Regardless of your personal identity or partisan leanings, running for office is a psychologically complex experience. Little about your life will be off limits to reporters, would-be supporters, and funders. In the words of singer song-writer Sia, you’ll need thick skin and an elastic heart to make an impact.
Never before will your words and actions carry so much weight and invite so much scrutiny. As you fight the good fight, almost all uphill, you will put together what is essentially a small business startup short on time and resources.
The good news is you’ll be getting a chance to serve your community in a deeply satisfying way. To do this at the highest level possible, you’ll need help.
Picking the right consulting team can be the difference between winning and losing, between meaningful connections or haunting misfires. Give yourself a distinctive advantage: choose the most diverse team possible with at least one LGBTQ strategist, if not more, on your squad.
Bravely Communicate Your Values
When your candidacy is announced, you’re coming out, in a political sense, to your community and your potential constituents as someone who would like to represent them. Know who you are, why you’re running and communicate that in an emotionally resonant way. Get this latter piece wrong and risk being seen as inauthentic.
Voters are forgiving, as we’ve seen at the national level most recently for good or for ill, provided they think you are giving it to them straight. Honing in on your truth, voice and values is key.
LGBTQ individuals have a lifetime of experience doing exactly this, in environments that are not always hospitable, wherein our most intimate relationships are questioned in profound ways. We learn to trust our instincts, gain an almost sixth-sense intuition for how others are feeling and perceiving us, and heightened sensitivity to other points of view.
Here’s how this translates in a professional context. Kirk Snyder, author of The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good for Business, spent five years studying the habits and traits of 3,000 LGBTQ executives across a range of businesses. He found they excelled in seven major areas: inclusion, creativity, adaptability, connectivity, communication, intuition and collaboration.
Being brave is the new publicity. Consumers, whether of products or policies, are drowning in noise. They will tune you out if you sound like everyone else. They are looking for honest connection. LGBTQ professionals can aide you in standing out on your own terms.
Up Your Cultural IQ
Alongside of the mental-emotional game you’ll need to excel at, you will be running for office in the context of a newly challenging and emerging American electorate.
According to a 2016 Gallup study, more Americans are identifying as LGBTQ than ever before. This identification is higher among millennials and women. These 10 million-plus Americans aren’t just living in coastal cities either. Vibrant LGBTQ communities exist in red states and in cities as diverse as Salt Lake City and Charlotte.
As Steve Phillips, author of Brown is the New White, reminds us: people of color now account for 38 percent of the population today. For instance, the largest minority group in the United States is Latino at 55 million individuals. Between now and 2030, Latinos will constitute 40 percent of the eligible electorate. Asian-Americans are currently the fastest growing minority group.
Relationships with these communities must be treated with integrity and authenticity. Ensure your team is sensitive to the traditions and concerns of this expanding electorate. Spare no expense in building an inclusive, intersectional framework for your campaign. Donors, volunteers, and voters should see themselves reflected in your field, fundraising, digital, and advertising programs.
Boost Your Bottom Line
Divergent thinking is good for strategy and finances. A McKinsey and Company multi-year study Diversity Matters, which examined proprietary data sets of 366 companies across the globe, showed racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform competitors. A study by leading management nonprofit Catalyst shows that companies with women in top executive positions outperform those without by 34 percent. Companies with both gender, racial, and ethnic diversity are more likely to perform financially above national industry averages.
These core findings are applicable to political campaigns. Creative friction among multi-varied team members leads to incredible outcomes. If your campaign could raise 35 percent more money above the national average of comparable campaigns as yours, simply because you had a diverse team in place, wouldn’t you want that?
Round Out Your Creative Team
If you are on board with investing in a creatively diverse team — how do you go about finding LGBTQ and/or other minority-owned consulting firms?
It is harder than it may seem to do.
Diversifying consulting contracts, particularly among major national political committees, has been met with mixed success. Power PAC+ conducted a study in 2014 showing that of $514 million dollars spent on vendors and consulting firms, only $8.7 million went to minority-owned firms, less than 2 percent.
As a candidate or even as a general consultant, you may need to do additional digging to connect with qualified partners. Also, ask for what you seek from committees and advocacy groups. On the left side of the aisle, check in with organizations committed to electing a diverse electorate like The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund or Inclusv. For those on the right, The Log Cabin Republicans and the Republican National Committee are good places to start.
Bring the Outsiders In
Stacey Abrams is the Georgia Minority House Leader and an African-American. When the Georgia state house flipped parties, a few years back, she decided to run for her now current leadership position. With Democrats finding themselves out of power for the first time in years, she says she made the following case to her colleagues, “I’ve been a minority for a very long time, and I’m very good at it.”
As you build out your campaign’s dream team, whether for the first-time, or the third or fourth, make sure you choose people around you who’ve been on the outs in life one way or another. They make the best insiders down the line.
Leigh Ann Smith is the Founder of BRAVE, an LGBTQ-people of color owned digital strategy and marketing agency based in Raleigh, NC. She is a national campaign board member with the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. You can connect with her @Leigh_Ann_Smith.