‘You’re black and you are female, you have to try twice as hard as anybody’ and that really stuck with me.”
Karen Blackett, the head of advertising giant MediaCom has been named by Powerlist as the most powerful Black Woman in Britain. Blackett took over the mantle as Chief Executive of MediaCom in 2011 and has since turned it into one of the world’s biggest advertising companies with a network of offices in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Her inspiring story is one that should perk up any person, black or white in reassurance that you really can do anything, as long as you work hard and know not to ever give up. The 43-year-old said her Father inculcated this attitude into her and her sister from a very early age. She told The Voice Newspaper, “My father has been a huge influence on me. He would always say to me and my sister, ‘you’re black and you are female, you have to try twice as hard as anybody’ and that really stuck with me.”
With reports by the advertising agency in Britain revealing a shocking lack of diversity within the media industry- only 11.2% of employees working in the media profession are non- white, a statistic Blanckett calls ‘pathetic’, it’s not hard to imagine the struggles and challenges she would have had to face because of her race and gender to get to the position she is now. Indeed, it only makes it even more rewarding as she recalls a time when she was turned down for a high-profile position because the executives had said, “there was no way we’d appoint a female account director, let alone a black one’. The rejection stung at the time, but she was smart enough to know that this had nothing to do with her ability, but more to do with her colour.
She further adds that not only is the lack of diversity in the industry bad for morale, it was also having a negative impact on business. She told the Guardian, “I just feel it’s really odd. If the future of the industry is being able to target the UK, you should have a workforce that looks like the kind of people you’re trying to talk to.” Especially if the combined spending power of people of black and ethnic minorities is estimated at £300bn.
This lack of diversity inspired the mum of one to create an apprentice scheme for 18-24 year olds which provides the opportunity for youths interested in media to break into the industry. She hopes the 2-year-old scheme will address the lack of varying talent within the industry and reduce ‘The old Boys Club” syndrome which allows only a certain kind of people to be allowed within the walls of the media industry.
Considering her contribution to the sector over the years, it’s surprising to know she was still shocked to have received that coveted letter in the post with the Royal seal, alerting her to the fact that she’d been nominated for a OBE. She says she still doesn’t know why she was nominated for the award, but is definitely looking forward to receiving it at the ceremony in January with her son and family in tow.