I started thinking more about it. What was fascinating to me about it is the idea that we had lost the history. Nobody knew it.”
The film essentially chronicles how Chanak worked with a small group of colleagues, over many years, and through many internal struggles, denials, and disappointments, to change company policy towards its LGBTQ employees.
Miller says one very important stroke of luck in making the film happen was that Chanak and a few of his colleagues were meticulous record keepers. “They had the documentation to show everything,” says Miller. “So when I went to senior management to tell them I thought we had a great story here that’s never been told, their first question was, ‘How do you know it’s accurate?’ And I had all the documentation to back up everything they were saying.”
In terms of glossing over some of the awkward bits, as marketers are prone to do, Miller says that to make this a pure vanity project would defeat the purpose.
“What was important for us was that it wasn’t about P&G, but more about the individuals who made it happen, and P&G just happened to be the backdrop,” he says. “Viewers are smart and won’t allow for anything that isn’t transparent, or not completely honest. They won’t tolerate tokenism. They won’t tolerate P&G slapping itself on the back in congratulations. This is a story about our struggle and this is the best way to tell it.”
Watch the full film here.