Black History Month: Black at Work

BHM panel

Navigating the Media Industry as a Black Person

Last month we were host to an inspiring panel discussion, as part of Black History Month. This panel discussion formed part of Medialab’s wider Together We Stand initiative, which is a series of events we host to centre stories, experiences and share resources aimed at educating one another on topics close to our hearts.  

We were joined by experts in their respective fields; Ivy Kayima who is the Senior Talent Business Partner at Microsoft, April Evans, a Senior Community and Product Operations Manager at Snapchat and Omar Gurnah, the Global Head of Marketing at Beats by Apple. Their broad range of experiences and observations throughout their careers gave way to an open and authentic dialogue on navigating the industry as a Black person. Although a broad range of topics were discussed throughout the hour, there were a few subjects which stood out: 

Code-switching 

Navigating your way through the workplace is about understanding how much of your true authentic self you can bring to work. Some may use code-switching, which is consciously or unconsciously adjusting your style of speech, appearance, and behaviour, in ways that will optimise the comfort of others. The act of code-switching is not a new subject, Medialab were introduced to this last year at our MEFA panel on building mental health support for a culturally diverse workplace, which you can read here. 

Code-switching, as Omar explained, can be exhausting. It’s full of micro-calculations, constant assessment to not fall into people’s stereotypes and, in turn, can be emotionally taxing. It was discussed as something most prevalent in the early stages of their careers with the driving force being to fit in. Although our panellists had varying opinions on code-switching, one statement rang true for all; as you grow into your career you shouldn’t feel compelled to code-switch, if you do then you’re in the wrong place! 

Allyship 

The importance and presence of allies in the workplace were strongly supported by all three panellists. Allies in the workplace can be created in small or large ways. Being an effective ally needn’t require exhaustive research, but simply bringing their name into more spaces, championing their work and calling out wrongful behaviour, all contribute to effective allyship. 

Crucially, you can be an effective ally by facilitating, supporting, and advocating for spaces where Black voices can be heard. Our panellists explained that Employee Resource Groups or purposeful networks of Black people within the industry, have been hugely beneficial to feeling seen and heard, especially in their own workplace. April went on to shout out the multiple networks within her own company that have seen discussions on race and ethnicity occur, without judgement. These networks, particularly in predominantly white workplaces build community amongst peers. It can break down barriers that might inhibit understanding of one another’s diverse backgrounds that have informed their identity.  

Although Ivy mentioned how allyship can sometimes feel like a double-edged sword, between not feeling like you should need allyship, but recognising its impact in the workplace; all panellists were clear on the absolute importance of their presence. 

Company Responsibility  

If your brand, client or organisation is targeting a diverse audience, you need to speak to them from a place of understanding; to put simply, diversity of thought leads to diversity of problem-solving, making your company thrive. 

Attracting diverse talent can be done through, but not limited to, building effective policies that support your Black talent, making resources readily available, and training. Medialab partners with Brixton Finishing School in their recruitment drives and school outreach programmes; this network connects with and supports under-represented talent with top brands, agencies and media owners, amplifying their voices in these spaces. We conduct routine unconscious bias training, as well as use anonymised CVs during our recruitment processes. These are some examples of how businesses can be accountable for building a diverse workplace. Whilst everyone is responsible for making them happen, all panellists agreed that organisations that truly flourish, are the ones where the most senior leadership take the lead in supporting, advocating and championing inclusive approaches in the way they run their business. 

As Ivy affirmed, it takes constant, active work. Ivy explained with insight that generational changes are giving way to new groups of talent that require businesses to be accountable for their Diversity, Equality and Inclusion policies and initiatives.  

 

We thank our panellists for the depth of subjects covered. Their candour facilitated a wholly authentic discussion and we’re grateful they gave their time to share their expertise and experience with us.  

One of our panellists, Ivy, hosts a renowned podcast, The Future is Black. The weekly podcast, which centres Black voices and experiences, is full of debate, resources and laughs. Found on Apple Podcasts, we highly recommend you give it a listen! 

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