International Women's Day? I see Black, people

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I identify as black first, then female. I’m not saying every woman of colour does the same. What I’m saying is, this nuance matters to me because it is how I show up in the world every day. It should matter to you as you build your teams, market your products and engage with your customers. As I think about International Women’s Day and Month and what I do for a living, this is what strikes me most profoundly.

The mistake that I think brands are making today is in believing that customer experience is powered solely by data, analytics and insights. I hear you CTOs, CIOs, and AI Evangelists, but as a creative and a storyteller, I believe CX is powered by your customers’ emotional needs, not just their product needs and digital whereabouts. Responding accordingly means knowing how they identify themselves and how they show up in the world every day.

Actor America Ferrara put it this way in her Ted Talk last year: “For seventeen years of my career I have witnessed the power our voices have when they can access presence in the culture…Presence creates possibility.”

When a brand takes a risk and allows us all to be present, good things such as Adidas Women: Reimagine Sport can happen. My girls love this video. Yes, we’ve seen Jessamyn Stanley before – and to that we say, “Girl, get your money!” Most importantly, her presence creates the possibility for more, for Adidas to have deeper conversations with us and all of its brand fans, and not just about sport but about health, wellness, even race and gender identity. Adidas has a right to be in those conversations.

In support of our female-identified clients, colleagues and peers, Iris has invited illustrators, Kaylin Skipwith, Marylou Faure, Fanny Demarais, Laura Díez Estrada, Nicole Vanner, Carmen Ang, Jessie Lam, Lolly Morris, and Magda Bryla, to share with you some of the challenges we face and how we overcome them to bravely show up as our authentic selves.

Who is present?

Let’s pretend, gentlemen - you work an entire week and only having professional interactions with men. No women, anywhere - a Mad Men world with all Don Drapers. Sure, there are some industries and professions where this may be the status quo, but not many. Women, now it’s your turn. How many of you can complete a week of professional activities and not have a single encounter with another woman? Perhaps a bit more common for us, but still not very likely for an entire week.

Now everyone, imagine going through an entire week of work, video con-calls, F2F meetings, working lunches, work dinners, off-site visits etc., and never encountering another person of your race or ethnicity.

If you are not Asian, but have traveled to and worked in Asia, this may be a familiar feeling. For women of color almost everywhere, this is far too common, especially as we climb the ladder in our careers.

For the better part of my career in media I have been the only people of colour, let alone, woman of colour in the room, all the rooms, all the days, all the weeks.

It’s the first thing I notice when I walk into a room or join a video call.

How many of me are there? None. Again. It’s more than just a feeling of loneliness and it’s not at all about a lack of solidarity. It’s about how I will be perceived - Ignored? Tolerated? 'Tokened?' And I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it has a bit to do with fear and my sanity. It’s the constant - constant - and frightening feeling that you are the only one of your kind, endangered. The sanity check that I do in these moments goes like this: "I’m good at what I do but I know I’m not the only black woman or man who can do this job. Where are they and why aren’t they here?"

My challenge to all of you this month is to do a mental roll call of the women in the room when you meet. Who is present? Who is absent and why? Also, if they have shown up, alone, know this: their solitude is unwanted and unwarranted; their perspective may not be yours, but it is just as valuable, and their identity is not a choice, it’s a virtue.

Heather Keets Wright, chief creative officer, CYLNDR (part of Iris)

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