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Reflections and insights on inclusion and a lack of Black women in leadership from a special panel conversation between BRiM and Bloom in Colour.
When it comes to media representation, Black marketers seeing and describing the problem is not new. But a renewed call for change in the year since George Floyd’s murder pushed many companies to finally move towards making a real difference.
While movements like Black Lives Matter have been gaining more and more recognition in recent years, Floyd’s murder in May 2020 sparked a new wave of protests and energised existing conversations around Black representation, permeating all sectors including politics, culture and the media.
That push now includes Black Representation in Marketing (BRiM), a framework launched this May 2021 to challenge brands and agencies to do better while also providing the tools needed to create and track real change.
Going beyond the numbers
Crucially, BRiM isn’t just about the numbers—it’s about fostering an environment where Black marketers are able to thrive.
Too often, diversity programs do admirable work to improve recruitment practices but fail to address bias within the workplace, insist on fair promotion practices and ensure diverse talent have an equal share of voice.
That’s why BRiM partnered with Bloom in Colour for a special panel to examine not just Black women’s presence in media and communications, but specifically their representation in leadership roles.
Advancing the conversation
Launched in 2010, Bloom is a professional network for women in communications with over 300 members.
Bloom in Colour is a network within Bloom which was founded in 2020 by Dinah Williams, who chaired the panel, and panelist Elizabeth Anyaegbuna. Bloom in Colour supports members who identify as Women of Colour from underrepresented ethnic communities.
Williams and Anyaegbuna were joined by other industry figures including Ali Hanan, CEO and founder of Creative Equals, Sophie Williams, a business and marketing expert as well as the author of Anti-Racist Ally and Millennial Black, and Matt Adams, who runs independent digital marketing agency BrainLabs.
From recognition to action
Elizabeth Anyaegbuna is co-founder of TV and video-centered media agency Sixteenbynine – 16x9media and recently co-launched Black Corner, a business directory, marketing and mentoring support platform for Black-owned businesses.
She spoke of the toll it can take on Black employees when inclusion is not prioritised.
“I remember being acutely aware of being the only Black woman in the room,” she says of her early career.
Anyaegbuna shared the experience of seeing team photos taken to enter media awards and noticing her own face standing out among her white colleagues, as well as experiencing microaggressions including comments about her hair and poor pronunciations of her surname.
“I decided to find my seat at the table and influence change,” she said.
Now, she feels that change is happening in the industry—“I’ve never spoken to as much Black and brown talent in my career as I have in the past couple of years”—although there is more to be done, such as retention of Black talent.
Williams concurs. “It’s great to say you want diverse talent through the door, but how are you going to support them?”
She flags thoughtful onboarding as one thing brands can do to improve inclusion—rather than leaving hires feeling they have to make a decision between blending in or being their authentic selves.
Success means diversity
Allowing people to be their authentic selves at work isn’t just about fairness—it fosters better outcomes.
As Adams explains, “from an agency perspective, we’re there to represent brands to their audience.” In order to do that properly, brands need not only diverse staff, but also to empower those staff to share their views and influence the work being produced.
That’s why he believes more successful businesses have more diverse staff.
After all, since talent is not unevenly distributed along racial or gendered lines, promoting the most talented individuals will necessarily lead to a diverse team.
According to Creative Equals’ research, there is a growing awareness of this fact.
Hanan shares that 57% of respondents polled for their latest report now say leadership teams’ KPIs and objectives have diversity and inclusion requirements—19 percentage points higher than last year.
What’s more, 74% agree they have seen a change in the culture of their business—a 13 percentage point increase.
Fostering Black excellence
There is work to be done, however, and Hanan stresses how leaders drive cultures—one of the reasons it’s crucial to ensure Black women have a fair opportunity to reach the C-suite.
“When it comes to the marketing sector, we’re essentially counting Black women CEOs on one hand,” she said.
While there is no specific data on Black women, the latest Creative Equals report shows only 2.9% of C-suite roles are held by Black leaders.
Anyaegbuna agrees that senior representation remains a problem. “I look around and there are very few who look like me,” she says.
Time for change
That imbalance is reflected in something that is increasingly discussed when it comes to gender, but less often addressed when it comes to race: pay.
Hanan cites a Major Players survey of salaries around the sector which found that on average white men earn £58,000, white women £48,000, but Black women £38,000.
Every leader, she says, needs to fix this “tomorrow. Next week.”
A sketch of the panel by Mandy Johnson.
During the panel, Anyaegbuna and Williams both reflect that change in the communications industry has been a long time coming, and the urgency Hanan calls for is certainly much-needed if things are to be different not only for the next generation, but those already working in the industry.
As Anyaegbuna puts it: “hopefully we won’t be having this conversation in ten years.”
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