Women have faced a number of challenges in their rise up the corporate ladder -- and Black Women represent the group that best knows the secrets to striving forward, breaking new ground, driving innovation and succeeding despite major setbacks.
During the "Black Women Advancing in Media and Advertising" panel in the Female Quotient #EqualityLounge at Advertising Week we heard from three Black leaders from different sectors of the advertising and media community who explored the realities of slow representation and shared their outlook on how the community is unified in its approach to overcome barriers. The panel consisted of three engaging leaders: Tangie Murray, Senior Vice President, 4A's Foundation who served as moderator; Monique Nelson, Chair and CEO, UniWorld Group, and Christena J. Pyle (she/her), Chief Equity Officer, dentsu Americas.
The panel discussion revolved around the key themes that could address some of the systemic barriers and entrenched behaviors that have held Black women back.
Pyle started the discussion by poignantly reminding audiences of the power of making connections. "Your network is your net worth," she said, adding that emerging leaders should choose the managers they want to work with, rather than the company they join.
To increase the velocity of external connections, the panelists highlighted the partnerships with other organizations that drive the diversity agenda forward. Nelson shared the community organizations she works with and supports closely, including the UN, Eagle Academy for Boys and Mothers of Black Boys United.
Pyle is working to support Congresswoman Barbara Lee and supports mentorship advocacy organization Big Brother and Big Sister.
Mentorship is another important career-advancing touchpoint that both panelists emphasized. "Mentorship is reciprocal and is an act of generosity that can change a person's career trajectory," Nelson said.
To be able to connect effectively with others, both panelists underscored the importance of self-care. The panelists shared some of the rituals that energize and keep them positive, including the importance of sleep, reducing alcohol intake during the week and creating one's own oasis with a serene beach getaway. Nelson revealed that sometimes she even goes to bed earlier than her kids to ensure she gets her essential seven hours!
Both reminded audiences that close friendships can be very therapeutic, emphasizing the nurturing power of "keeping the positive friends around you as it is a hard industry ... you can get a lot of no's."
Ironically, even the strong camaraderie between competitors in the industry also leads to close bonds of empathetic understanding and generous sharing according to the panelists.
An essential fuel for career progression for anyone is ensuring you build your brand and credibility by delivering exceptional results. Nelson shared that for Black women the bar can be even higher. It is critical, she said, "to be agile and be prepared to learn everyday as it is fast-moving industry."
Pyle also emphasized the importance of understanding and learning every aspect of the advertising business -- across HR, Sales, Operations and Finance. To have this macro and committed approach means "you have to demonstrate stamina, as it can be difficult and challenging" she shared. Over time, talent will find that the "aperture opens," but you first need to get "comfortable being uncomfortable."
The industry needs to migrate beyond tokenism and acknowledge that the slow progress is due to "a lack of opportunities presented, not talent." Emerging leaders and young students need to be introduced to this industry as there is a lack of awareness and education on how the ad industry works. "Often students don't even know how an ad is even created," Nelson said.
The 4A's MAIP program makes great strides in moving young, promising talent to new careers and eventually higher levels of responsibilities. Pyle, a MAIP graduate, shared that "the industry is not designed for Black women" and that she didn't know as a young student that the industry was even an option for her. The panelists agreed that Black women are not a monolith, and emphasized that "our assertion, our swagger and our energy might be misconstrued in the workplace, and we need to ensure it is seen as a source for strength."
A key part of building community is accepting leaders as they are -- being able to express yourself using your own innate skills, talent and self-identity, including the freedom to wear your hair in a way that feels natural and empowering.
Using new vernacular by saying "she is definitive rather than she is aggressive," the panelists asserted that building community must intentional, collaborative and sustainable over time.
Forming relationships and community through Business Resource Groups (BRG) means having a space where you can be celebrated and accepted. They are also places to hone innate leadership skills.
Black Executive Leadership Academy by McKinsey is a forum where leaders can connect from across different companies, providing a depth of experience and collaborative effort that transcends just one industry.
Nelson remarked that "UWG is one big BRG" and emphasized the importance of peer-to-peer communication, while ensuring culture is always at the core. "We help our partners to become more inclusive creators and [learn] how to execute against it," she said. Nelson also highlighted the role of intersectionality and how understanding the rich texture of a person's identity helps with dismantling unconscious bias and creating lasting relationships.
As the panel ended, all three leaders summed up that the best way to progress is to be reminded of our humanity and to simply "take care of each other." After all, great leadership is about genuine empathy and generous listening.
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