Leaders of the Pack: A Year at We Are Stripes.
By Kelechi Iwumene
One of the key qualities you can find in a good leader is an ability to empower others. When we look back at the year, we see how the U.K. based initiative, We Are Stripes (WAS), have done exactly this in their continued bid to create greater Black, Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation, across all levels, within the creative industry.
The three founders – Nene Parsotam, Haydn Corrodus, and Akama Davies – all work to facilitate a simple but powerful mission: change from the top, build from the bottom, and provide support along the way. At some points – in their case many – the top and bottom meet to inspire and provide incredible content like when We Are Stripes collaborated with AccessVFX for their first industry connect event. Hosted by The Mill, the event consisted of speed networking discussing film and visual effects with BAME senior talent. This was smoothly followed by Making London 2018 Conference for Creatives with Working Not Working, The Elephant Room, and Jody & Rima. Over 200 creatives attended with panels from Google, GUAP magazine and speakers from Instagram, ASOS, Dazed and many more.
In only two years, We Are Stripes have managed to carve out a reputation of empowerment through collaboration. They do not only provide the bridge between creative black talent and the recruiters, but also encourage the two parties to meet and connect in practical industry focused spaces. You can’t help but stop and ponder on the kind of creative pulling power Nene, Akama and Haydn possess when you hear representatives of these big media organisations giving advice to the emerging creative. And yet the success is not merely in who they know but how they continue to build with who they know. We Are Stripes later joined forces with AccessFX again for 5 hands on 90 minute workshops on animation, film, effects and production – in partnership with ThisAbilityLtd.
Another factor that is evident in a leader is that people don’t follow you unless you have something to offer. On the Soundcloud podcast For The Creators, we got to listen to Nene, Haydn and Akama’s personal experiences of discrimination in the workplace. Listeners are empowered by the knowledge they share about how they successfully navigated discrimination early on in their careers.
People will always gravitate to what they identify with. What’s important about culture is where agencies actually make an effort to integrate people – to start talking about things we have in common. The mentoring at We Are Stripes helps to answer the question of ‘how do I move through the agency world when I’m the ethnic minority?’
There are times when I’ve gone into an agency and they have assumed that I was something I’m not. But I had to balance it out and see whether some of it was down to the way I thought of myself…I ended up working 3 years at an agency that initially turned me down because they thought I wasn’t good enough. It’s an underestimation they had of me that I have proven wrong time and time again.
In my first job coming out of university, another graduate congratulated me for being there saying not many black people thrive in that environment. I reacted quite badly and got called for being aggressive…There is a lot of ignorance because people have assumptions and don’t ask any questions.
Akama has allowed his experience of discrimination to shape the strategies he shares with other media companies to cultivate a better understanding of minority groups in the workplace. This year, his passion for inclusion has led him to present diversity consultations with Ofgem and HM Government including senior board members, directors and the CEO. Akama places an emphasis on the profitability of inclusion and diversity in the workplace. He spoke to journalist and author Poorna Bell about the BAME Paygap article featured on iNews. He believes that ‘if you are an organisation that fosters diversity and equality amongst your employees, being transparent will help you attract the widest spectrum of top talent.’
Both Haydn and Nene agree with Akama, and take action to ensure the talent pool is just as engaged and prepared for work as the recruiters are prepared to hire freelancers. Haydn partook in a panel discussing D&I with the students from London College of Communication (LCC). Nene completed the first cohort of CMN mentorship training program for 2018. All three co-founders work hard to close the gap on the diversity imbalance within the creative industry. But what better way to champion diversity than to become a door for opportunity yourself. We Are Stripes running a Rebrand Competition to find a talented graphic/ hybrid to work on the brand is arguably the best highlight of the year. The work produced simultaneously develops both the mentee and the mentor before new and promising employers.
Overall, We Are Stripes have had an astonishing year. Watching Nene and Akama network with other black professionals at the portrait viewing of Black is the new Black was inspiring. It is their collective passions that continue to drive them higher and attract many followers who wish to do the same. These are major senior influencers among the Black British creative community. But don’t just take my word for it. Look further at the accolades!
- Akama and Haydn are named one of the Diversity in Marketing and Advertising (DIMA) 50 Male Advocates for Equality in Marketing and Media.
- Nene speaks alongside Diversity Matters founder Pip CEO and founder of The Dots.
- Akama wins Tech Leaders, Future Leader of the Year Award.
I look forward to what they will accomplish next year. I look forward to witnessing them prove to industries how we are different but equal; we are inclusive but focused; we are hard-working but smart; We Are Stripes. However, in everything that they have achieved over this past year, it is not what they do or say that has the truest impact; it is how their conduct makes BAME followers feel creative conquerors.