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Why I Love Talking to Diverse College Students About Communications

One of the absolute joys in my career at this stage is the opportunity to share and hopefully inspire the next generation. Communications remains one of the least diverse industries.

Don’t take my word for it.

Weber Shandwick, one of the largest agencies in the world, released its workforce data last year, and the numbers tell the story:

  • 2.6% of the agency’s SVPs and VPs were Black or African-American, compared to 4.1% in 2019.
  • The rest of its professional staff saw no change, with 5.6% being Black or African-American, compared to 6.7% reported by the EEOC.

I applaud Weber Shandwick’s transparency and its recognition that the firm has some work to do.  I would guess that the data across other agencies is probably similar.


My Six Tips to Communicators of Color

You Will Likely be the Only One. I started my career in 1998 and more often than not, I find myself as the only black person in the room. This is the reality. Get ready. Steel yourself. Walk in the room anyway. Be excellent. And don’t let your “minority” presence quiet your voice. 

Work hard but not too hard. Early in my career, I was terrified of losing my job. I made sure I worked harder than everyone else. I wanted to be irreplaceable. The only problem is that I forgot I was human. I’ve burned out probably twice in my career. Pushing so hard because I thought I had to EARN my spot. Getting married in my early 30s and having two kids has helped me gain perspective but I still have to fight the self doubt and the need to prove something. 

Treat your career like a business. I can’t take credit for this tip. It actually came from a CEO of a company I worked for. Sometimes your stock is up; sometimes it’s down. Understand where you are. Know when to cut your losses. Keep the long view. This advice has given me incredible focus. 

Be excellent. Excellence is not perfection. However, it does mean that you have to take pride in what you do. I don’t care if that’s an email or a presentation to a leadership team. Give it your all. But don’t let the intensity rob you of your joy or make you difficult to work with. 

Be yourself. I struggle with this, but it is so important to share a bit about your life outside work. Trust me, it will serve you well and in ways you may not expect. For one, you will be able to put your shoulders down. You will enjoy your work more. But know that being yourself in a work environment is still difficult for everyone, especially people of color. Sometimes it’s trial and error finding how much you want to share and that’s okay. You’ll find your sweet spot. And once you do – you can fly!  

Results matter but how you work with others matters more. This is especially true in Corporate America where your annual reviews, promotions are often tied to how well you live to the company values, which often include collaboration and teamwork. Asking for help has not been my strength, but I work at it. I ask for help and I help in return. Life is too short to not laugh and enjoy your time at work.  

Lastly, if you are blessed to build a career that serves your talents and ambitions, reach back and bring another person of color along. Change can only come if we make sure we’re not the last.

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