Brands need to stop putting people into vague boxes and actually start understanding their markets with a more intersectional approach, suggests Prettybird’s UK head of new business Mia Powell
For some, the term intersectionality doesn’t mean anything right now, but for others it’s the difference between feeling heard and seen in the context of their race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, disability and religious beliefs.
I have strong feelings about the subject, being a mixed raced woman who identifies as queer and comes from a working-class background… Talk about being at the epicentre of a Venn diagram! But seriously, my experience coming into this industry versus that of a white female colleague is different, and it needs to be acknowledged. With the ongoing discussion around representation in advertising I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about my experiences and maybe shed some light on how these societal identifiers play an important role in the diversity and inclusion ecosystem.
The current biases against both black people and women and the surge of media exposure of late has been overwhelming; For those who sit in both camps, like myself, I have had to come to terms with the narratives that have fallen out from the harsh brutality of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Sarah Everard and try and make sense of what this means for my profile / identity. Will I be discriminated against because I’m brown? What does my gender say about my level of safety? What impact does this have on my day to day life and in turn what is the media doing to ensure I feel protected? Will those stories make a difference?
Identity is an absolute minefield. It took a while for me to overcome that I was the only brown girl in the room which is why I started mentoring students from underrepresented backgrounds through Brixton Finishing School, Iconic Steps and at the East London Arts and Music school. I started doing this three years ago to help show kids trying to get into adland that there are people that look like them and talk like them. Not having a role model when I first came into the industry was hard, I didn’t know what success could look like for a person like me. I was called a “square peg in a round hole” and for a young spritely person at the beginning of their career, that really affected my (usually unwavering) confidence! I had to navigate my way through until I found my tribe of outcasts (PRETTYBIRD) and knew the importance of having a network of support. It has become my mission to make sure there is visibility of the success of a person from an underrepresented group or an intersection of groups, as quite frequently we’re only telling one side of a narrative and therefore missing out a whole bracket of people who could bring so much texture to this industry.
When we say things like “BAME”, when we say things like “we need a black director” we are devaluing the identities of all of those people from within those groups, because the un-specificity shows there is no understanding or insight into what or who these people are. Jimmy who’s Nigerian, gay and lives in Coventry is very different to Alysha who’s mum’s from St Lucia and lives in London. If and when we can start to understand that our experiences are not the same and how we speak to certain demographics on a micro scale can leave longer standing impressions and as a result, creativity will really evolve to new planes.
Imagine when we get to a level of granular marketing where you’re targeting South East Asian mums living in Brentford and what impact that will have for consumer affinity!
Being seen and being heard is all we want and so if we can stop being put into vague boxes and actually start understanding our markets with a more intersectional approach, the broad tick box culture which advertising has slipped into (as a result of fear of underrepresentation) will become redundant.
I know there’s a long way to go, I’m in my late 20s and it’s taken me my whole life to figure out who the hell I am, how to identify, what to call myself or people in my community; half caste (truly the most horrific), BAME never sat right and POC also triggers me slightly because of the word “colour”. My skin is not chartreuse, I am not a purple unicorn with sequins on my lashes, you can call me brown, you can call me black, but please don’t call me an acronym. Whilst we will make mistakes on the way, I do truly believe there’s an exciting new way of approaching intersectionality on the horizon.