‘Celebrating our Sisters’ Elizabeth Anyaegbuna

We’re #CelebratingOurSisters and interviewing Brilliant Black female changemakers like Elizabeth Anyaegbuna.

‘Celebrating our Sisters’ Elizabeth Anyaegbuna

I originally posted this on LinkedIn but it was SUCH a great conversation, that I wanted to share
it on here too.  Back in August 2023, I caught up with my friend Elizabeth Anyaegbuna,
Co-founder of independent, Black-owned media planning and buying agency Sixteen By Nine,
to talk about her experiences of being Black in business.

We discussed corporate racism, going it alone and why it’s important to keep showing up for the community.  Elizabeth is one of my closest friends, a brilliant source of support for me both professionally and personally AND she’s a powerhouse leader in the media world. 

So let’s dive in…

Us: What made you want to start your own business?

Elizabeth Anyaegbuna: I've always wanted to do that. I was in the corporate world for about 18 years, and I always had an entrepreneurial approach to work and knew that I would ultimately want to own my own business. I guess to some degree I didn't want to be a cog in the mix,
and so I decided to set up and start on my own, really to kind of dictate my own path.

When I step out of things and look back, I guess I could pinpoint certain things that I hadn't necessarily recognised, whether it was a microaggression or whether it was an unconscious bias because I was just in it and at that point felt I didn't necessarily have a voice. I was just rolling with whatever it is that was being thrown at me.

I think what motivated me in part was understanding my role as a Black woman and my influence on those who were coming up behind me. When I started looking at myself through their eyes,
it empowered me to actually start my business for me, but also start my business for them so that there's more of us in the room. That’s also why I do a lot of mentoring and get involved in a lot of networks.

Us: What principles drive your business?

Elizabeth Anyaegbuna: Definitely being fair, honest, having integrity when you’re dealing with your clients and others and having values which you don’t compromise on. I run a media agency and we say that to our clients - it's all transparent. As a Black, female founder it’s particularly important for me to make work equitable and treat people fairly.  

Collette is smiling taking a selfie with Elizabeth
Collette and Elizabeth
Us: Did you ever feel any of those principles were missing when you were employed?

Elizabeth Anyaegbuna: When I was on my way up,
I experienced being treated in a way that wasn't so kind and I had to adjust or code switch to be able to play the part. I will always remember going to interviews and blow drying my big curly hair straight, pulling it back and toning myself down because I wasn't sure whether anyone might apply a particular bias towards me before I could put myself forward. I didn't overly think about it until I recognised that I did that and stopped. One day I was going for an interview, and I was like, ‘I’m me, I'm leaving my hair out and I’m going for it. If they don't want me, then they don't want me. If that's an issue, then I don't want to be there anyway.’ Ironically, the person that was interviewing me was a white lady with big curly hair.

But I guess I felt that I had to adjust and be like that for fear of potentially meeting someone who was biased and could get in the way of my progression. Sometimes, in corporate,
they harness this kind of culture that makes you feel that way. Where you’ll end up, maybe not performing at your best because you're not your true self,
or you're code switching because you're not your true self or you’re taking on certain types of microaggressions because you don't feel that you can actually speak up or you haven’t got allies.

Us: Now that you're a business owner, how do you show up for Black women?

Elizabeth Anyaegbuna: So first I show up as me, which certainly contributes to representation within the creative industries. The beautiful thing about being a Black woman is that it’s obvious that I'm a Black woman, so, if you have an issue with that then you probably aren't going to be working with Sixteen By Nine anyway.

Then, because we're a media agency that also produces end-to-end, running my business allows me to be in the room when it comes to making sure creative is representative. I'm mindful of having diverse voices in the room, diverse thoughts and so on. 

I was also President of Bloom in 2023/4, which is a women's network, one of the largest actually for Marcomms and it's all about pushing for gender equality. I have a big thing about intersectionality. Yes, we are all women, but within that we are unique in our lived experiences which means that we're not a monolith. This year I’ve been driving for that intersectional lens to make sure we’re considering all experiences, whether it’s being a woman of colour,
or neurodiverse or part of the LGBT+ community or having a visible or invisible disability and so on. I’m very much active in that space to promote equality but also equity so we’re all level when we’re looking over that wall. I also co-founded Bloom Colour, because I recognised Bloom was great, but they weren’t as diverse as they could be, and I’m also part of a few other networks like WACL and MEFA.

I also have a lot of respect for people who are pushing their head above the parapet to shine
a light on the need to educate and do better around racism and I try and do my part too.
It’s not always easy to be that voice, but I mentor, I champion, I dial up, I speak up for us.
And as I am one myself, I make sure whenever possible, I support, work with and invest in Black-owned businesses. 

Collette’s main takeaway from Elizabeth's interview:

I reckon we all need to Be More Elizabeth! 
As leaders, our role is to mentor, champion, speak up, support, collaborate and invest in minoritised talent. 

Equity means we all need to play our part. 
And if we do that, we create workplaces and a wider world where everyone can thrive. 

What do you think?

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