I’m not sure if I can justify my previous racism ignorance to the fact that Southern England, my previous home, is predominantly white or that my dating a black man for 11 years just meant that I didn’t notice color as a reason to form any opinion. It could also be because I’ve lived in other countries like Dubai where there were 130 nationalities just at my daughter’s school and everyone’s skin color was different, not to mention their many other cultural differences. So, I can only assume that I just accepted it or perhaps shamefully and much worse, I ignored it. But a less positive perception of skin color has been a harsh eye opener to me since I launched my agency in Atlanta in 2013.
In retrospect, I think I got my first peek into a black female’s perspective of preconceived judgment when I interviewed my number 2 employee at the time, who’s since become my business partner. Ekaette Kern and I met at a coffee shop in white Atlanta suburbia (a location I’d chosen) and while being completely enamored with her intelligence and poise I also felt some rigidness and closed up emotions. As we got chatting and realized we’d really like to work together, I asked her to tell me more about herself and I even think I commented on her sternness while I tried to dig deeper into who she was. I definitely felt she was holding something back.
When I think back on that interview I can now imagine some of the thoughts that she might have had to work through leading up to and during the interview and they would have mainly been related to the color of her skin and ensuring the best outcome for herself – clothing, makeup, attitude, conversation – and that’s a layer on top of what a white person would have to go through during an interview process. I came away from that interview knowing she would be the game-changer in the business. Her skin color I can honestly say didn’t once come into my mind. Why would it?
The next experience happened when we were working on a very big account and we were under a lot of pressure to hit targets. The same employee, Ekaette was leading the account with me and she was working tirelessly at making it successful. She stayed late working on the account, educated herself on new marketing disciplines to try out and was totally committed to the client’s success. Several months in, I was asked to join a private conversation with our client’s CEO. At that meeting, I was told to change out the lead person on the account team as she did not fit the client model. I assumed she was referring to a personality fit which I could not understand as we’d had no issues, but in retrospect, I believe I now know exactly what she meant.
Since the early days of starting MFG in Atlanta, we’ve hired a range of diverse individuals not because we purposely tried to, but because the individuals had the right skill set and behavior to join the agency. We’ve hired gays, lesbians, black, white, young, old, British, American – after all, how can we devise meaningful marketing and PR campaigns if they’re not created by a representative audience? That’s always been my firm rationale and because if they are good – we hire them.
Unfortunately, over the years I’ve had to alter my non-discriminating lens in order to make the best decisions for the business. I know that certain clients don’t want a full female agency team and might also not want a full female black team. I also know some people can be ageist so that needs to be taken into consideration too. I, therefore, have to make different judgment calls on who to hire based on circumstances.. It’s shameful but unfortunately, it’s true. After, all, I know that when I add a white male into an account team for a client pitch, then 9 times out of 10, I win the business.
So now I’m acutely aware of racism. The extra layer black people have to go through every day of their lives is a layer I’ve had to add to running my agency. I try to navigate it carefully, I try to not upset or offend employees or clients, I try to explain that we need to represent diversity, I try to show people that I’m fair but I’m a business woman too trying to grow a remarkable and diverse agency. And it’s not all about black skin. I have to make sure we don’t have an imbalance with too many white people as I don’t believe that’s good either and it’s definitely not representative of the people we are marketing to.
These considerations have been plaguing me for some time, but until 2020 when the whole world feels like it changed, only now feels like the right time to express myself. It’s not acceptable that the color of someone’s skin should impact their chance of getting work when they are fully qualified. It’s not right that we have to alter an account team to ensure the best outcomes of winning an account. It’s not right that in 2020 this issue still burdens people’s daily lives.
At Media Frenzy Global, we are doing what we can to help aid the change. We are undertaking a survey into the impact Covid-19 has had on black communication professionals as we know the black community has been the hardest hit and we plan to share the interesting insights to shed light on a problem. We regularly speak on diversity and inclusion panels to help educate and bring awareness to the issue and we are now running fireside chats with each other to better get to know our black sisters and brothers. So, in many respects, 2020 is a good year as it has brought about change and I plan to do my part to support my MFG family and continue to build the best agency I can.