What If We Changed the Game?

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on March 8, 2019.

“The reality is, money is a boy’s club.” – Sallie Krawcheck, Co-Founder & CEO, Ellevest

You know what Sallie means … that underlying network of male camaraderie within the workplace. They promote from within the ranks, control access to professional advancement, and dole out or revoke power as they see fit.

But what if women put a new set of rules into play? What if we changed the game, once and for all?

The 3 Percent Movement

Enter The 3 Percent Movement. Until this wave of reform, only 3% of creative directors in the advertising industry were women — and even fewer were people of color. But contrary to its name, the 3 Percent Movement is shattering advertising’s glass roof by going beyond just 3%.

So what does that mean for us advertisers? It’s a clarion call to find the best people so we can make the best work so we can make a profit … and, ultimately, change the advertising landscape. By challenging the status quo and changing the ratio, the 3 Percent Movement has given agencies like Golin a clear road map of how to champion female creative talent and leadership. (The new Ad-women site also helps the cause.)

International Women’s Day 2019: #BalanceforBetter

Feeling unwelcome in meetings, business events, and networking opportunities is becoming the norm for women in an era when they are instead being encouraged to “Lean In.” It’s tough to climb the corporate ladder when the scales are off-balance and expectations remain unchanged.

That’s where International Women’s Day comes into play. Observed on March 8th, this day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year’s campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world.

We’re at a critical point in history: As a society, we have the power to stabilize the gender equality scales. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements established that this is not a women’s issue — it’s a world issue. The advertising industry, every other professional industry, and society as a whole cannot move forward if we do not share the responsibility of shifting towards a gender-balanced world.

The 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign doesn’t end on International Women’s Day. (March 8th is just the tip of the gender equality iceberg.) But it does start now, as you strike the #BalanceforBetter pose to signify that you are ready to make a positive difference for women everywhere.

Make International Women’s Day YOUR day by sharing your “hands out” balance pose and message to the world on social media with the hashtag #IWD2019. By using this strong call-to-action, you’re letting others know that you’re not only ready for change, but ready to #BalanceforBetter. On International Women’s Day 2019 and beyond, how will you #BalanceforBetter?

Hella Insecure: Relationships and Media

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on February 22, 2019.

Left to right: Panelists Aaron Abernathy and Krysten Copeland listen as Shaiday Dancy discusses a Tiffany & Co. ad

Have you stopped to wonder how social media and advertising have come to influence modern-day relationships? Members and guests of Ad 2 DC dissected this age-old question at the Hella Insecure Panel. The event included panelists representing people of color and the LBGT+ community leading an insightful conversation over happy hour bar fare.

The panel, moderated by President of X+PR Xina Eiland, consisted of: public relations and communications pro Mercy Chikowore; Founder & Chief Strategist of KC & Co. Communications Krysten Copeland; creator of Sunflxw Artistry Shaiday Dancy; and pianist and songwriter Aaron Abernathy​​. Their mission was to set things straight about professional and personal relationships in the era of social media.

The panel dug deeper into the effects that mainstream commercials and print ads have on modern-day relationships, much like what we see on the HBO series Insecure. Panelists also discussed the way relationships have changed for better or for worse since the introduction of social media and other technology. After introductions from each panelist, the discussion kicked off with the first question: “How would you describe the relationship between dating, love, pop culture, and media?”

Black Culture and the Creation of Black Twitter

The consensus was that pop culture is Black culture and it has changed the way brands structure their advertising. Panelists agreed that the African-American community has an influence that stretches beyond our own diaspora through fashion, music, and social media. A number of brands look to Black culture for ‘inspirational direction,’ “but there is a thin line between appreciation and appropriation,” as Eiland reminded the crowd. Copeland remarked that “Black culture has been setting trends” but with the introduction of “Black Twitter,” the conversation begins to expand.

“Black Twitter” can be defined as a “collective of active, primarily African-American Twitter users who have created a virtual community that participates in continuous real-time conversations.” Much of the content on Black Twitter surfaces during a crisis that impacts the black community, and on a lighter note, when discussing media content such as TV shows, movies, and award ceremonies from the black perspective. The development of this virtual community has changed the way we manage relationship expectations including the $200 Date Debate, the phenomenon of relationship goals, Tinder meetups, cuffing season, and Netflix and Chill. For many millennials, Black Twitter has given us a new representation of relationships.

Media and Relationship Diversity

The discussion also included recent ads by some of the world’s largest brands. Panelists pointed to Tiffany & Co’s Believe in Love and Gillette’s #MeToo-inspired ads as examples that are either getting relationship diversity right or completely missing the mark. The panelists attributed this new trend of diversity and representation to brands trying to tag onto trending topics and current events. Brands are seeking a creative way to get into the social media conversation, which doesn’t always result in authenticity. Abernathy and Dancy both agreed that your social media platforms are a resume of sorts: They are your public portfolio, regardless of whether you’re a major brand or a small, personal brand.

Ad 2 DC Diversity & Inclusion Chair Iyana Moore (center) with panelists (left to right) Xina Eiland, Mercy Chikowore, Aaron Abernathy, Krysten Copeland, and Shaiday Dancy

Final Thoughts

The panel discussion concluded with a Q&A session. Audience members were excited to ask the panelists how they balance their professional lives with relationships. DJ and WPFW DC radio personality Bobby Rox asked about push and pull media becoming more blurred with the continued development of technology. The group agreed that push media was becoming more prevalent with social media making messages more pervasive than ever.

This diversity event was a great opportunity for young professionals to network and connect with people outside of their normal 9-to-5 circles. The biggest takeaway from the event was that social media is a tool for all types of relationships and we all have the ability to utilize our full power as consumers and professionals to create better, more meaningful content. As Chikowore said: “Being authentic on social media is all about deciding what your purpose is. So, whether you are looking for the Michelle to your Barack or a new job, be mindful and genuine!”

Normalizing Disability in Advertising

This post was originally published on The Voice of AAF DC on December 3, 2018.

December 3 marks the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). This year’s themes are empowering people with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.

One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. But if you judged life by the world of advertising, you might conclude that disabled people are a societal rarity. So rare that advertisers feel the need to airbrush able-bodied models to look like amputees. Yes, that really happened.

The ethical responsibility of advertisers — especially during a paradigm shift that places the consumer at the center of media — is to provide content that fulfills the marketing agenda, without alienating, disrespecting, or deceiving any members of the intended or unintended audience. But we all know that every brand doesn’t deliver on that responsibility. Apart from when ads speak specifically about disability, disabled people are overwhelmingly absent from the narrative.

Breaking down barriers

Research conducted by the United Kingdom media agency UM discovered that while consumers wanted to see more people with disabilities in advertising, some 62% of respondents honestly admitted to feeling “uncomfortable” when they did see it. Also, 43% agreed that advertisers who showed people with disabilities risked making the ads “unappealing to people,” while 34% said that people with physical disabilities are “not attractive.” So how can advertisers go about breaking the taboo and being more representative?

The marketing and advertising industries have a chance to help break down social stigmas around disability by making it more visible. To change perceptions and promote progression, ads need to normalize disability — by plugging the rich, everyday lives that disabled people live beyond their disability.

Showing the world as it is

The under-representation of disabled people in advertising is largely due to the lack of diversity in creative roles. If more disabled people were employed as creative directors, copywriters, graphic designers, etc., we’d start to see a natural shift towards a more authentic portrayal.

Representing people with disabilities could be the final frontier in diversifying advertising, with more brands having already moved towards LGBTQ+ inclusion (Coca-Cola’s ‘Pool Boy’) and aiming at different types of families (multicultural and single dads, etc.).

Aside from being the right thing to do, diversity in ads has the potential to generate tangible benefits. Brands are undoubtedly leaving money on the table by not appealing to a wider range of audiences. Striking a chord with consumers is no longer about serving them images of perfection, since social media has helped to change how people view images. People with disabilities, as both recipients and agents of change, can fast-track the process towards truly inclusive advertising.

A Black Woman’s Journey in Corporate America

This post was originally published on The Black Detour on March 4, 2018.

I think about code-switching a lot.

What started as a phrase to describe how a person alternates between two or more languages in a single conversation has been adopted as a term that represents how minorities change their body language, vernacular, existence…when switching from less formal to more formal settings.

Enter Corporate America.

The constant shifting of one’s personality for acceptance is generally exhausting to those of us who try their hardest to live life authentically. Consider all the times you’ve changed the tone and pitch of your voice on a phone interview or forced your ‘fro into a bun hoping for fewer stares and no questions. I guarantee you that often times you’ve done these things unknowingly. It almost feels like second nature to you.

Corporate America was not created as a space for black people to be comfortable.

I know you would think that for as long as we’ve been infiltrating these spaces, that they would begin to adjust, accommodate, and accept us but that’s just not the case. ‘Blackness’ precedes us all and Papa Pope said it best: “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.” The odds are not in our favor – even less as a black woman.

In society, women are treated with less respect, considered to be less intelligent, more emotional and overall not as good as men. Now, paint this woman the shade of brown sugar and watch the descriptions swing to ‘loud,’ ‘ghetto,’ and ultimately, undeserving. It’s a double-edged sword and if you even think of swinging first, you’re the antagonist.

I’m sure if we all came together in a room and gave accounts of the times we experienced micro-aggression’s, subtle jarring comments or blatant racism in the workplace, we would be floored by the realization that most times, code-switching doesn’t make a bit of a difference.

Due to this understanding on our part and the great Auntie Maxine Waters leading the way, we’ve begun reclaiming our time. Our space. Our purpose in Corporate America. There is an ongoing silencing and under-representation of women and people of color everywhere. Despite us being the saviors, the fixers, the defenders of almost everything, whether we stand in the forefront or are the Hidden Figures, society continues to waste not only our time but also our voices and know-how.

But when things go wrong, someone somewhere is calling out: “Where’s the black lady?!”

Rather than continuing on the same path of bending a knee to a non-representative system that disrespects, fails to protect and persists on neglecting black women and their contributions to social movements, pop culture memes, and big brands, take back code-switching.

Change your stature, be loud, make your hair bigger and taller, and etch out a true space in Corporate America.