Working in a majority white organisation robbed me of my mental strength – I am still recovering

Agencies and businesses have to protect their black employees' mental health.

Imagine working at a place where none of your personal experiences resonate with your colleagues, says Maria Adediran
Imagine working at a place where none of your personal experiences resonate with your colleagues, says Maria Adediran

Bubbly. Perfectionist. Energetic. Dramatic. Driven. Confident. These are some of the adjectives my colleagues at my non-white agency have used to describe my personality. Sadly, if you were to ask my colleagues at my former place of employment, they'd say the opposite - “quiet” and “reserved”.

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As a black woman, my experience is that working in a majority white organisation can be mentally draining. Can you imagine working at a place where none of your personal experiences resonate with your colleagues? Or your CEO [who you've written pretty amazing op-eds for] refers to you as "hi there" but somehow manages to remember everyone in the press office's name, even those who started after you? Or where some of your colleagues change their tone of voice to sound "ghetto" when they’re speaking with you? Or a place where your colleagues consistently butcher your African surname after years of working together? Because I can. After all, the above is just a snippet of my first-hand experience.

I remember discussing my career with my former line manager; we came up with a plan on how I could improve my PR skills and climb the ladder. She, my only ally with influence, went on maternity leave and I ended up with another manager who decided that as a press officer, I was better suited cleaning the company’s CRM database. To add insult to injury, I was told it was all a big part of my career progression; it honestly felt more like a demotion. Let’s just say I left that place with zero confidence, convinced that I wasn’t cut out to survive in this game called PR. In fact, I considered going back to my minimum-wage job, at least I was good at that.

Maybe I should have spoken out and challenged them to treat me with fairness, but then again, why should I have to be in such a position? As a black woman, I spent a lot of time walking on eggshells and constantly analysing my actions and speech in a bid to avoid being labelled as the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype - that’s why I kept quiet. My experience robbed me of my mental strength; I questioned every email, op-ed, press release.

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It has taken four years to undo the damage of being overlooked and forgotten - and to be frank I am still recovering, thanks to the positive support and recognition from the black and mixed PRs I’ve been privileged to meet. I'm fortunate to be in an environment where the colour of my skin is not a career liability - but for some others, being black has become, and I hate to say this, is a blockage. It saddens me that my black counterparts are still struggling and I am left feeling what I can only describe as survivor's guilt.

For sanity’s sake, agencies and businesses have to protect their black employees' mental health. It goes beyond declaring racial solidarity on social media; in order to really eradicate the implicit bias that exists in the workplace, these conversations have to be activated.

Maria Adediran is a senior account manager at Wimbart

PRWeek UK is committed to having a more diverse selection of commentators in our articles, and is compiling a list of BME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) PR professionals who are willing to be quoted. To be added to the list, please email john.harrington@haymarket.com and include your specialist areas of expertise, and/or preferred subjects for commentary.

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