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Havas create #BlackAtWork 'jobstacle course' to catalyse race discussion

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In an installation based around Black History Month in the US, Havas Chicago created a set of obstacles to reflect what a black man or woman in the workplace might experience, highlighting the need for greater diversity in advertising. Located in the lobby of Havas Chicago’s building, the obstacle course is meant to make it clear how subtle forms of racism can make the job more difficult, while also addressing the lack of diversity in the advertising industry. In taking the course from concept to reality, Havas Chicago chief creative officer Jason Peterson turned to art director Jason LaFlore and other creatives in Chicago to come up with a Black History Month project that would “show our point of view and not be passive and have a real active positioning.” The initiative doesn't address overt racism, but instead tackles the subtle moments of casual racism that can make navigating the workplace environment an added challenge for black employees. Located in the lobby of Havas Chicago’s building, the obstacle course is meant to make it clear how subtle forms of racism can make the job more difficult, while also addressing the lack of diversity in the advertising industry. The obstacle course will remain up for the remainder of the month.

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The agency decided it needed to push people to think beyond traditional representation. So, as you walk through the lobby and enter what they are referring to as the “#BlackAtWork Jobstacle Course,” you begin with a balance beam called the “Beam of Perception.” On the left side, you see “lazy” and on the right side, “angry.” The plaque near it reads; “Don’t trip, but one wrong step can change the way your coworkers see you. Perception is in the side-eye of the beholder.” Directly in front of the beam is the “bob and weave” portion, which simulates long locks of hair, and is based on the insight that many of the black workers at Havas have noticed people will often grab their hair without asking. Next comes a sports-centred section where you can dribble a basketball or throw a football, which brings you to the hanging speech bubbles with statements that black people hear often. Finally, the course leads participants to the Hollywood shuffle, which highlights the assumption that a black person would know the latest dance moves or culturally hip thing.

There was a guy who came in off the street last week and brought his kid in and he started crying. He said that it’s so overt and things that I experience every day that people don’t realise”

Michael Fair, senior strategist at Havas Chicago, explained: “We are focused on being diverse and focused on equality. This is a broader dialogue that needs to happen. It’s beyond black people. It’s beyond multicultural. It extends to women. With everything that we are experiencing in the US, we feel that this is a launching pad for a lot of different installations or discussions that we would love to spark. We wanted it to be bold. We wanted it to be a little jarring. But we wanted it to be very thoughtful and inclusive. Our job is to represent consumers and bring things to them that are compelling and interesting but most of all feel real to them. This is a big part. Understanding what people go through every day. Part of the reason that this can exist is because Havas has a culture that can allow this to live.” Havas Chicago CCO, Jason Peterson: “I love reading these articles about how white and old the industry is, and the industry itself acknowledges and talks about the problem versus actually changing and activating on the kind of issues we have. In my point of view, America is multicultural, so if you’re an agency that doesn’t have or isn’t made up of a multicultural point of view, there’s no way you can do your job properly.”

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As a follow-up from the learnings of the installation, the agency plans to do an internal all-hands meeting to better educate each other and to push forward discussions around race and diversity in the workplace.

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