Being an asian woman in advertising with Rhea Manuel
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
Rhea and I studied English together at King’s College London and she also happens to be a great friend of mine. She now works for Iris Worldwide, an international advertising agency that work on brands like Starbucks, adidas and Pizza Hut. She kindly answered all the questions I had on the advertising world, and also being a brown woman in this traditionally white-male dominated industry.
Tell me a bit about your job and how you got into it?
In my third year at university I blindly applied for a whole heap of jobs in different industries, each application was tentative and uncertain - not the best way to apply for jobs. I soon realised that the advertising applications that I had begun looking into were really interesting. The questions were thoughtful and curious and answering them didn’t feel draining, where most other applications were. However, I was in over my head with exam season and didn’t get any interviews or call-backs that time. After I left university I spent a couple of years trying out a few different jobs before deciding to give advertising a proper shot. I did my homework this time and read up on the industry before applying for a few grad schemes. I received an offer from Iris London and am now an Account Manager there. Being in client services is an interesting mix of creativity, serious firefighting and a whole ton of negotiating.
What do you like most about working in advertising?
Advertising in our society can be callous and there’s no doubt that it perpetuates our consumerist lifestyles. But when you see work that resonates, it’s pretty special. It doesn’t happen often and usually you’ll see the hard-sell. But sometimes brands and agencies do things that make me laugh or think, and sometimes campaigns have real power.
What do you find most difficult about being a woman of colour in the advertising industry?
Not seeing women that look anything like me in senior positions - partners, directors, founders.
How do you find working in an industry that is historically known for being dominated by white men?
I’m very lucky to work with a team of passionate and supportive women, both managers and colleagues, so I often feel sheltered from the white masculinity of the industry. However, when I look at the awards shows or senior leaders or, more specifically, the creative departments in advertising, it’s difficult not to feel intimidated by the overwhelmingly male dominated environments. I’ve sat in rooms where I’ve not only been the most junior but also the only woman or POC. I’ve witnessed women being spoken down to or ignored and am very aware of the ease at which my male contemporaries move within the same space as me. Where I remind myself on a daily basis to speak up, hold my own, take up space or voice disagreement; I can’t help but think that they have an innate and natural confidence that or belonging.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?
My team recently won the Channel 4 Diversity in Advertising Award with Starbucks UK. The ad will air in February and I think it’ll be one that makes a real difference.
What would you say to any WOC looking to get into this industry?
The industry is all about people - all we’re doing is trying to communicate a thought or sell a product. Use your voice - your opinions and your experiences will be your USP. If you disagree, tell someone.
Who’s career would you want to have if you didn’t have your own?
Zadie Smith. I’d love to communicate as articulately and intelligently as she does and there’s a part of me that’s always wanted to write.
Who do you wish was your BFF?
Zendaya. I think she’d be down-to-earth and a really solid hype-man friend. Plus, fashion and parties and a direct line to Michael B Jordan.
Who do you learn from?
A piece of advice for someone wanting to do what you’ve done.
Do your research and work hard. The rest will fall into place.