How Black Women and Non-Black Allies Can Support Women of Color in Marketing

Underrepresented employees need colleagues to boost them up

various women climb different metaphorical latter to success
Colleagues need to support each other or else a workplace can feel crushing to minorities who don't feel heard. Getty Images
Headshot of Lauren D. Williams

Over the last 12 years of working in marketing and advertising, there’s been a major shift, and the topic of diversity and how it impacts our day-to-day lives is more prominent now than ever. While some companies put a focus on creating an inclusive and diverse workforce and are being rewarded for doing so via an increasing bottom line, there are still major improvements to be made. For black marketers, especially women, the obstacles faced while navigating the walls of brands, agencies and publishers continues to be difficult.

On average, black women in the U.S. earn 38 percent less than white men and 21 percent less than white women. Even with black women graduating from college in record numbers, they face difficulty being elevated within their organizations, don’t receive as much support as their white, mainly male counterparts and are often labeled as angry black women when pushing back on ideas they feel strongly about. The worst part is that some are still completely oblivious to the obstacles black women face on a daily basis. In fact, almost half of white businessmen believe that obstacles for black women to advance are gone. How can underrepresented employees fight for equal opportunity if their counterparts don’t even realize it’s unequal in the first place?

A number of companies have recognized these hurdles and have set aggressive diversity goals to diversify their workforce. However, these goals tend to only benefit one or two underrepresented groups, and the importance of hiring and maintaining black marketers, especially black women, gets lost. How do we work together to ensure that companies truly embody the idea of diversity and inclusion at more than just the surface level?

For black women:

As a black woman, you should be given the opportunity to be the best version of yourself while bringing diverse thoughts to the table without losing your own identity. Here are some tips for other black female marketers:

Be your own advocate

Too many talented black marketers walk out of the doors of brands, agencies and publishers because of the lack of diverse talent, not being heard or lack of career advancement.

No one knows you better than you do. Utilize the experience you have marketing other brands to market your talents to your colleagues. Go on a path of discovery to determine what specific gift you have and use that to your advantage. Get involved in employee resource groups, if your company has them, and learn from others. It is also within these groups that you meet colleagues with different skills. This is where you also have an opportunity to find a mentor that is outside of your specialty.

Be an advocate for other black women

As black women, it is our duty to support those who come after us. We all need to be the mentor and coach we wish we had when we first entered the world of marketing and advertising. And if you manage a team, be the boss you wish you had as well. Learn from the mistakes of others and implement the change that would have been helpful to you.

Step outside of your box

In order to succeed, black women need to do more than just show up, put our heads down and do work. Make time to focus on building relationships outside of the ones you would not normally form. Befriend people of diverse backgrounds, races, genders and sexual orientations. Oftentimes, it’s through these connections that opportunities are born. And last, but certainly not least, do not be afraid to bring your whole self to the office. The point of diversity is also to embrace diversity of thought and experiences.

For non-black folks:

The first step is to be an ally. Allyship is an active, consistent practice of unlearning and re-evaluating that a person in a position of privilege takes to stand with and for others in pursuit of ending oppression and creating equality. In short, we need non-black men and women to show up, listen and learn. Here on some tips on doing so:

Create safe spaces

Partner with your diverse colleagues to create employee resource groups that support an inclusive workplace environment. These spaces should provide a forum for employees to speak freely and share experiences that foster deeper interaction. As a team, spearhead internal culturally driven events or attend external events to learn from and engage with other underrepresented people at your company and within the industry.

Be informed

Take the time to ask questions and learn more about cultures, religions and backgrounds that are different from your own. Consider scheduling time with the black women at your company, and be willing to listen to the obstacles they face. Don’t wait for or expect black women to educate you on their experiences. Take a step toward deepening your knowledge of black perspectives through art, literature, film and social media.

Become a mentor

Be a mentor to someone who looks different than you or comes from a different background. We all need support in our careers, so when the opportunity arises to advocate for someone who is underrepresented, listen to them and be that advocate. As Mehreen Kasana expertly put it: “Listening as an ally isn’t just about sincerely being supportive during the airing of a grievance. It’s also about celebrating the leaps of progress.” So celebrate your black women colleagues and support them every step of the way.

Go out of your way to speak up

This one is paramount to maintain talented, educated and driven black women in your organization. Look out for them and make sure they are included in natural conversations and in the boardroom. When in meetings, make sure their perspectives are heard. And when amplifying or building on their messages, give credit where it is due.

We cannot fake our way through diversity and inclusion conversations. We all have a duty to make the process a welcome one. Too many talented black marketers walk out of the doors of brands, agencies and publishers because of the lack of diverse talent, not being heard or lack of career advancement. Be inviting, step outside of your box and create amazing campaigns that are birthed out of diverse perspectives. That’s what we should all strive to do every single day.

Lauren D. Williams is the vertical marketing director at Pandora Music in New York.