As one of only a handful of Black women among the more than 300 employees at McCann Canada’s Toronto office, Alyssa Dominique is intimately familiar with the phenomenon of being “the only Black person in the room.”
“I feel that way for sure,” says the account supervisor and co-creator of “Your Work Goes Here: A Networking Event for Black Women,” taking place at McCann’s Toronto office on Thursday.
“Often I look around my office or I go to a client conference where they’re giving their agencies their fiscal year plan, and there are 250 people in the room and I’m the only Black person, or if there are other Black people, they’re all men,” she says.
The networking event traces its origins to Barrett and Welsh co-founder and chief creative officer Gavin Barrett’s ongoing LinkedIn series—now in its second year—profiling young Black people in Canadian marketing for Black History Month. Barrett’s series profiles a different young Black professional each day during February.
Dominique was profiled by Barrett in 2019, which led to her being contacted by several young Black women asking about her role, how she got her start in the industry, and so on. “It was almost like I was some kind of magical unicorn,” she says. “And then I started to wonder ‘How did I get here?'”
What’s disheartening, says Dominique, is the underrepresentation of Black women in advertising, underscored by the fact that it took her “a good two weeks” to find enough women in the industry to speak at the event.
“To me it speaks volumes about the issue we’re addressing,” says Dominique, who says that some of the responses to her initial outreach—”[Black women] are often the token in our workplace” and “I definitely agree that there is a lack of diversity and inclusion in the industry. Particularly Black women”—provided further validation for that idea.
According to a 2018 report card from the Institute of Communications Agencies, 2.9% of the Canadian advertising industry identifies as Black, compared with 3.5% for the population as a whole according to the 2016 Census.
Designed for Black women in advertising and marketing programs or those interested in learning more about the industry, “Your Work Goes Here” will provide attendees with an opportunity to connect with and learn from 18 professionals, ranging from junior copywriters to executives.
The intent with “Your Work Goes Here,” says Dominique, is to help position marketing and advertising as a viable career choice for young Black women. “I’ve been trying to be mindful of how I extend a hand to these Black women and let them know there is a space for them here,” she says.
The event grew out of an initiative spearheaded by Kristie Baxter, vice-president of operations at McCann Canada, called “Women of Worldgroup” (WOW). A monthly gathering of women within the McCann Worldgroup family, WOW was established last fall with a stated ambition of retaining, grooming and supporting women within the network.
“I believe it’s my responsibility to help empower women coming up,” says Baxter of the WOW initiative. “In the advertising world we influence women everywhere, so how do we make sure we’re doing all the right things to promote women in the industry and the world itself?”
The lack of Black female representation is a microcosm of broader issues facing women in marketing, says Baxter. While women outnumber men in the McCann workforce, their presence doesn’t extend into the C-suite, she says. “Women outnumber men at all levels, but when you get to the executive level, we disappear,” she says. “It’s like ‘Where did we go?'”
Dominique says that the goal of the event is to create a community for young Black women who might be looking to enter the workforce, as well as raise awareness of the lack of ethnic diversity within the industry, particularly among Black women.
“A lot of people don’t realize it’s a thing,” she says. “It’s not until you actually say ‘Look around, how many Black women do you see?’ that people actually say ‘Hmm, you might be right.’ There’s this a-ha moment.”