DEI is treated as a trend

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Born in Trinidad but raised in Florida, Daynah Singh is a copywriter with a passion for social justice and equality. After accidentally discovering advertising and realizing the industry’s influence on culture and society, Daynah graduated from the University of South Florida with her B.A. in Mass Communications and minors in Creative Writing and Women’s & Gender Studies. Throughout her career, Daynah has honed her craft by writing for clients across entertainment, retail, QSR, and more, leading her to become a 2019 MAIP Alumna and 2021 ADCOLOR® FUTURE. Outside of work, you can find her rewatching Gilmore Girls or reading too many books at once. See her work at daynahsingh.com.

Biggest fuck up

My biggest career fuck up was not trusting my gut. I stayed at a job where I was absolutely miserable for a year longer than I should have. I passed on multiple job offers and other opportunities because I was too scared to make a leap or take a chance on myself. In the end, holding on instead of letting go inevitably dragged me down, ruining my self-confidence, self-esteem, and overall mental well-being.

As a junior, I was fully convinced that I knew nothing. Yes, I had graduated from college and held my fair share of internships, but when I’d open my laptop or sit in a briefing meeting, I couldn’t help but feel like an imposter. There was always a voice in the back of my head trying to convince me that I was just a diversity hire and that I didn’t really belong at my agency. With this kind of thinking, I became an expert at undermining myself.

I truly believed that everyone else knew better than I did and that my creative contributions were never up to snuff. I kept my head down and threw myself into my work, probably annoying my first AD partner with my constant need for approval after every line I wrote. As time moved forward, I found myself ignoring microaggressions and red flags. I knew something wasn’t right, but I refused to listen. If anything, I thought this was normal, that waking up each morning fearing I’d be fired was just part of the grind. So, I went out of my way to make myself useful, picking up extracurricular projects and becoming a beacon for all things DEI. There were days when my workload focused more on diversity and inclusion initiatives than my actual copywriting job, and while I was thanked for my hard work, my paycheck never reflected my efforts.

I convinced myself that I was happy because, on paper, I had every right to be — I had a steady income, health insurance, and prestige to my name. I’d been in Adweek, was featured on my company’s Instagram page, and had been honored for trying to sow change in the industry. This was everything I wanted, right? When I got passed over for a well-deserved raise after a year of pushing myself to the edge of sanity, I swallowed my pride. When I was berated for not working hard enough, I blamed myself for needing to eat, sleep, and bathe. When I was finally laid off after months of being told to “hang in there” because of “growing pains,” I was both devastated and relieved.

Part of me wishes I could go back in time and convince my younger self to listen to that gut feeling, but armed with what I know now, I’ve had the opportunity to redefine who I am and what I want. I refuse to let any person, no matter their status or tenure, make me feel inferior. I am no better or worse than any other creative, but I know in my gut that I’m a damn good writer and no CD, client, or pitch can ever make me question that again.

Rant

DEI in the advertising space is a farce. This isn’t a barb at all the committed DEI professionals fighting tooth and nail to get people to listen – I love, respect, and admire all of you. Still, there’s no denying that the ad world treats DEI as a trend instead of a cornerstone.

When catching up with one of my ad friends a couple of months ago, I said something in a fit of frustration that’s been rolling around in my mind ever since:

DEI was made for us, but it’s killing us.

Daynah Singh

We’d been talking about our experiences with ERGs and being DEI advocates at our respective companies, and both of us were simply fed up. Hours spent trying to convince people to celebrate other cultures or simply be more inclusive in their thinking felt like banging our heads against a wall.

We’d been called changemakers and risk-takers for our efforts, but those titles didn’t mean anything. We were told that our voices would help turn the tide and create spaces for talent that looked like us, but this tireless work, on top of our day-to-day responsibilities, only led to burnout, anger, and resentment.

Junior and mid-level talent shouldn’t be in charge of convincing high-level executives or managers to care about DEI, and yet that’s the reality for so many professionals trying to make a difference in this industry.

I don’t have a solution for this, but it’s time we stop pretending that advertising is leading the charge in breaking barriers, closing gaps, and fighting for equality. We’re subpar at best.

Useful advice

Never stop advocating for yourself.

Ask to go to conferences, ask for training, and ask for the opportunities you want. Negotiate for the compensation you deserve. Find an advocate, mentor, or sponsor, someone you can lean on to say your name in a room full of opportunities. People will help you, but you have to be willing to help yourself.

You are more important than your job.

Take your PTO, take your breaks, and use your sick days. Don’t answer Slack messages and emails in the shower or after hours like I did. Untangle your self-worth and identity from your career. You are so much more than your job title; if you don’t agree with that, then it’s time to do some soul searching.

Have values and be valued.

Don’t compromise who you are, what you believe in, or the way you conduct yourself to appease those around you. If you’re crying at your desk, questioning your self-worth, or wishing you’d get hit by a bus instead of going to work, then it’s probably time to make a change. You owe yourself that much.

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