I was mentally prepared to lose my job
I graduated from Middlesex University in Business Management in 2016, working part-time at John Lewis to pay my living costs. Finding a job that blended my interest in business with my creative side was made possible by Creative Access, which helps under-represented communities get into the creative industries.
Through Creative Access, I applied for a job at Eagle London Agency, one of the very few agencies with an intrinsically diverse team and approach, top to bottom. I lost out to someone else but through the recruitment process I met one of their team, Mark Robinson. We kept in touch, and eventually, with Mark’s support, I won a part-time and then full-time role at Mellor & Smith. I was the only Black person on the team, managing and creating newsletters, social feeds, handling new business research, even attending pitches. When the pandemic started, I was initially furloughed but eventually lost my job. I was mentally prepared, updated my CV and was delighted to join BLITZWORKS a few months ago.
To code-switch or not to code-switch?
When describing my time in advertising I don’t want to list any overtly uncomfortable racially specific challenges. In many cases people have been very welcoming and incredibly helpful. Most of the good companies have had diversity initiatives in place for at least 10 years. What I’ve felt instead is something I talk about a lot with Black friends: the need to ‘code-switch’ when entering white majority spaces, to edit my mannerisms, tone of voice and accent to fit in.
I also suspect that, in recruitment, questions such as ‘how well would they fit in with the team?’, ‘how much would I enjoy working with them?’ and ‘what are they like dealing with clients?’ could be unfairly impacted by an unconscious bias. The outcome could be that someone like me, comprehensive school, into football not rugby, son of Kenyan immigrant working class parents, simply can’t press the play button. We’re having the right conversations but the imagery and climate in agencies makes people like me question whether I belong. I felt that very strongly in the one interview I had at a big agency.