It’s not often that you leave an event as inspired by the audience as the A-list line-up of speakers who are leaders on the front lines of the industry. Yet, that was my experience at the Multicultural Alliance Bootcamp produced by SheRunsIt. It was designed as a safe space to welcome multicultural women to marketing and media, an industry that has failed to attract and retain diverse talent. The venue was packed, primarily with Millennial women of color. It was clearly the first time many had seen themselves as a majority in a business setting and they were emotional. Even some of the seasoned panelists had watery eyes as the community was united by highly personal stories of courage and optimism.
While communications centered on guiding the audience to network and navigate the work environment, most advice was universally applicable. Key takeaways were to embrace your passion, be your authentic self, stay confident and champion each other.
Pam El, Chief Marketing Officer of the NBA and a Jack Myers KnowledgeExchange 2019 AdvancingDiversity Honoree (recognized for her leadership in Gender and Cultural Diversity) kicked off the day with a rousing keynote. As a woman of color, she shared that “the way I look, who I am and what I bring is a problem, but it is never a problem for me -- it’s only a problem for (others).” She shared that younger women of color will need to consider the impact of unconscious bias as they unleash their passion and potential in the workplace.
As a marketing and advertising veteran for more than 35 years, Pam charted her own path. Her passion was marketing -- and she earned a degree in media at a time when our industry was a white man’s world. Upon graduation, with degree in hand, she applied for an assistant account executive position at an advertising agency but was told that they only had a secretarial opening. She sought advice from her mentor, swallowed her pride, applied and was hired as a secretary. The rest is history; she stayed true to her passion and to herself and rose within the industry.
Pam shared a few tips on how to make passion work for you:
In that same vein, when asked how she brings her authentic self to work every day, Helen Lin, Chief Digital Officer, Publicis Media, shared that “it’s simply too much work for me to change myself for every constituency.” She encouraged the audience to “just do it, be yourself … it will work because you have unique ideas that others will want to piggyback from.” She acknowledged the lack of diversity in leadership and explained that “it’s not just gender and cultural but it’s also in style, tone and manner; soft spoken people can have great ideas.”
God-is Rivera was working in social media strategy when she transitioned to a new position as Director, Inclusion & Cultural Resonance at VML. Explaining her motivation for this move, she said, “It’s my life, my daughter’s life. It’s the opportunities that I’ll be afforded, my cousins, my friends. It’s who’s here today … when we look back at the work 50 years ago we all cringe at old ads and what they said about women, how women of color weren’t even represented, and I feel like I have a chance to change that. I have a chance for my daughter to look back and see something beautiful. For a person of color those ads are not just ads, they’re the thing that creates and perpetuates stereotypes. I think for us there is a responsibility, an imperative as advertising has a large role in reflecting society. I couldn’t be in this industry and sit on the sidelines.”
This is just a small sample of the powerful and candid storytelling that inspired the room. “This event was built to reflect the promise of IDAC, our Inclusion and Diversity Accountability Consortium," noted Lynn Branigan, President and CEO of SheRunsIt. "Our focus is action, not just conversation. IDAC is based on measurement, perspiration and progress, and the women in the bootcamp last week brought palpable energy into the room. The day was emboldening, honest and raw. It focused on empowerment and solutions. People walked away not just believing, but, determined to make real change happen.”
The humanity, authenticity, vulnerability and sense of purpose and possibility was a connective tissue that will prompt more women to lead at every level of marketing and media. This change is encouraging in an industry that is currently on a slow crawl at best.
Photo credit: SheRunsIt
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