Co-founder of #HoldThePRess and Account Director for longtime client partners Procter & Gamble and Diageo’s Crown Royal, Taylor’s Sade Ayodele is a visionary leader across the sponsorship marketing landscape and a diversity champion for our industry. At last week’s PRWeek Racial Equity Summit 2020, Sade discussed how the PR and Communications disciplines can help drive change and inclusivity as value propositions for clients. Sade co-founded #HoldthePRess with colleague and Taylor Account Executive, Nysah Warren, interviewed here by PRWeek about their initiative.

 

Photo Credit: Kate Ryan 

 

Sade and I sat down to chat through her thoughts:

 

What have been some of the key experiences that have driven your motivation in this racial equity work? (years ago, current, future goals) 

 

Working in Communications in PR for almost 10 years, I have been the “only” Black person in the room far too often. I’ve never been managed by a person that looks like me, and for the first nine years of my career, I never saw a Black woman higher than an SVP [Senior Vice President]. While studying Communications in college for four years, I realized upon graduation that I had never seen someone that looked like me that actually did what I envisioned for myself.

 

Therefore, I had to rely on my own determination and ideal of what PR could look like for me. People often underestimate representation, but imagine envisioning yourself as an astronaut or in another field, and only seeing images of people that were not like you. Some part of you would question your abilities and if it was the right path. Fortunately, I pressed forward. However, it was not without difficulties.

 

One unfortunate job experience actually motivated me to be active in this space, as I realized the extent of how bad it could get as a person of color. During this particular job, I experienced multiple and ongoing discriminatory incidents, which led to a hostile work environment that affected my ability to succeed in my role. This particular team prided itself on having a close-knit team and finding the best “culture fit” for new hires. However, the lens with which the team viewed best “culture fit” was intrinsically a racially-discriminatory practice – as they valued team members not solely based on skills or job performance, but more so based on racial and cultural preferences that disfavored non-white employees like myself. While the white women and men easily integrated into the team, I experienced racial bias, microaggressions, and gaslighting which led to me to be miserable. I had to be something else other than myself to “fit in” and for the first time in my life, I felt that my work ethic would not be enough to carry me. I tried dimming my light, and fitting the mold to make my work life better, but it was not enough and it was uncomfortable, to the point that I sought out therapy. I hated not being able to be myself, and even more I hated being judged off of the basis of my skin.  

 

While an unfortunate experience, I found my voice through it, and became determined to ensure that young women and men coming up behind me would not have to face the daily feeling of “not being enough” solely because of their skin. Through the social unrest that happened nationwide this past summer, I further felt cemented in my mission. It has also become business critical for companies to be diverse; so while I previously felt at times I was being ignored, I now know that companies can no longer ignore the issue.

 

As companies become more committed to diversity, my goal for the future is to continue to champion diversity in the workplace and work alongside those willing to do the hard work to create a more equitable future for all.

 

Do you really think that our industry can have an impact, beyond the industry itself? How/Why? 

 

Yes, as communications professionals we can help drive how brands show up in the world. In the PR industry, specifically working at agencies, we are often counseling brands and key decision-makers on their campaigns. We are behind the talent and influencers that brands work with, as we drive the recommendations. We are also behind the communications strategies and creative that make their way to social media platforms and the headlines we read in news outlets. If we are actively driving diversity through our thinking and counsel, we have the ability to reach millions. Whether it’s through the representation in our campaigns or through the outlets we work with and the messages we send through our work, it’s important that we push our clients to challenge the status quo and not default to what’s “normal” or “easy”. The unfortunate truth is that the status quo has been centered around Eurocentric ideologies, which is not the America we live in today. We live in a beautiful melting pot, that should be embraced and highlighted. As we tell stories through comms channels, it’s important to tell the stories of everyone and ensure that what we put forth resonates with people of all walks of life. I look forward to this continued work in this area as our industry begins to reconcile with the reality that our industry is still made up of 89% white people.

 

Photo Credit: Kate Ryan 

 

How is Taylor doing? What do we get right? Are there internal processes that drive equity that outsiders may not see? (ex: small ways to appreciate people, support voices and inclusivity that may not be part of official ‘policy’ or internal structures of support)

 

Taylor has done a great job at diversifying their workspace and allowing diversity of thought. Our latest numbers reflect a workplace of 40% people of color, of which recruitment is the first step.

 

The second step is retention. In order to retain diverse talent, companies have to create a workplace where various voices and people feel like they ‘belong’. Taylor has done the work (even pre the racial reckoning of 2020) to create a culture of belonging. As someone that has worked at this agency, then left and came back, I can attest to the 180 that we have made. When I had left Taylor, I was one of maybe five POCs. However, standing here today I am proud to report we are 40% POC, as previously mentioned. 

 

Additionally, we have ERGs [Employee Resource Groups], employee programming, panels, allyship education, happy hours and more to continue to elevate and amplify marginalized voices and give visibility. 

 

Another piece that is so important is leadership support. It really starts at the top. If CEOs and Leadership take an active interest, as ours has, then others will follow. Brands and agencies can take a page out of our book and ensure that they are showcasing this level of interest from the top, beyond one email or tweet and then no one at the organization hears of it again. People take note of what leadership cares about. When diversity is at the forefront, it can only help create a better environment for all employees.

 

What do we [at Taylor] still need to work on? 

 

I think continuing to educate employees and leadership on how to continue to be active allies in the space beyond just a moment. So many people want to donate once to a cause, or make a few hires, and move on. However, D, E, and I [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] is so much more than numbers. It’s about creating an equitable environment for diverse talent. While it starts at the top, it requires everyone. 

 

Sade shared more words of wisdom at the Racial Equity Summit.