LORNETTE HARLEY Client Consultant at The Unmistakables
SEEING & BEING SEEN
Lornette Harley once dreamed of playing Nala on the West End stage.
Now a Client Consultant at The Unmistakables, she is paving the way for the next generation of Black PR professionals, but sees progression and promotion is the biggest obstacle for many.
I’ve been in PR for seven years but my route into the industry was far from conventional.
For years, my dream was to play Nala, the character from the Lion King on the West End stage. I even got a degree in musical theatre, so it was a shock when I eventually realised it was a direction that no longer excited me.
Growing up, PR was never a career option I’d considered. There didn’t seem to be a pathway for someone like me who didn’t know much about the industry, and there was no one I looked up to who could help me along the way.
It was only when I moved to Talker Tailor Trouble Maker and a woman called Talia McKenzie arrived, who was doing some freelance work with us. That was the first time that I'd seen a black woman in a senior role in PR.
At the time I didn’t realise the impact that seeing her had on me. It was only later down the line when I asked myself ‘why am I doing this?’ that I realised it was because I knew progression was possible because she had done it. For me, a quote by Trevor McDonald sums this up beautifully, “You are changed by what you see, just as you are changed when you are seen”’.
As a PR practitioner, I still find it hard to believe that only 10% of the industry is non-white. If I’m honest, I also know there's only so much that 10% can do against 90%. The onus will still fall on white people to pave the way and make real change. Until then, as a black person, I will still feel that there are still certain doors we cannot open, certain rooms that we cannot enter, and if we do enter, where we absolutely cannot speak.
As a black person in the industry the most common thing you will face are micro aggressions. Although they’re often not offences that you can report, how do you make a complaint about someone continuously touching your hair or asking you ‘why do you make everything about race?’ when discussing Meghan Markle’s racial abuse by the media. I’ve often heard the refrain that ‘It's not racism, you’re just being sensitive.’ It can be very exhausting.
I’ve also been in rooms where my white colleagues have actively defended their right to say the N word, failing to realise that they have no right to it.
However, in my view the greatest failing in our industry is the lack of Black and minority promotion and progression. This creates a structural issue and a lot of the time black people have to move jobs because it is the only way to get some sort of progression, and even then, it is slow and painful. There are many black people who have left this industry at mid-level because it looked like there was nowhere else for them to go.
The reality is: black people have to work harder than their colleagues to get on. But I would never tell anybody not to aspire to be at the very top of this industry, because that is where we need to get to. As difficult as it may be, it just means that the people that come up after us do not have to face the same thing. I know it's tiring but if we keep on going, eventually there'll be enough of us at the top to make it fairer for everybody that's coming up – that’s the goal.
For anyone black who has an interest in PR, I encourage you to get yourself a support network, be it a mentor, sponsor or a solid peer group that can help get you through it. Just be very aware that as it stands, you are in the 10%.
What I have described is an industry problem that needs an industry solution. It has to be an industry-wide force because it’s not enough for individual agencies to make the change alone. How will we know if we have done it? When we stop talking about it – when we are there, it will just be the norm.
There are most definitely pockets of joy for me in this industry. My hope is that in five years there are black people who are entering this industry and working under black people.
I want PR to be an industry that you come into and see yourself at every level. All Black people want, me included, is to be seen. It’s such a simple dream!