Education and empathy are essential on the journey to ensure equity for all

 By India Fizer

Black culture influences popular culture and enriches the lives of us all. In conversation about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Julie Alexandra, Black Affinity Group Lead and Office Manager at Critical Mass, walks us through the steps CM takes to create lasting change: listening to and learning from BIPOC employees, fostering an environment of understanding, and celebrating the Black community.

Please talk about your role and your approach to improving diversity and inclusion internally. Do you think that the industry as a whole has genuinely created pathways for equal opportunities, starting with graduate hires through to senior roles?

Through my role as the Black Affinity Group Lead at Critical Mass, I strive to celebrate the Black community and educate folks about our history and massive influence on arts and culture worldwide.

The past will always inform the future, so history is important for educating people about the Black experience outside of the stereotypical representations of Blackness they may see portrayed in mainstream media.

Education creates awareness and deepens understanding and empathy, and it creates the context for celebrating Blackness.

Celebrating Black art, Black innovators, Black healers, Black teachers, and Black entrepreneurs is our focus for programming throughout the year.

Our affinity group is a space where the Black folks at CM can see themselves reflected in the community we’re creating. It reaffirms that we are more than the violence of our past.

We were never slaves; we were “enslaved” — it was violently forced upon us — and even still, look at the art, music, innovations, and culture that we bring to this world, regardless of the atrocities we have faced and continue to face.

Black culture not only enriches our lives as Black people, but enriches the lives of all of us, whether we realize it or not. I strive to bring more light to all of these contributions (both past and present) and to create space for us at Critical Mass to honor the incredibly talented Black folks that are shifting culture right before our eyes.

There has been acknowledgement in our industry, and some ripples of change have followed, creating pathways for equal opportunity, but there is a long way to go.

That’s why Diversity and Inclusion work is so important and must be taken very seriously by organizations.

Programming and education around issues such as unconscious bias and systemic racism can feel uncomfortable for those who have the privilege of not having to experience it, but it is truly essential on the journey to ensure equity for all.

How are you advising your clients to connect their brands with BIPOC communities?

The conversations start with our internal teams. It’s important that our teams are equipped with the knowledge and understanding to be able to guide the client in the right direction.

We’ve put best practices in place that allow for us to check our work against DE&I metrics and make sure it’s up to our standards of inclusive design and tone.

One recent example we’re proud of is our work with QuickBooks, highlighting BIPOC small business owners and the incredible work they’re doing to create a thriving community in their neighborhoods.

What are some steps companies can take to avoid appearing as though they are pandering rather than authentically improving their inclusivity?

To avoid pandering, it’s important for organizations to listen and learn from the diverse group of people that are working for them — to give space to those who are often not given space in our society to speak out, be heard, and be taken seriously about the systemic issues that affect their mental health and overall well-being.

It’s very easy to “talk,” but our objective is to “walk the talk” and act in a way that honors true equity — from the top down. Finding out how your employees feel is extremely important, and their thoughts will give the most truthful perspective about how the organization’s Diversity & Inclusion efforts are actually impacting people.

We should never assume that the work is done and that we’ve done enough. There is always more to learn/unlearn, unpack, and investigate.

Diversity and inclusion work is ongoing and should be malleable to meet the changing needs of communities of people within an organization. Discomfort and curiosity are important pillars of this work and allow for change to truly continue to blossom.

What efforts has your agency offered to support the BIPOC community in the ad industry?

Critical Mass has created space for BIPOC folks to feel a sense of community within our agency through our D&I programming throughout the year, as well as through investment in affinity groups.

These affinity groups are reflective of the diversity of cultures and identities that make our agency the dynamic and creative space that it is.

Our D&I Board brings in speakers, content, and resources that aid in building solidarity and community for CMers with shared cultural backgrounds and identities.

Some of these spaces and programs are things we’ve created, but we also use external partnerships as well. Therify is a great example.

Therify was founded on the premise that for too many people — e.g., people who identify as BIPOC, people with disabilities, and people who identify as LGBTQIA, among many others — finding inclusive, mental health services and therapists with whom they can feel both comfortable and vulnerable is all too difficult.

Therify represents one of our most popular and important partner-provided benefits, enabling all CM employees to access personalized, inclusive mental health resources.

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The APPIES is an annual event that presents a rare opportunity for creative, media, digital and marketing agencies or brands to present their best campaigns to the industry.

This is the only event where Live Presentations meets Live Judging.

Similar to TED Talks, The APPIES is the chance for great presenters with outstanding work to show it off to some of the industry’s most important industry leaders.

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11th – 12th July 2024 (Malaysia)


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