Tameika Thomas is a force to be reckoned with.
The PR creative practised dance, studied theatre, and now has her own boutique PR agency, specializing in lifestyle, tech and entertainment. She’s also a winner of the Notable Connector of the Year award.
Having spent several years in the PR industry, Thomas knows firsthand some of the challenges that women of colour face on their way to the top. We sat down with her to discuss the importance of women of colour in positions of power and using visibility as empowerment.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career journey and how you came to found T&Co.?
After working in Public Relations for several years in different industries, such as entertainment, corporate, and technology, I often got approached by entrepreneurs seeking freelance PR services. At the time, I found that I had hit a glass ceiling in my career and realized that I had to find other opportunities for myself. This roadblock ended up being a detour in the right direction. I got accepted into a program for women and entrepreneurship, so I took this as a cue from the universe and left my job to focus on my business. I expanded my knowledge, worked hard and launched T&CO. Creative Agency.
What were and are some of the challenges you faced/face as a woman and as a woman of colour in this industry?
The Canadian population is diverse, however, this diversity is not reflected in PR firms. Upon graduation, I looked at Toronto-based agencies for employment opportunities, and noticed that their staff page did not have anyone that “looked like me”. This deterred me from wanting to work with companies that lacked diversity. Your team should reflect your customer base, and frankly, the Canadian market is a diverse one. Chatting with some of my fellow WOC PR professionals, we’ve all experienced discrimination in some way over the years. This only motivated me to work even harder.
Who are some of your mentors/people you look up to and how important is it for those starting out in their career to have people who look like them in positions of power?
My very first job in PR was at a Canadian Television Company and I was grateful to have a woman of colour as a manager, who I was able to lean on for guidance and advice. I was fortunate to have someone representing a minority group who was excelling in the PR industry. I think it’s important for young women to have mentors when starting out because mentors offer insight, knowledge, personal and professional growth and, most importantly, encouragement. We now have amazing groups and collectives of women that provide insight and guidance in the PR industry, such as CodeBlackCN.
What does representation mean to you?
Having one person of colour on your team doesn’t equate to representation. Representation is having a diverse voice at many levels. We often see women of visible minorities in entry-level roles or mid-level roles, I would love to see more diversity in leadership roles.
For people in positions of power looking to change and improve, what advice can you give them on being better allies and identifying and growing that talent?
I think it’s just an opportunity. They need to have an open mind which will allow them to be more inclusive and willing to provide opportunities to everyone.
With more focus on diversity and inclusion than ever before, do you think things have improved for people of colour?
Things have definitely improved with a focus on diversity and inclusion, however, there’s still more that can be done. Companies should value diverse perspectives and understand the need to have storytellers from cultures and backgrounds. Black consumers and consumers of colour have such enormous buying potential but still, we lack a presence at the table.
What are some changes you’d like to see?
We should always be a part of the conversation, not only in the conversation but in a position to make decisions. The Gucci, Burberry and HM PR scandals could have been avoided with the right insight. Big brands should recognize the importance of having different perspectives and understand that different cultures on their team could provide insight before a massive marketing launch, and can also benefit the company’s bottom line.
What advice do you have for people coming up in this industry?
Trust yourself and take risks. Even though Toronto’s PR industry lacks diversity, know that your ideas matter. Don’t be discouraged, be confident and create a lane for yourself.