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Women+ Of Colour in Leadership - Part 1

Four women of diverse background and cultures holding their fists up in unity.
Four women of diverse background and cultures holding their fists up in unity.
Illustration by Nia Hefe Filiogianni, Illustration by Nia Hefe Filiogianni
Written by
Mayesha Choudhury
Published date
01 March 2021

University of the Arts London (UAL) launched the Women+ of Colour In Leadership programme in February, to inspire and empower women+ of colour to break through the glass ceiling and become the creative leaders of the future. Led by UAL Careers and Employability's Creative Shift team who champion diversity in the creative industries, the programme was launched in response to research showing that only 17% of creative directors are Women and only 3% of CEOs are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (Creative Equals, 2020).

This exciting 8-week programme gives students the opportunity to develop different aspects of leadership from leading teams, build connections and understand their own leadership qualities through interactive and participant-focused workshops.

UAL Graduate Ambassador, Mayesha Choudhury guides us through a week by week break-down on what we've learnt about leadership so far...

Session 1 - 5th February 2021

Kicking off our first week, Tessa Read, Deputy Head, UAL Careers and Employability, dives into a brief introduction on women+ of colour in leadership and why we are doing this programme. This is a virtual learning programme by UAL Careers and Employability's Creative Shift which aims to tackle the issue of race and gender inequality at leadership positions in the creative industry. Through a series of interactive workshops with leadership coaching led by Consultant Trainer and Director of JM Learning, Jannett Morgan and UAL facilitators, we will be equipping a group of women of colour (WOC) from all across UAL with the skills to feel empowered and break through the glass ceiling. Students will be applying the skills they’ve learned to a collaborative live brief set by creative agency, The Elephant Room and their client Treasure Tress.

Jannett begins the workshop by speaking about her journey in the advertising sector, and about being committed to seeing change and representation in the creative industry. In a poll, 53% of our students guessed right with 88% of young female creatives lacking role models and 80% of young female creatives that have never worked with a female creative director. Overall students seemed underwhelmed, “I’m not surprised at all”. They spoke about how the higher you go up in the system there are less women+ and even less WOC, which reminds you of how male-dominated the industry is. Jannett stepped in with a reminder that while there are challenges, this programme is all about opportunities and arming you with the skills to take them on.

Screenshot of an online poll

We separated into groups where students discussed who inspires them and who they think is a great creative leader with qualities they relate to. In the larger group, they feedback how hard it is to find WOC in platforms and spaces and often have to turn to Instagram to find their role models. There is already very little data on women and on top of that a severe underrepresentation of data on WOC. Jannett spoke about how there is a space to be stepped into here and it’s all about how the next generation of female creatives meaning the students, have to put themselves forward for these roles. She asked them to think about what these industries would look like under their leadership.

We then briefly spoke about the ground-breaking Michaela Coel getting snubbed off the golden globe, and a handful of students got involved sharing their opinion on the topic. We explored authenticity as a leadership quality, and how in the workplace BAME employees often have to leave their culture at the door. Students were asked to think about what it’s like having to work in an environment where your background is not welcome. Looking at the leadership style of creative female leaders such as Liv Little, Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay, we asked ourselves one question: how can you be strategic about being yourself and showing authenticity through your creative work? People who work as creatives often don’t get the management and leadership skills they need to be able to engage with people. This programme has been designed to give the students the tools they need to get where they want to be. Learning through applying leadership and management skills they gain, through the workshop to the creative challenge.

Screenshot of a presentation slide

Following on, in a quick activity students were asked to add words that best described how they’re feeling so far. There was a lot of positive energy in the word cloud. Feelings of relief and excitement about being able to do something practical and collaborative. Students hope to gain confidence from the programme and learn new skills such as presenting and networking, that they can continue using after graduating. Participants were excited to meet new people through this cross-college collaboration, something many agreed has been hard to do through the virtual learning university experience. There was some concern about what it’s going to be like, trying to connect with people without being able to meet physically meet. Here Jannett spoke about how important it is to grab every opportunity using the resources available to us, in this case, online tools such as Whatsapp chats or video calling to keep communication flowing. Think about the form of leadership in the new world that we are in now.

Screenshot of a wordcloud

Back into breakout rooms once again we discussed potential ground rules students can set once they settle into their groups for the live brief. Some things to consider when thinking of ground rules are; what behaviours are acceptable, what are everyone’s expectations and what needs to be done in order to achieve the best outcome.

Some of the points mentioned include:

  • Compromise, respect and listen to each other’s ideas and opinions
  • Be understanding and act as a support group for each other
  • Be proactive in letting your team members know if situations arise and ask for help
  • Put in what you want to get back out of it

Setting shared values ahead of time ensures everyone is on the same page and held accountable. Your leadership is seen through how you communicate what you need and how you deal with changes.

Other practicalities to take into consideration when working collaboratively:

  • Keeping good time management, a good way to implement that is through setting deadlines
  • Taking the time to learn about each person's skillset and allocate roles based on that
  • Keep regular contact through WhatsApp group chats ensures smooth communication

Overall, everyone is excited to see how the students adapt and find innovative ways to interact and collaborate remotely.

Session 2

12th February 2021

In today’s session we got to meet our collaborators, Treasure Tress who are a the client of The Elephant Room (TER) and have been onboarded to work alongside this project. Treasure Tress (TT) introduced the live brief to the students that they will be working on. First, we learned a bit about the company we will be working with, its origins and success stories from the founders.

Screenshot of a video call lobby

The Elephant Room is a creative agency that is passionate about diversity and inclusion. Shannie is the co-founder and head of talent at The Elephant Room. Her focus is on inclusion, representation, and supporting young people - she created the guestlist for opportunities to under-represented creatives. She also supports creative storytellers, a chance to equip and inspire young creatives. Treasure Tress is a client of The Elephant Room.

The founder of Treasure Tress, Jamelia created the company in 2015 out of frustration of how difficult and pricey it was trying to get good quality hair products. She noticed a gap in the market where hair brands were struggling to market themselves and thus TT became the connection in the middle by helping brands speak in a language their consumers understand. TT provides product discovery boxes for girls with natural texture hair. Jamelia built a community and created accessibility she had wished existed for her.

The community and warehouse manager at Treasure Tress, Shimei spoke about some of the other programmes TT runs. The Teen Experience workshops were created out of a need when TT realised that there weren’t a lot of spaces designed for the personal development of teen girls. A space for young women to bond, have shared experiences and learn new things. They would host monthly workshops in nail shops, a hub for youth culture and talk about everything makeup to finance and self-defence. Influencers and experts would come and give talks about topics such as how to network and dating. Along with activities like dance classes, how to style hair, bowling, pop-up shops, get nails done and martial arts etc. Unfortunately, the events came to a halt due to the pandemic but now TT is looking at bringing them back to life virtually.

Over the next few weeks, students will be split into three groups and the brief is to bring The Teen Experience back to life with one 3-hour virtual event catering towards black and mixed-race girls between the ages of 12 to 19. Students should develop a concept and structure for the workshop, it should be educational yet informal. TT wants girls to be inspired and motivated. They suggested for research students approach their core demo on what topics they find are relevant. The topics addressed in the workshop could be anything from history, mental health, fitness or how to manage your finances etc. The students will be given no budget as this will replicate a real entrepreneur experience as more often you do start with no money, just your creative abilities to get you off the ground. This means they have to use their networking skills in finding an appropriate host(s) that will lead the workshop for free.

Other tasks include setting up an event bright page, creating a newsletter and promotion flyers, working on their social media and promoting on their website. Jamelia explained that they want to revamp their Instagram page for The Teen Experience. The students should think about who will be engaging with this content and how will they get the message across to reach these girls. It needs to appeal to the target audience, it needs to be attractive, cool, relatable and has a lifestyle vibe. They should feel informed, educated and inspired; she’s done it so I can do it. TT mentioned they have an abundance of hair and beauty products at their disposal and can curate care packages or personalised goodie bags to send things to people in the post as this is something that is usually included in the tickets. It’s up to the student how they want to incorporate this element.

Some things to think about ideas of how the interaction will work virtually and what activities can you do at home? How can you convert physical energy online? A bonus to having a virtual event means the host can be an influencer from anywhere in the world. As a final outcome, one pitch will be chosen and get the opportunity to work with TT to bring their plans to life. Shannie reminded students to not feel overwhelmed, but excited.

Screenshot of a video call lobby and word cloud

After the briefing, Jannett checked in with the students’ progress with some more lessons on leadership. She spoke about how the theory/ approach to leadership has changed over time. The Leadership Labyrinth is a 2007 study that looked at the lack of women in leadership positions. The labyrinth was determined to be a better metaphor than the glass ceiling to describe the difficulties women face in their journeys. One of the students Helmi brought up a book called, “Think like a white man” which talks about the complexities of how WOC are consistently set back when trying to reach the top.

Screenshot of a presentation slide showing a maze

Continuously, Jannett spoke about the distinction between management and leadership. Quality of management is being organised and maintaining order whereas leadership is more focused on being creative, thinking of ideas and making change. She asked why is it important to know that there is a distinction between creative female leaders. In break out rooms we discussed how everyone feels about leadership and whether they find they gravitate towards leadership positions. Most students surmised that while management is a huge part of the leadership role, it requires more. For example, being friendly, accessible, open to ideas and can cater towards all types of personalities. You have to be strategic and think about things such as how you can give constructive feedback in a way that doesn’t disrupt the group dynamic. A good starting point is reflecting on the creative role models that inspire us, look at the qualities you have similar to them and others you can build on.

Session 3

19th February 2021

We started our third week with a storytelling workshop with guest facilitator Chinyere Nwaubani. Chinyere began by asking everyone to say their name and its meaning. If you didn’t know the meaning or have meant you could make it up to whatever you want it to stand for. We all went around and found out interesting things about each other through simple questions like, do you love your name? It seemed most of us have had this love/ hate relationship with our ethnic names. When we were young, we hated them for being unique and making us stand out often giving ourselves westernised nicknames but with age, we have grown to love them for the same reasons. We have grown into our names. Another student spoke of the colonial connotations related to her family name whereas her first name meant free. Chinyere talked about here how she has the power to claim whatever she wants to make out of her name.

Next Chinyere introduced us to the rhythm game, we found beat to our names and took turns shouting them out. Soon we all let loose and joined in shouting out names, clapping our hands and banging our feet to a communal beat. It was beautiful and empowering.

Reflecting on the rhythmic release we just took part in, students spoke about how important saying and own your name is. One student, Pollobi said, “Every time I hear my name, It's saying that I'm here, I'm present in this time and space and loved”. Step into your power starting with your name, it has a rich history behind it and it’s a part of your capital as you become leaders in this world. The way you present yourself determines the level of respect you get from the people you are leading. Done right, it shows depth in character, carries a lot of weight and asserts confidence in others in you. Student Rhiann spoke of authenticity, “EMPOWERED ME, yes this is me, this is who I am, let everyone know who I am”. Make sure people come to your level and that you are confident because if your level is shy or timid, that will be the response you get. Feel empowered and remember that purposeful mispronunciation and lack of effort towards your name are micro-aggressions. Like Pollobi said, “We often facilitate (pronouncing names differently) to make our assimilation into 'white' spaces less of a struggle, and I fall victim into 'othering' myself so others don't have to.” Own your name and assert dominance on getting your name pronounced right.

Overall, students felt like they got to know everyone on a deeper level and enjoyed hearing the meanings, stories and origins of everyone’s names.

Screenshot of a video call lobby

After the storytelling workshop, the floor was handed over to Jannett. Students were then put into pairs and asked to take turns sharing their future leadership visions. Whilst one was sharing, the other would throw random words out that the one sharing their vision would have to incorporate into their story whilst continuing to share their vision. Some students found it hard to listen and speak at the same time. At first, the interruptions were disruptive, distractions that made you work harder on communication and body language. Others found the random words useful in a unique way. For example, one student the words inspired a ‘life plan’ as they originally didn't have a vision just yet. The exercise was a reminder that there are obstacles in life and plans don’t always go over smoothly. But a strong leader is someone who takes on those hurdles and still stays on track.

Screenshot of a video call lobby

To round the session, we briefly discussed how the students were getting along at the start of their brief. Some worries from the students included a fear of not being able to help in certain areas because they didn’t have the technical skills such as creating a social media campaign. We talked about how that was okay because your strengths may lie elsewhere and someone else in your group may have the skills where you are lacking. We can support each other. Students also talked a bit about the range of topics they can choose for their workshops that appeal to a female 12-19-year-old demographic such as education, history to sex education. With WhatsApp group chats buzzing with ideas over the week and group names have been chosen. All three groups went with strong, empowering names; Women with Goals (WWG), Change the Game (CTG) and Women in Progress (WIP). Everyone is excited to see what the groups will produce over the next few weeks.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out part 2 and part 3.

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