In the wake of Black Lives Matter, how can agencies push for real change in the creative industries? Boma Krijgsman, brand ambassador at the design agency, JDO, shares her thoughts on recent events and her own experiences as a black creative.
Boma. That's my name. It's Nigerian, and as you may have surmised – I'm black. It is not the name, however, that I put on my CV. I use my middle name, Sandra. I use it because it sounds white, and while I am a proud black woman, I also need to work. And I know that Sandra is much more likely to land the interview than Boma is.
When I do get an interview and show up, I am always met with surprise. Not venomous, so much. In fact, sometimes it is with a bit of delight. But it always happens—that awkward moment of realisation. I was not the white woman they were expecting.
I share this story so the people in this industry can understand the experience that many people of colour have. I share it because in the catalytic light of Black Lives Matter, perhaps people will finally listen to what I have to say.
Just like our white peers, black people are drawn to the creative field because there is something in us that yearns for expression, a fire in our bellies that we are desperate to fuel and free, a dream that we can do what we love, and love what we do. While the doors to other vocations feel closed to us because of the colour of skin, our lack of the right education, or the misfortune of not having connections, we hope that creativity will be a haven that lets us in. All that matters is whether or not we have talent, right?
For an industry that likes to throw around words like disruptive and ground-breaking, the lack of diversity feels a bit hypocritical. As normally the only black person at the companies I've worked for, I have often felt the tinge of tokenism as if my purpose was to show that my employers were urban cool. This is not to fault or vilify agencies that have given people of colour the opportunity of employment, but it is to say that there is much more that can be done to truly create a diverse and inclusive workplace where all ethnicities feel welcome, represented and valued.
In my heart of hearts, I know that my colleagues over the years do not mean to be discriminatory. Just taking a look at the number of creative agencies that made a statement of solidarity across social media was a cause for hope. Without sounding ungrateful now, I must say, that what is needed at this turning point is a lot more than a black box on your Instagram. This is a moment for real, meaningful action that delivers results.
As JDO's brand ambassador, I have been empowered to speak my truth and to ignite positive change within our agency. From prioritising the recruitment of black and POC talent across all disciplines to creating an environment where people from all backgrounds feel accepted and respected, JDO is determined to be part of the solution in ending racial discrimination and inequality. The following principles will guide us as we develop an actionable plan for a more diverse team and future.
Talk and listen
We are starting this journey by opening a dialogue with the non-white members of our team to learn about their experiences. We want to know about the challenges they faced when seeking employment as well as any they deal with as a member of our team.
We do this to ensure that we are approaching change with proper sensitivity, identifying any blind spots we may have and learn how we can create an environment where all people feel heard and understood. The key is to listen, with openness and empathy.
These uncomfortable conversations are necessary to avoid unintentional bias or disrespectful missteps that make people of colour feel alienated and isolated. Only when we recognise our own complicity can we take active steps in dismantling it.
Beyond promoting diversity, inclusion and racial sensitivity with proper in-house training, we believe that it is our responsibility to actively nurture the next generation of creative professionals from BAME backgrounds. Already in place is a JDO programme offering work placement opportunities for underprivileged secondary school students of colour.
Many people of colour, unfortunately, do not consider the design industry as an option because they are unaware of how successful and rewarding a career in this field can be. This early exposure to the possibilities of a creative career will ensure that no one will be able to say 'there aren't enough candidates of colour' ever again.
We believe that the benefits of a more diverse industry will outweigh the hard work needed to shift the paradigm. That the inclusion of more black and POC talent will elevate the work we do, expanding our reach and ability to resonate with new audiences around the globe.
We believe that it is achievable. That by strengthening our team and industry with different voices, we can shape the culture, sparking conversations and establishing a new set of beliefs based on acceptance, equality and unity.
And maybe no black girl will need to use a different name on her CV ever again.
My name is Boma. Thank you for listening.