Diversity is not like a "pint of milk" you can pick up at Asda
Today we are shining a light on someone making incredible waves in the marketing and advertising industry. Lou Nylander is challenging outdated stereotypes and encouraging brands to improve media representation of ethnic minorities.
For her, the term ‘D&I’ has become commodified, and she encourages us to introduce the word “belonging” into our conversations surrounding identity and race. Keep reading to learn why...
What's your name and what do you do? Tell us about a recent piece of work.
My name is Lou Nylander and I am the global marketing director at Unruly - a data-driven video marketplace. I am also the founder of Wildflowers of London, a women’s circle aimed at empowering and developing women based in South East London.
How does your identity affect your work and your life in general?
I am not sure if I would say that I consciously know if my identity affects my work or my life. However being a woman, black relatively young. I suppose those factors have made me very mindful of always sticking up for the underdog at work and allowing junior members of staff to have a voice. There were probably times earlier on in my career, where I struggled to speak up for myself or use my voice. I suppose with age and confidence that I am making up for it now, it is hard to shut me up, especially about causes that I am passionate about.
Who have been your role models and why?
I have quite a few role models, inside of the working environment and outside of work. My biggest role model has to be my mother. She passed away about 5 years ago and although it sounds like a cliche, you often ‘do not know what you have until it is gone.’ My mother taught me that hard work gets you everywhere, nobody owes you anything and that you always need to be self-reliant and independent. I feel like these skills have served me well in my personal and professional life.
From a work perspective, Karen Blackett OBE, who is the chairman of Mediacom, an agency that I worked at earlier on in my career. Karen is a great champion for diversity and inclusion in the media industry. I also have two other ladies in the advertising technology industry that I often seek counsel from, they are Ellie Edwards- Scott and Emma Newman who both bring a different perspective but ultimately will tell me their honest opinions. I like it because they both keep it real.
Do you think other people see you differently to how you see yourself?
Definitely. Very few people probably see the real me. I am very good at camouflage and using humour or slapstick to deflect or cover up my true feelings. However, I do appreciate that that isn’t the best and it is something that I am working on in both my personal and professional life.
Do you see yourself in advertising and marketing?
Sometimes, sometimes not. I don’t identify with the majority of mainstream advertising or media representation of ethnic minorities. I struggle to understand why in theatre or film the black woman always has to be typecast as the ‘sassy friend’ or the ‘ghetto chick’. I went to see a great play recently at the Soho theatre called ‘Shuck ‘n’ Jive’ about two black women that worked in a very white male-dominated industry and I felt strong parallels with my working life. More often than not, I do not identify with a lot of popular contemporary UK media and find myself watching a lot of shows from the US and listening to podcasts to seek out art and media that resonates with me.
Are you tired of hearing about Diversity & Inclusion?
YES - but not because I do not think that inclusive societies are important. But because I feel that the words are being used in the wrong context and they are referred to as a commodity. So it then becomes a little ludicrous and it is like ‘diversity’ is something you can just pick up at Asda along with a pint of milk. A good friend of mine, Kiessé Lamour said that she preferred the term belonging and I have to say that I quite like that term. I think it all goes wrong when people start to box tick and use ‘diversity’ as though it is an exercise or a quota. It falls down because even though you may have lots of diverse characters in an organisation if they all feel alone and that they do not belong, then have we really achieved anything.
What one thing would you say to your younger self?
Fortune favours the brave.