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We need more diverse talent to thrive in advertising

This former Media Week 30 Under 30 winner has overcome bias and self-doubt to rise in the ad industry. Now she wants to help others from BAME backgrounds to believe they can succeed too.

by Lucy Daramola

2020 will go down as a watershed year because of Black Lives Matter as well as the global pandemic.

Society has woken up to the continuing problem of racism on both sides of the Atlantic and it has highlighted the need for change in our attitudes towards diversity, equity and inclusion in the media industry.

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My entry to the advertising industry was via a small-scale software-as-a-service (SAAS) business.

I quickly progressed to the role of a client service executive, responsible for training some of the largest advertising agencies in the UK.

It was a great learning experience, acting as a springboard into an industry I had longed to work in.

However, I faced a number of challenges to do with unconscious bias, including having new clients often mistake me for a facilities assistant.

Being from a BAME background, 19 years old and new to the workforce, I was conscious that correcting senior stakeholders could have negative ramifications for my burgeoning career.

Consequently, there were occasions when I felt pressured to accommodate requests to clean up meeting rooms and serve refreshments even though there were clearly visible self-service tea and coffee stations.

I started to develop a palpable inferiority complex, which began to grow and slowly overwhelmed me.

As Maxine Williams, the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Facebook, explains in an article for the Harvard Business Review, entitled “Numbers take us only so far”:

“People in marginalized racial and ethnic groups are deemed more often than whites to be ‘not the right cultural fit’ or ‘not ready’ for high-level roles…

“They’re left only with lingering suspicions that their identity is the real issue, especially when decision-makers’ bias is masked by good intentions.”

Like many others, I, too, would suppress my real identity, in an effort to be perceived as the right “cultural fit” by my peers.

In 2016, I was lucky enough to be highlighted as one of Campaign’s Media Week 30 Under 30 rising stars and, although at the time I was ecstatic to win, I was overcome with self-doubt and often questioned: “Why me?” For anyone who has ever felt like they do not belong or have been made to feel like an imposter, you are not alone.

As Valerie Young writes in an article, called “Unpacking Michelle Obama’s impostor syndrome”: “Impostor syndrome describes a core belief that we’re not as bright or competent or talented as people think we are…

“Impostor feelings still tend to be more common in women, including a whopping two-thirds of working women in the UK.”

While UK Census figures show 14% of the UK population identifies as being from an ethnic minority background, this does not accurately reflect the make-up of the UK media industry, which is lagging behind. So, as a nominee and, subsequently, a winner of a Media Week 30 Under 30 award, I want to encourage more people from a BAME background to put themselves forward.

Seek feedback and mentors

Overcoming self-doubt can be extremely difficult but it’s important to focus on the facts and ask your peers for feedback.

Hearing an alternative perspective can encourage new ways of thinking and uncover a more positive, realistic standpoint.

Taking on board feedback can be daunting at times but remind yourself of some of the benefits: self-awareness, an opportunity to identify areas of improvement and, ultimately, a clearer path to progress. Always be respectful of people’s time and be prepared to listen, reflect and act.

Fostering strong relationships with senior people within the industry can also help you to challenge some of the negative perceptions of yourself.

I have a number of “non-official” mentors that have offered me invaluable advice and support over the years, some of whom were my previous line managers.

Try to be selective with your mentors and seek advice from people that have an understanding of your goals and purpose. It was actually my line manager at the time who encouraged me to enter Media Week 30 Under 30.

Winning such a prestigious award can be life-altering and used as an accelerant to further your career, but most importantly, it can be used as a catalyst to raise awareness that BAME talent does exist within our industry.

I was honoured to be invited back to participate in this year’s Media Week 30 Under 30 as a member of the judging panel earlier this year. Judging this year’s talent search (on Zoom), alongside some of the industry’s leading figures, was a huge privilege.

The wealth of expertise, knowledge and experience represented across the panel, showcased the seriousness of the judging process.

Due to the high volume of applications, the panel split into sub-groups, so we could allow time to meticulously shortlist entries.

We spent many hours deliberating over the final 30, to ensure that each winner was judged purely on merit.

I really enjoyed reading through some of the personal journeys and I was amazed by so many of the great accomplishments achieved so early in their careers.

Although this talent search has seen an increase in diversity over the past four years, it would be great to see a higher volume of applicants from BAME backgrounds participate next year.

It has been proved that diversity is good for business, so we must ensure that, as an industry, we stop making people feel like they don’t belong.

According to McKinsey’s Diversity Matters report: “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians… But with the rewards of diversity set to increase, investing now is the best plan. Winners will pull further ahead, and laggards will fall further behind.”

I am pleased to say that Campaign has invited me to be a judge again for Media Week 30 Under 30 in 2021 and I would be happy to give advice to future BAME talent considering entering industry awards.

It has always been an ambition of mine to act as an example to those who may have experienced discrimination or unconscious bias and to show that your successes do not have to be predetermined or shaped by the restrictions set out by others.

Lucy Daramola is the UK and EMEA Account Management Team Lead at Adthena, where she also plays an active role in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. She was named one of the Media Week 30 Under 30 in 2016.

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