I read an open letter to adland this week and I’d like to respond with some thoughts.
For those of you who do not know me reading this, my name is Shanice Mears and I am an advertising professional.
I am the co-founder and head of talent at a creative company called The Elephant Room in London and I also do many other things around that.
I cannot lie to you, writing this is somewhat difficult, because there are so many things I’d like to say.
I’m going to try my best to help you understand why that letter was just not good enough.
First, George Floyd’s death has shaken not only industries but the world, and it’s about time.
Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, to name a few – all unarmed black victims who were shot by the police and denied justice in America, but it took a video of nine minutes to really uncover that this has been happening…
My first point will talk directly to those leading and of influence who have pledged in this letter.
How dare you?
A part of me is thinking I’m supposed to be grateful. But, in fact, that’s how a lot of black people feel when they even get a job at an advertising company and/or brand in the first place.
A mindset of "Thank God they picked me" – not because they fear they aren’t good enough, but because they fear being black would have set them back initially.
Ask yourself as a white person: have you ever gone into work afraid of the hairstyle you have? Have you ever gone into work questioning if it’s OK to bring in something home-cooked? Do you know what it feels like to be consistently asked where did you come from (in confusion)?
Chances are, probably not. And that’s your privilege.
For a young black female, who works very hard by myself and with my team, that those who identify as non-white – especially black people – have consistent support and access to opportunity is without question the right thing to do.
I have to ask myself: are the pledges in this letter genuine and are you ready to work?
I’d like to know why it has taken a man to die, a world to protest and an online movement telling you black lives matter for you to consider that black talent is worth investing in.
I write this feeling pretty hurt. I won’t draw upon my own experiences right now, but I could pull together a committee of my black friends and people I know who have suffered from systemic power trips and prejudice. White privilege.
They have gone into work day after day, being one of five or eight or 10 in a company of 500, and have found themselves saying: "Today’s a new day – it’s all good, just firm it."
Why are you so afraid to sit with us?
I don’t want to see 200 names of industry leaders who pledge for better or 10 ways of how to do it. How convenient.
I want to see your company policy, your actionable hiring methods (and the team doing it), your retention scheme, your well-being offering, and your gender and black, Asian and minority-ethnic pay-gap figures.
How are you servicing communities that do not look like you or do not have access to places and spaces you occupy?
Real commitment to breaking the system is uncomfortable, hard and challenging.
Black people want fair and equal chances without judgement, without fear, without pressure, without questions regarding their background or skin colour.
PS We are not "blacks" and a lot of us do not refer to ourselves as people of colour or BAME. White people created those terms to avoid calling us black people and grouped us all together. But clearly today’s times should tell you that we are not just that. Call us what we are – black people.
Shanice Mears is co-founder and head of talent at The Elephant Room. She published an earlier version of this article on LinkedIn