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How Have UK Agencies Marked Black History Month Internally?

27/10/2023
Publication
London, UK
432
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We spoke to a number of agencies to hear about how they’ve marked 2023’s ‘Saluting our Sisters’ theme through education, spotlighting and various other initiatives
Above: Illustration by Paris Anthony-Walker for ‘Union Black: Sounds of a Nation’


October is Black History Month in the UK – an occasion to recognise and celebrate the invaluable contributions of Black people to British society. The theme for Black History Month 2023 is ‘Saluting our Sisters’. It highlights the crucial role Black women have played in shaping history, inspiring change and building communities. 

We asked UK agencies what they’ve done to mark the month within their organisations – beyond work for their clients. Here’s what they told us (in alphabetical order).


AnalogFolk


AnalogFolk Group has brought the celebration and recognition of this momentous month to their agency using all the senses - sight, taste, and sound. 

Recognising Black-led businesses, events and exhibitions happening around the capital, the agency encouraged folks to use their meeting-free or own time to explore and experience. We have filled the office with music created by Black female artists, and our normal agency showreel has been replaced with the stories of incredible Black females who have shaped history and inspired change. 

Our monthly agency lunch celebrated culture by welcoming a local business and restaurant, Divine Caribbean Cuisine. Our DE&I committee, known as the 'North Star', also works continuously to ensure our agency is a workplace of diverse voices and an inclusive environment. They challenge processes, policies and working methods and champion the mandatory Allyship training programme for all Folk.


Iris


According to the IPA, research shows us that 68% of Black women have experienced racial bias at work, with that figure rising to 84% for those in senior positions. 
  
It’s no secret that Black women are underrepresented in our industry, and oftentimes when a Black woman walks into an agency, this fact becomes even more clear. 
  
In line with this year’s theme for Black History Month UK, ‘Saluting our Sisters’, we’ve put together a project and harnessed our creative efforts to place Black women on a well-deserved pedestal. 
  
What’s our plan? 
  
We’ve established three main initiatives for this month: 

1. Showcase Fresh talent. 
 
We reached out to a number of creative Black women, spanning across multiple fields such as fashion, illustration and many more; and with their permission, we designed business cards with images of their work on one side and their contact details on the other. 
 
We placed these cards in various hot spots around the agency and given the flow of employees and clients in and out of the office each day, we’re bringing visibility to some undeniable talent. 

2. Inspire 
 
We’ve chosen to display a selection of prestigious UK Black women on our agency’s TV screens throughout the month, for example Amina Folarin (CEO of Oliver Agency), Nicola Adams (first Black, Queer woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing) and many more. Our senior designer and illustrator, Deanna Bains, and design intern, Joe Fane, created some beautiful imagery of these women, alongside some copy which highlights their achievements. 
  
Black History Month is commonly associated with figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman just to name a few. While these individuals are an important part of Black history, and always will be, Black history is ever-growing so we’re using this opportunity to showcase some modern-day figures who have contributed so much to society. 

3. Drive Cultural Intelligence 
 
Finally, it wouldn’t be on theme for Iris if we weren’t starting right here at home, with the Black sisters we work alongside every single day.  
 
Our Ethnic Minority & Representation workstream has launched a monthly series called ‘Cultural Intelligence’ which is centred around highlighting the diversity of lived experiences in the agency by giving people a platform to be heard and seen.  
 
For October, we have been collaborating with the Black women of Iris and providing a space for them to talk about what culture means to them as Black women.  
 
So…what else? 
  
Finally, to conclude our Black History Month project, we're adding a twist to our traditional annual pub quiz by centring it around Black culture and its nuances. It’s a great activity that involves the whole agency and our final way of paying homage to the culture. 
 
 

M&C Saatchi 

Tanya Nyamadzawo and Simi Nijher, Heritage Network

The Heritage Network provides visibility and support for the issues people of colour face in the world and the workplace. It helps us all see the world from different perspectives.

In honour of Black History Month 2023, our M&C Saatchi Heritage Network has chosen the theme ‘Black Joy’, to frame our activities across October. 

Visually we are marking this theme across the office with a ‘70s-inspired Black Joy vinyl design on our HQ office doors alongside a display of film images by photographer Abdi Alasow, which showcase the Black British community in joyful candid imagery. We will be platforming Black British businesses by hosting a mini business fair in our lobby area over lunchtime which will be accompanied by a complimentary lunch for employees, provided by a Black catering vendor. Later in the month we had a panel event on The Rise of Black British Cult Brands and marketing lessons we can learn from them and finally, we completed our celebrations by hosting a Black British Quiz. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mc-saatchi-heritage-black-british-pub-quiz-black-history-month-tickets-740142765937?aff=erelexpmlt Open to internal and external attendees, quiz goers enjoyed rounds of Black British trivia, karaoke, themed drinks, and pop-up stalls including tooth gems and a Polaroid wall.

Amidst important DE&I work, we understand how important it is to spotlight the positivity of the Black identity which is why we have chosen to focus on Black Joy this year.


Momentum


To celebrate Black History Month, Momentum's UK team has collaborated with other IPG agencies to honour the remarkable accomplishments of Black women. This year's theme, 'Saluting Our Sisters', invites employees to a mentoring event filled with networking and self-development opportunities. The event is an opportunity for Black female talent across IPG agencies to connect, and gain valuable advice on transitioning to a new role, boosting confidence, navigating team dynamics, or learning from similar experiences to enhance their own journey, it offers something engaging for everyone who attends.
 

The Social Element


At The Social Element, we view diversity as an integral part of our DNA, not just for a month but as an enduring principle. It's our belief that an inclusive environment not only enriches our agency but also fuels innovation and creativity and we are committed to continuously striving for a more inclusive future.

Whilst Black History Month serves as a powerful reminder, our dedication to fostering an inclusive workplace is a year-round endeavour. Our internal initiatives are ongoing and a reflection of our core values. Specifically, we champion an internal ‘Elemental Resource Group’ for people of colour who foster a culture of inclusion, promote cultural awareness, advance diversity, and provide opportunities for allyship. 

During October the UK ERG team has been taking the opportunity to put a spotlight on achievements of people of colour and share information about Black History Month. 


Truant


For Black History Month, we wanted to create an educational programme that would encourage our team to have meaningful conversations and inspire independent activity. Therefore, we created a reading list, a watch list and an experiences list, which outlined a range of activities anyone can do to learn about Black culture. We created each list with a range of suggestions, and also an option to add more.

We also introduced a point system (as a bit of fun), with seven points for each book and three points for each movie or documentary and experience. The goal is to get at least 10 points but as we wanted this to be a self-education exercise there are no consequences if you don’t quite make it.

Once the month is up, we’ll all come together and share the lessons and understandings we took from our month of self education, in an effort to develop each other's learning. Our company also offered to compensate us for any costs that went into this initiative throughout the month, providing an even easier avenue to learn about Black History.


VCCP


Here at VCCP, we celebrate Black History Month extremely proudly, using it as a lens to further highlight the brilliant work our Black employees do. Last year, our DE&I Collective collaborated with one of our employee resource groups, known as The Black Employee Network. We celebrated Black culture through food, fashion, film and music however this year our focus has shifted to creative, cuisine, culture and celebration. We feel these pillars will continue to encapsulate everything in an informative, individual and exciting way but most importantly positively spotlight the most important thing that drives any environment… it’s people.


We Are Social


To mark the theme 'Saluting our Sisters', we hosted a special episode of Black Perspectives, our Instagram Live series that spotlights Black creators, with speakers Denai Moore, Dinah Williams and Tobi Oredein. https://www.instagram.com/tv/Cw2cITJopvz/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA%3D%3D This was screened in the office to our London team alongside catering from a Black-owned business.

Our Employee Resource Group has organised the following initiatives to mark the occasion: outreach to the agency asking for contributions of the Black women they find most inspiring to be featured on the We Are Social Instagram page and on posters around the agency – all designs created by our Black designer, Michael Ubani.

The group organised a session with the company Black History Walks ahead of time, which took a group of our employees on a walk around St Paul’s, learning about the Black history of the area.

Finally, Sabrina John-Baptiste, our associate director and owner of rum and cocktail-making business Padnas, hosted a cocktail class at our office, which included a brief history of St. Lucian rum.


Wunderman Thompson

Eghosa Obakpolor, co-lead of Noir, Wunderman Thompson's Employee Resource Group for Black talent

During Black History Month, Noir, our Employee Resource Group dedicated to empowering Black talent has been opening Wunderman Thompson’s doors to young, gifted and Black talent from the local area. Noir has been running an event specifically for Black teenagers, aged 16-18, giving them a unique opportunity to explore the world of creative, data and tech agencies, while giving them the chance to bring their unique perspectives to the table. Post-event, we’ll carry on the conversation, offering mentoring opportunities and inviting them to apply for our award-winning Catalyst programme once applications are live.

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