Black History Month 2023: Saluting our sisters

Collette Philip calls on industry leaders to create space for and celebrate Black women

Collette Philip

Founder and Managing Director Brand by Me


Collette Philip compares her lived experience working as a Black woman both agency and brand-side; contrasting this with her life as a founder and business owner as she calls on industry leaders to create space for and celebrate Black women

The theme of this year's Black History Month 2023, ‘Saluting Our Sisters’, is a call to celebrate Black women. Yet, all too frequently in the workplace - including the creative industries - Black women are invisible. 

So it struck a chord for me, when I attended my first ever WACL dinner and heard guest speaker and Bake Off Queen, Nadiya Hussain, say: "I tell my kids 'If you get a seat at the table, elbows out!'"

With that sound-bite she was telling us that we were lucky to be seated at these tables full of senior folk in advertising and communication. But she was also saying: “Don’t just sit complacently enjoying your status. Get your elbows out so you leave a space for someone else to join you!”

As I heard that call to action, something clicked. I spent the first eight years of my career in advertising and, despite strongly performing campaigns and rave reviews from clients, I wasn't invited to industry events nor celebrated for my work. I didn’t have mentors or allies cheering me on, speaking up for me in rooms where I wasn’t present. Not once did I get a seat at the table, and I am not alone in this experience.  

It's time for our industry to get its elbows out, create space for, and celebrate Black women.

Collette Philip, Founder of Brand By Me and Co-Founder of Join Our Table

Indeed, stats from MEFA show that Black women in the media industry are least likely to feel that they are treated fairly and have access to career training and development and that Black people are increasingly likely to leave the industry as a result. Clearly, the industry needs to do more to get those ‘elbows out’ and take action.

When I moved brand-side, I did have a seat at the table. I was in the room where decisions were being made. I was often the voice of the brand. Working mainly in the charity sector, I championed creative ideas, pushed for meaningful representation beyond tokenism in casting, spoke up for colleagues and challenged agencies and internal leadership teams. But that seat came at a cost. I was often the lone voice and the only person that looked like me. 

Also, whilst I had a seat at the table when it came to decision-making, it was another story when it was time for recognition. I found that I was invisible - at awards, in the trade press - and this was before the optics of diversity was even a thing so my employers saw no benefit in promoting or championing me externally, even superficially. 

Starting my business back in 2016 changed everything. I could build my own table. For the first time, I had full agency over my career. I was able to select clients based on values and purpose. I won my first award in 2018 and have won at least one award every year since as I continue to combine my love of brands and fire for justice, working for clients such as Wellcome Trust, Amnesty International and Santander.

Of course, entrepreneurship is not for everyone. And it’s not ok that this is often the only path to visibility, resources and recognition for many minority people. 

Yet, as a business owner, I know just how many opportunities we, as leaders, have to get our elbows out. To use our resources to create and support platforms, create opportunities and uplift others. The larger the company or organisation, the more opportunities we have. 

I believe in the power of collective action. I'm a proud member of WACL, and love that we're calling for change and working with allies to drive action so that we hit our 50% female CEO target, help close the gender pay gap; end sexual harassment and much more.

And now,  I am one of eight brilliant Black women, fuelled by a conversation in Cannes about the lack of Black British women represented on stages and panels, who have launched ‘Join Our Table’, an initiative to celebrate and shine a spotlight on Black women in the communications industries. 

We're inviting all to join us. It's time for our industry to get its elbows out, create space for, and celebrate Black women. Not just now, during Black History Month, but in a consistent, sustainable and meaningful way.

Guest Author

Collette Philip

Founder and Managing Director Brand by Me


Collette Philip runs award-winning brand and strategy consultancy, Brand By Me. Brand by Me help organisations harness the power of brand strategy to embed anti-racism, drive equity and tackle injustice. She has worked with, on and for a breadth of amazing brands for over 20 years, both at global agencies and brand-side - from household names to amazing charities, including Starburst, Clearasil, McDonald's, T-Mobile, EE and Barnardo’s children’s charity. It was her lived and professional experience, combining her love of brands and call to make a difference that led her to launch Brand by Me, in 2016 and today Brand by Me are in high demand with clients including Wellcome Trust, Amnesty International and Santander. Collette is also a celebrated writer and speaker featured in Third Sector, Campaign, Forbes and on BBC Radio 4. Brand by Me was named a “Small Business of 2021” by Lloyds Bank and The Times.