Blis recently hosted “Diversity: through our eyes”, the first of our virtual panels focused on the topic of diversity within the media industry. Blis’ diversity committee chair, Giselle Gelipter and committee leader Jordan Agboola were joined by Michelle Sarpong of the7stars, as well as a senior leader from a major technology company and Akama Davies of both Xaxis and We Are Stripes. The conversation focused on their experiences of being Black in the media/marketing industry, how they got to the positions they currently hold, and the challenges they faced along the way.
The event is the first step on our mission to invigorate and contribute to an industry-wide commitment to education on diversity, as well as diversifying recruitment and championing wellbeing in the workplace, while creating a space where all of our team can bring their authentic selves to work every day.
A lack of representation and understanding of different cultures has meant that very often people from minority backgrounds code-switch to conform. However, this adds extra burden on these individuals and removes the opportunity for colleagues to experience different cultures. The panelists discussed the benefits of sharing their culture through artforms, such as food and music, sharing with and educating others, as well as just being themselves.The panel agreed that so much of who you are is informed by your culture and background and encouraged total self expression with a positive intent. Restricting self expression is detrimental, not just for the individual’s mental health, but also the wider team missing out on new perspectives.
The panellists suggested that the best way to tackle micro-aggression and systemic racism in the workplace is to face it head-on. Whoever exhibits the behaviour should be called out, regardless of the position they hold. For too long, companies with huge reach and influence have made mistakes without repercussions. Whether that’s using the wrong image of a Black individual in news reports or reiterating disparaging racist slurs. Michelle felt that these types of behaviours are “fully ingrained and permitted” and that “checks need to be put in place to make sure these things don’t happen”. Our panelists recognised maintaining the status quo as systemic racism and the lack of consequences for mistakes made within organisations as perpetuating the myth that this kind of behaviour is acceptable.
When asked about the most important factors to consider when developing Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) programs, Akama addressed the “key pillars of equity, conversation and representation” and how, at We are Stripes, they advise on the importance of developing a sustainable policy that becomes embedded into the company culture. What he has noticed is that this time around, the push to improve diversity has shifted from talking about taking action and “what could be done” to actually developing action-oriented frameworks, unlocking budget to support and progress DIB plans.
All agreed that a more strategic and open approach is the way forward. Rather than only focusing on recruiting new Black talent, looking within and elevating those already inside organisations, giving them a platform for growth is key. And for those in the industry who are facing discrimination or setbacks, the advice from Michelle was to “be bold, use your support network and challenge the inequality head on”. As more people take action these will be tomorrow’s role models. As the late John Lewis, US congressman and civil rights leader once said, “Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime”.
Change must come from within, this speaks to every company in every field. While a passing comment or remark may appear to be harmless, words have weight and meaning and can leave lasting impressions. As an industry, we must enforce real consequences for this behaviour, allow equal opportunities for people of colour and encourage everyone to be themselves, unencumbered by stereotype or predisposition.
Massive thank you to our panelists!