As a black woman who rarely comes across anyone that looks like me at a senior level, I wasn’t surprised to read recently that only 6.4% of agency leaders are from ethnic minority backgrounds. I believe there are many factors behind those numbers, a few of which I’m sharing below, alongside some pointers that might be helpful.
While I support brands and agencies making public commitments to increase minority representations in their business at a senior level, the truth is that working in marketing, PR or communications is heavily reliant on confidence. This starts in primary school, not in the boardroom. If agencies and brands want a legacy of driving change, they need to have an approach that starts in primary school education. The Black Curriculum is currently trying to make brilliant changes in education and is a cause where there isn’t enough big business support.
Not everything has to be a public statement. I’m a little uncomfortable with the emphasis put on D&I at the moment. I understand it’s needed, but I’ve always wanted my seat at the table because I’m the best, not because someone was filling a quota. I think people underestimate the negative impact this can have on black people.
Pop culture is now predominantly driven by black culture, that’s across music, fashion, luxury and beyond. So why do brands need to hire specific black agencies to speak to a black audience, when the mainstream is now mostly being influenced by black people? I make reference to this book far too often, but if you really want to understand the intersection with culture and “cool”, the only book to read is The Tanning of America by Steve Stoute.
Watching the number of black agencies that have been set up over the past year, I’ve wondered whether that’s because young black people don’t believe they can have a seat at the table, so they take the smallest part of a brief, normally with the lowest part of the budget. Brands can change this quickly with how they look at their briefing process. The US hit show Black-ish addresses some of these challenges well.
Last summer my team was the agency force behind the launch of the UK’s Black Pound Day. I remember in our internal briefing saying to my team: “This can’t feel like another black initiative, we need to get it onto all mainstream media and invite non-black people to the conversation.” One of the biggest disparities between black and white businesses is knowledge; instead of more board reports on how much has been invested in D&I why not visit the Black Pound Day website and choose some companies to mentor? Black people don’t need more initiatives and statements, black young people need to be shown how to play the game. The Black Pound Day website has hundreds of black businesses on it, they would love non-financial support.
Black doesn’t mean cheaper. We’ve seen this in the disparity between how much more white influencers are paid over black influencers. And this really is problematic because it’s the collision of multiple cultural and economic factors, as well as a lack of confidence. We’ve grown The Fitting Room to seven figures (I started it with £17.22) and last year I started to appoint an advisory team of people who have built successful businesses, both agency and brands to give the next level of guidance in our growth. Have a read of The Influencer Pay Gap report, and if you are a large agency, maybe reach out to a minority-owned and swap skills.
It’s OK to say the word “black”. I think a lot of agencies and brands would save themselves from issues if they got comfortable with that word. We work with lots of white CEOs and leadership teams and I see the relief on their faces when I say things like: “To be honest if we do it like that, it won’t be well received by the black people, but if we change this, this and this it’ll be poppin’ for everyone.”
At present, we have a drill song that has been at number one in the charts for three weeks in the UK, Kanye West has now built Yeezy into a billion-dollar business and the global luxury market is expected to be dominated by streetwear culture by 2026.
Getting black talent into creative spaces is no longer a “should do”, it’s a “have to do” if you really want to stay competitive and relevant.
Charlotte Mair is the founder and managing director of The Fitting Room