A black Chief Operating Officer, who was regularly mistaken for an assistant – there to make coffee – at meetings, has used her experience to write a new book that has gained viral fame – despite only being launched next year.
Sophie Williams, 32, who is from Birmingham but currently lives in London, opened Instagram account @OfficialMillennialBlack earlier this year to promote her upcoming book.
The former ad COO has gained over 153,000 followers, and many discovered her account when her posts about anti-racist allies went viral in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In an interview with FEMAIL, Sophie explained that she has experienced racism all her life, and believes that every non-white person growing up in the UK experiences it at some point.
Sophie Williams, 32, (photo) who lives in London, has become an internet sensation following a stream of Instagram posts about anti-racist allies to promote her upcoming book
Sophie thought about her upbringing and said, “I remember being called a racist slurry and being slapped in the face by a boy in elementary school. I was teased non-stop for my hair, so much so that I started chemically straightening it and only let it return to its natural texture in my twenties.
“But the more subtle things we all soak up through culture are much more common and potentially harmful.”
Sophie has used social media to spread awareness of black women’s experiences and give them a place to be part of a community.
She gained momentum after the murder of George Floyd in the United States.
Sophie said, “What inspired me to start writing Millennial Black was that I had reached a very high level in my career, I was the Chief Operating Officer of an advertising and social media agency and knew very well that I don’t see other black women, women who look like me in similar roles.
“I went to meetings and people didn’t know what to do with me, they expected me to be the person making coffee or taking notes.
“People came in for job interviews and said things like” shall I wait here until people are ready? “not the first thought that it was even possible that I was’ the people ‘they came to talk to’.
Sophie (pictured) who was teased as a child about the natural texture of her hair, said subtle racism in culture is also harmful
Sophie studied BA (Hons) Theater and Performance at Bretton Hall, part of Leeds University – and graduated in 2008.
She has spent most of her career in advertising, working for brands such as Netflix, COTY, H&M and M&C Saatchi Mobile, noting the lack of diversity across the board.
‘Advertising is generally a very homogeneous environment. It is, in my experience, mostly older white men who run most agencies in London, she explained.
‘In my experience, there is a lot of discussion about diversity in advertising, but little action. Despite signing commitments and setting goals, the IPA released its report this year, showing that industry diversity has actually shrunk. ‘
Sophie urges those who are discriminated against in the workplace to leave the organization.
She said, “Don’t forget you can leave. Businesses need a diverse workforce to keep resonating with a changing, younger audience. If you are discriminated against, don’t be afraid to take your skills elsewhere.
“It’s important to plan first, because if people are affected by the gender pay gap, it can be more difficult to build up a pot of savings and just walk away. But make a plan, do your research and don’t be afraid to take your talents elsewhere. Don’t feel trapped in an environment you don’t respect.
She explained how white colleagues can show their alliance and added, “The only way to be an ally is in your actions, not in your beliefs, and there are many actions that allies with a non- a marginalized background.
Sophie (photo) revealed that she has worked her way up to become COO, but there is still a need for diversity in industries such as advertising
To begin with, people can question their managers and bosses about non-diverse teams and play an active role in diversity and inclusion committees and initiatives.
‘I also encourage people to be open about their salaries and packages, which are protected in the UK and the US and cannot be held back by companies as long as it’s not used to harass or bully a colleague or to belittle.
“The only reason companies are trying to limit these conversations, illegally, is to protect and promote inequality – once we’ve shed light on this, we can start changing, but it requires people to be uncomfortable and conversations they have previously avoided. ‘
The 32-year-old revealed she was involved in the Black Lives Matter protests as the movement continues to highlight racial inequality around the world.
Not having a diverse range of people in a company harms companies and harms the economy in general
Sophie said, “It has been interesting. I provided free downloadable protest signs for people who wanted to print them at home – it’s been less than 20 days and so far over 8,000 people around the world have accessed them which is great!
“I am very happy with the diversity of the people who attended the protests, it gives me hope that people will see it as not just a niche problem for black people to solve.
“What I’ve also seen is that it’s a very young audience of people who take the time to put on their shoes, leave the house and say enough is enough.
Sophie (photo) revealed that she was inspired to write a book targeting black women in the workplace after struggling to find something similar to support her own career
‘@OfficialMillennialBlack as an Instagram account really started as a platform to talk about my book Millennial Black, which will be out in April 2021. I wanted to create a piece of the Internet where black women could see, learn and feel part of a community .
“After the murder of George Floyd, I felt helpless, so I posted to my under a thousand followers about alliance and what non-black people could do to help, and it just snowed out from there. Less than three weeks later, I now have a following of over 150,000 people who want to be anti-racist allies and do their bit.
“It was overwhelming – I never saw it coming. The growth was enormous and incredibly fast. It was mostly positive, but every time you talk publicly about race, social justice or civil rights, there will be people who don’t like what you do. ‘
Sophie, who has received a lot of messages from people who feel frustrated in their circumstances, opened a non-profit e-store after the success of her Instagram account.
She said, “My platform had suddenly grown, from one day to the next. I was inspired by the number of people who participated, but I wanted to do something that could do tangible, measurable good. The only problem was I had no idea how to handle it.
Sophie (photo) explained that her Instagram account quickly gained over 150,000 followers and she was inspired to open an e-store to raise money for charity
“I contacted Awesome Merchandise and they were absolutely great – they arranged the printing, hosting and distribution for me, and within two days we had an e-store that shipped worldwide.”
Sophie revealed that the proposal for her book started two years ago. She explained that it can be challenging to find UK data on how black women are treated in the workplace.
She says research is often broken down by gender, with most participants in the study being white, and in other cases white and BAME rather than focusing specifically on black experiences.
She said, “Millennial Black looks at black women’s work experiences and the disabilities that disproportionately affect them (blackness and femininity converging or intersecting as misogyny) at different stages of their careers – from their first roles, to leadership positions or even starting your own business and provides information on things to watch out for, and information on how to overcome things.
Importantly, however, the book really acknowledges that black women, who have been excluded from work for a long time, both being women and being black, have largely failed to create the systems that affect us, and are usually not in a position to sustain long-term make systemic changes.
“There are currently no black women who are leaders of Fortune 500 companies, so the other equally important part of Millennial Black uses my leadership experience to say that people should be encouraged to make those changes.
“Not having a diverse range of people in a company harms companies and harms the economy in general.”
Sophie’s book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon
Sophie (pictured) revealed that she hopes the momentum around the Black Lives Matter protests will continue