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The Black Marketers Entering the Industry Have Some Concerns

It will take a lot more than good advice to overcome systemic racism in the industry, but good advice from people with lived experience can still help.
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Francis Scialabba

· 9 min read

The Black Lives Matter movement has, among many other things, centered the marketing industry’s long standing failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s also happened against the backdrop of massive job cuts across the marketing industry in general.

It will take a lot more than good advice to overcome systemic racism in the industry, but good advice from people with lived experience can still help. So we sourced questions from Black marketers who are early in their career, and connected with two Black marketing experts to answer those questions. Those experts are...

  • Junae Brown, is the infamous Beyonce of Marketing on Twitter, the Founder of Browned 2 Perfection Agency, as well as a marketing strategist and speaker who previously worked at Sony Music.
  • Lola Bakare, is leading marketing success consultant and owner of be/co where she advises CMOs and empowers ambitious marketers to maximize their impact. She recently launched “Maximize The Movement” a program dedicated to guiding marketers toward making a social impact that also drives the bottom-line.

Over the next few weeks we’ll launch more general marketing career advice resources based on expert and practitioner interviews.

All responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

On feeling comfortable

Jacoby's question: “What I have concerns about as a Black young professional going into marketing is being able to show up and be myself at work. I created a bucket list of companies that I then researched, and I want to know if these companies have diversity training.

Does the company promote [diversity] and celebrate that? What is their idea of diversity? These are things I think about during my job search, because you want to be able to just be yourself and be comfortable [at work] and not have to put on a front or code switch all the time.”

—Jacoby Fleming, who was a Marketing Major at University of Houston and graduated in December 2019.

Junae’s answer: “I think you're doing the right thing by considering diversity a priority when it comes to the kind of company you want to work for. You may be seeking an entry level position, but we spend most of our time at work, and everyone deserves to feel comfortable while there to be themselves so we can do great things! I think having standards will take you far & ensure that you are in spaces where you will excel and grow as a marketer and person, and not just collect a check unhappily.”

Lola’s answer: “As Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman explore the intricacies of interracial friendship in their book, Big Friendship, they describe the ‘limited level of comfort that Black people can feel around white people…’ as a result of the ever present risk of ‘being dropped through the trapdoor’ of a racist comment or microagression at any moment.

While these trapdoor moments aren’t usually intentional, that doesn’t make them any easier to navigate. In Let Them See You: The Guide for Leveraging Your Diversity at Work Porter Braswell suggests using probing, ‘Socratic-style’ questioning to navigate these trap-door moments. Say you’re in an interview and faced with a microaggressive or inappropriate question:

  • ‘I just want to make sure you feel as prepared as our other candidates since you’re coming from an HBCU’

Instead of laughing uncomfortably (we’ve all been there), or letting the interviewer know how inappropriate you find the question (we’ve been there too), try asking a question like:

  • ‘What makes you concerned that being educated at an HBCU might make me less prepared for this role?’

Chances are, your interviewer will see the advantage of your cultural expertise at work in real time. To clear any tension in the air and double down on winning the moment, follow up by saying something like ‘I appreciate the spirit of your question and I’m glad to help reframe what can sometimes be an area of unintended and unconscious bias! My experience doing this is part of what I can offer the team as an employee as well.”

Takora's question: “My biggest concern is being able to find a job. With everything that’s been going on I’ve been applying to a lot of jobs but it’s been very quiet lately. My biggest fear right now is being able to find a comfortable place to launch my marketing career.”

—Takora McIntyre, a social media specialist and communications director who graduated from the College of Saint Rose in May 2020

Lola’s answer: “On a recent episode of NPR’s It’s Been A Minute podcast with Sam Sanders, Journalist Soraya Nadia McDonald reminds black journalists to think of their unique lived experiences as expertise. This advice couldn’t be more relevant to aspiring black marketers.

Think about it! You have native experience interpreting the world around you as a market researcher. You are uniquely sensitive to the hidden layers of cultural sensitivity that brands led by teams that don’t represent the diversity of their consumers often miss. By proudly showcasing this ability as one of your key differentiators, you’ll become that much more attractive to future employers who are looking to address their DEI opportunity areas head on.”

Junae’s answer: “You are definitely on the right track when it comes to seeking out a company that is here for you as a Black woman in this industry amongst all that goes on in society on the daily. Many haven't felt that sense of support unfortunately in their career journeys, and the more we express that it is a priority, the more it will become one at companies.”

On networking

Jacoby's question: “How can we network and get past any type of discrimination [while applying for jobs] online?”

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Junae’s answer: “When it comes to networking & bypassing discrimination, well right now everything is digital including connecting with people. So I would focus on showing up as your authentic self in all of your interactions whether it's on a professional site like Linkedin or a more casual one like twitter, and engaging with others in the field that share your interests, expertise, or your career aspirations. Many job placements are by way of referral. What you know and how hard you work is extremely important, but who you know (even if just internet friends!) will get you in the door to show that.”

Lola’s answer: “Remember, there’s a supportive village with you every step along this journey. Don’t hesitate to send an InMail or Twitter DM to team members you feel connected with throughout your interview process. If that feels too forward, start with following and engaging with their shares and content to demonstrate your authentic enthusiasm! Beyond direct connections, resources like Jopwell and Fishbowl are amazing ways to both find opportunities and get behind-the-scenes insights as you home in on the right role. Stay energized, stay proactive, and stay agile. You’ve got this!”

Takora's question: “Because I am a Black woman, I’ve been wondering if people are going to look at me a different way. When I apply for jobs and go on interviews, when they physically see me, I wonder about the things they’re going to think in the back of their heads because of everything that’s going on right now.”

Junae’s answer: "I will be completely transparent with you as a Black woman and say that no matter what is going on in the world, when you walk into the room it will always be buzzing with looks and thoughts. Your job is to worry less about what they may be thinking, and more about what you bring to the table. Your overall creativity, work ethic, and personality will supersede any limitations rooted in systemic racism, prejudice, or discrimination—remember that!”

On the BLM protests and responses

Takora's observation: “With a lot of the companies, I’m looking at not only how they handled COVID but also how they’re handling the protests. I’m looking for organizations that are speaking up, and speaking up doesn’t necessarily mean voicing your opinion. [I’m looking to work at a company that] is saying ‘we’re here for you’ and recognizing what’s going on instead of ignoring everything that’s happening.”

Jacoby's observation: “I wouldn’t say I would be less likely [to apply for jobs at companies with inauthentic Black Lives Matter marketing right now], but it wouldn’t be my first option. I want a job, so I’m not going to completely put it out, but depending on the position I might not [be as excited about it].”

Junae’s response: “While looking into companies something that also may help is doing some research on Linkedin and reaching out to other Black people that currently work for them and asking direct questions about the company culture in terms of diversity, inclusion, and HR protocols. This way before you apply or during the application process you have a better idea of what you're getting yourself into.”

Lola’s response: “By paying close attention not just to the externally facing mission and DEI statements when interviewing, but the mindsets of the people you engage with, you’ll know which opportunities to cross off your list.”

Takora's question: “How do you bring up race, say in a conversation with a coworker, or even your boss? How do you handle conflict when someone says something that might be offensive or ignorant? How do you professionally handle that?”

Junae’s answer: “It can be a little unnerving to address offensive or ignorant comments in a work setting but it must be done. My advice is to always address whatever it is head on regardless of whether or not it is your boss or coworker, in the most professional but firm way possible."

"Let the person know that what they said or did is offensive and why, and that you won't tolerate being disrespected or made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace. It is helpful to have things like this in writing via a formal email in case it continues, so that you have a paper trail to submit to HR. If you don't feel comfortable confronting the person, or if it is completely beyond the point of a conversation—GO STRAIGHT TO HR! And if they don't do anything about it lawyer up, that isn't the kind of company you want to work for. You deserve to be able to show up and be your best self as safely and comfortable as possible, just like everyone else.”

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