How race and gender can influence PR careers, workplace behaviour and choices.

Apr 19, 2020 · 5 min read
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

“You have to be…twice as good as them to get half of what they have.”

— (Scandal, Season 3, Episode 1)

Although media representation of black women are mostly one-dimensional (Lambert, 2017), this isolated exchange echoes a reality shared by black women. This moment between Olivia Pope and her father in Scandal depicts the experiences and pressure placed upon black women through their upbringing to ‘work harder’ in order to perform perceptively better. The effects of such factors contribute to creating conditions of visibility that often drive black women to manage their identities in the workplace and professional environments by ‘code-switching’.

BWPR interviewed women about the impact that their race and / or gender has had on their professional choices. Here’s what they said:

“In South Africa for example, race is big factor in who you do business with, how you land certain accounts. To make perhaps a bit of context, a black woman in South Africa in the pecking order comes last. There’s generally a white man at the top, a white woman, a black man and then a black woman. So certain circles are hard to break in because it’s male dominated and because of networks. I think a lot of decisions I take come from the fact that I understand that as a black woman there are a lot of barriers to entry. So even when I hire people into my business, my priority is hiring black women first because I know how hard it is to get in.” — Nelisa Ngqulana, PR Trends ZA

“I probably may not necessarily have had some of the experiences that I had in my corporate environment if I had been a white woman but I use that as motivation. Growing up, my parents have always instilled in me, ‘you’re black, you’re black and you’re a woman, you’ve got to work three as hard’ so that’s always kind of inspired me to just really go after what I want and create a life on my own terms so that nobody has to choose me. Nobody has to pick me over somebody else. I’ve never had that feeling of, oh my gosh, I didn’t get that job because I’m creating my own name” — Marielle Legair, Women Who Influence

“I do not think our gender had any influence on our entrepreneurial decision. Our race however did influence our decision to specialise in reaching the African and Caribbean communities. We also had very strong connections within the African and Caribbean media so, it was influential in as much as we knew this would enable us to start off running, coupled that with our years in the media, we had the added advantage of having mainstream connections and also experience and knowledge in what the journalists were looking for, from PR agencies. My years as a broadcast journalist working within the community for the BBC also showed me that many BAME groups, charities and SMEs were not making the most of how exposure in the media can raise their profile and help them reach their target. I wanted to be able to teach them how to access the media and given them a voice through the media. I also wanted to assist with promoting diversity in the media.” — Evadney Campbell, MBE, Shiloh PR

“I’m sure being the daughter of African parents, your parents told you ‘have to be 101 percent more than your white counterparts at school’, right? To pass exams, do well. Education is everything to an African parent. So because that is ingrained in us, in the workplace, you’re also working at more than 100 percent because you’re always looking to prove yourself. You’re always looking to make sure that they don’t shrug their shoulders and say, ‘oh, what to have a black person not delivering?!’ But what I’ve learned is there’s me working at 101 and whatever percent, but actually quite a lot of your white colleagues don’t work at that level, but they still get the praise. They’re still getting paid probably more than you. So it’s like some of that is to do with our own upbringing because it’s ingrained in us to work at that level. ‘Never say no…be a ‘yes person’ always deliver’ We’ll just squeeze everything in to make sure that we get it done because we don’t want to look bad. So that’s just something I wanted to share, but just about our own culture of how that sometimes can impact on how we work in the workplace. — Nana Anto-Awuakye

“If I think about it carefully, it makes me more focused in terms of doing my best in terms of putting in 110 percent. I think that comes from being a child to be honest. I’m sure most black children have been told by their parents that as a black child you’ve got to put in 110 percent if you want to be acknowledged in the same way as your white counterparts. So that means that when if I’m going to a meeting, I have to make sure that I get there early rather than on time. If I’m doing a presentation, I know I need to know it from upside down, have all my questions in advance. So it’s probably influenced my level of professionalism. I wouldn’t say that I change who I am. I know some people may say they feel like they’ve had to almost water down who they are, their personality. They don’t necessarily want to be the stereotype which I totally get. I bring the real me to my workplace. I guess I’ve never had reason to think that I need to water myself down or tone down the the level of who I am. I will come and talk about whatever’s happening in my lifestyle. I proudly rock my natural hair when I’m at work, which I know some people might not feel comfortable doing in a professional environment, but I am who I am. I try to be the best version of me.” — Claire Quansah