Trigger Warning: This story may contain derogatory language and/or discriminatory behavior
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Elephant In The Room

Analysis by
Marc Wilson

Putting on a ‘Happy Face’ at work not only perpetuates a stereotype but harms both the BIPOC worker and the agency in the process.

[.redacted][agency][.redacted] was my first career job out of college. I learned a lot about the field of advertising and gained long time friends while there, but I also faced racism from some co-workers. For the first year and a half, I was the only black person on the entire team. I was the elephant in the room no one wanted to talk about. 

My first time meeting the whole team, including the Chicago office, a co-worker brought up a joke that was made behind closed doors about the traditional African clothing I would wear in the office. When I asked what the joke was, everyone laughed and stayed shush shush about it. Even though the company motto is "Bring your 'whole self' to work," I did just that and was the butt of someone's joke. These individuals often did not include me in work conversations, which made me feel unseen and unheard. I wasn't invited to after-work activities, which helped me quickly realize not everyone at work is your friend.

[.row] [.column] Putting on a ‘Happy Face’ at work not only perpetuates a stereotype but harms both the BIPOC worker and the agency in the process.[.column][.row]

During one-on-one meetings with my then boss, she would ask me why I didn't smile. She felt since I wasn't walking around with a smile on my face that I did not like my job or want to be there.

The pervasive stereotype that Black and Brown Americans have an aggressive or volatile default setting extends well into the professional and agency world.  This perception is further validated when/if POCs don’t fall seamlessly into the existing, White dominated culture of the ad industry.

The underlying issue is an arm’s length awareness of diverse populations that may not express, emote, or share in the same way as the White majority. Broader exposure to one another, through trainings, social events, and everyday interactions help to shorten that gap and create a broader knowledge and acceptance of our various and unique ways of showing up at work. 

…So then I would purposely walk around smiling so that she wouldn't say anything. It made me feel un-human. Like I could not show any emotions while at work; not fear, anger, or sadness.

Whether efforts to be overly affable and approachable, or to appear non-confrontational when offering feedback or differing points of view, POCs in the advertising industry have extended a large amount of energy making the White majority feel ‘OK’. 

The result is a population of BIPOC workers that feel frustrated, compromised, and ineffective, as well as an agency that loses the cultural richness and vibrancy a fully expressive BIPOC employee population could add to both the culture and creative output of the agency.

Reflections From Writer
No items found.
No items found.