By Roshni Goyate
When my co-founder Leyya and I started The Other Box back in 2016, we came at it with our own experiences and perspectives. In my case, I had been a writer for some years by that point. As a freelancer, I went into many different agencies to work with their creative teams. Yet after a while I realised something: I had been the only woman of colour on all of those creative teams. Often I was the only woman of colour in the entire agency. Something had to change.
We founded The Other Box as a way of making the invisible visible. Leyya and I felt we were not represented in our industry; we couldn’t see women of colour in the creative leadership positions we aspired to. We felt invisible. As the familiar saying goes: you can’t be what you can’t see. Having spent most of my 20s doing what I loved as a career, I felt creatively stifled, and began to doubt my own abilities. I began to doubt whether I deserved to be where I was.
Make no mistake about it: that kind of doubting is dangerous.
It had knock-on effects on my mental health. My craft and creative confidence suffered massively. And let’s not even talk about what happened to my bank balance as I struggled to put myself forward for jobs and roles I was more than qualified to take on. These are the very real consequences of not feeling represented.
By the time I met Leyya (at a ‘diversity’ talk that had no women of colour on the panel, ahem…!), I knew I had to channel this anxiety and exasperation into something positive and productive. We were both convinced we couldn’t be the only ones feeling this way. So we decided to create something. Within a week we had decided on a name, set up a website, social media accounts and written a mission statement.
A year and a half later, we have a community of over a thousand creatives from marginalised backgrounds, who have in some way felt ‘othered’, ignored, underrepresented or voiceless in the creative industries. We’ve given them a place to not only feel like they belong, but that their perspective, art and creativity matters.
From this amazing community, we recently started getting messages almost daily, asking if I would ever run a copywriting workshop for people of colour looking to get into writing as a career. Having seen me, a brown female copywriter, doing well and being vocal about my love for what I do, other women of colour felt like they could do it too. And that was the whole point! So at the start of June, we ran our first #WocCopywriting workshop for women and non-binary people of colour.
We held it at my first agency, The Writer, where for three years I had been the only woman of colour on the creative team. To fill that boardroom with a dozen glorious creative women of colour and share skills and stories on a sunny Monday evening was really something special. It confirmed – as much of the work we do through The Other Box often does – that the industry doesn’t have to be this way. When CEOs and heads of talent and creative directors come to us and say ‘we don’t know where to look’, I would say ‘use your imagination, try harder, get creative’, because we’re right here, skilled up to the eyeballs and ready to be hired, promoted and smash those briefs. Also, it’s not just about hiring. Leaders need to put in the work to transform their companies and this industry into a place where women of colour feel safe, where their creative careers are nurtured, not stifled. There’s no quick fix to that, but it will take some self-educating, listening to others and a dose of humility.
Running this workshop showed me that we’re already doing our absolute damnedest to get ahead in an industry that’s not really designed for us. It’s up to those in charge to takecharge and help us change things, not just leave it to us to put in the emotional labour to educate others. We’re ready when you are babes.
The Other Box is an award-winning organisation celebrating people of colour and other minorities in the creative industries. We run Know Your Bias workshops at agencies to help create more inclusive workplace cultures.