Chloe Davis - The NABS Podcast
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How to support your mental wellness as a Black woman in adland

Chloe Davies is a creative global inclusion and belonging consultant and founder of It Takes a Village, a network for Black women in advertising, marketing and media. Chloe is a proud Black bisexual woman as well as being a mother of two and an outstandingly prolific campaigner and activist.

Chloe volunteers for UK Black Pride, the London Queer Fashion Show and was recently named one of Campaign magazine’s 40 over 40. Chloe fits an impressive amount of commitments into her schedule, yet still found time to engage in this fascinating conversation.

tw: suicide

Louise Scodie – NABS  00:00 

Welcome to the NABS Podcast. NABS is the support organisation for those working in advertising, marketing and media. I’m your host, Louise Scodie. Each week I’ll be chatting with someone from our industry to find out how they support themselves and those around them through challenging times as well as day to day and it’s all to help you support your own mental wellness. I can’t wait to start chatting.  

A quick word of warning today’s conversation contains mention of suicide.  


This week, our guest is Chloe Davies. Chloe is a proud Black bisexual woman, mother of two, a creative Global Inclusion and belonging consultant chef and entrepreneur, she campaigns for inclusion and equality in social spaces, corporate organisations and the wider community.  


In September 2001, Chloe took on a first of its kind role in UK advertising as head of social impact at Lucky Generals. She recently placed in Campaign 40 over 40. Chloe is now set to launch It Takes a Village and that’s a network for Black women in advertising, marketing and media. The collective will roll out their first survey study, we can’t all be lying, to lean on the power of data to help articulate and validate the lived experiences of Black women in our industry.  


Chloe volunteers with UK Black Pride at the London Queer fashion show. She’s a trustee for the London LGBTQ plus community centre charity, and she’s an ambassador for Mental Health First Aid England. She’s currently shortlisted for inspirational role model of the year at this year’s British LGBT Awards, which is no surprise when you reflect on that heady list of accolades and involvements. I don’t know where you get the time, we’re going to find out. Welcome, Chloe, it’s great to have you on the podcast, especially because you appear to be the busiest person I’ve met in a very long time. How are you doing? 


Chloe Davis  01:54 

Thank you not too bad, really, really pleased to be here.  


Louise Scodie – NABS  02:13 

If I managed to put my socks on the right feet in the morning, I feel like I’ve achieved something and I’ve just read your list and thinking, maybe I need to set my bar a bit higher. I mean, you do so much. So so much. How do you look after your mental wellness? To enable you to give so much to so many different projects?  


Chloe Davis  02:41 

I mean, this is a question that my therapist is making me unpack on a regular basis. But I think as you know, short version, especially for people who know my story in that I had my first episode when I was 24, after 10 years of silencing myself, so I never really did all the things that I wanted to do. I feel like I’m just playing catch up. Now, if I’m really honest. And so I just learned to be high functioning, but to I just aligned myself with things that actually gave me a bit of spirit that gave me a feeling of home and community. And that I kind of could interact with each other. So it’s no surprise that lots of its community engagement, lots of it is all focused on people. And then those connections, just how can I help them? How can I help connect them in different ways where it didn’t feel like they were using all the same pieces of me all at the same time. So UK Black Pride is you know, throughout the year, but we ramp up towards our birthday, and we take place on 20 August this year, London Fashion show follows the fashion season. So it’s in September MHFA is something that’s always a constant for me. And the London Community Centre was an initiative that I got involved in five and a half years ago, worked in different volunteer capacities. And then they asked me to be a trustee two years ago. So whilst it sounds like a lot on the list, it actually is all all has its moments and seasons. And I think I’ve just, I’m learning to try and manage them all as best as I possibly can, alongside my two children, . I can’t be in the same capacity of roles, as I’ve always been, because you know that that takes change and grows. But there are things that I’m more passionate about. And I guess, as you kind of as you do more and more of it and you align yourself in different capacities, you also get the opportunity to create new roles and new ways that you navigate through those spaces. So in a roundabout way to your question, there is no real answer. I’m still trying to figure it out. out. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  05:03 

So you’re getting as much from being part of these communities as you are giving to them and that’s bolstering your mental wellness.  


Chloe Davis  05:11 

Absolutely, especially as, as well, they’re all volunteer capacities. So it’s actually my I get to give my skills, you know what I love, because I get the same thing back, I get a place to exist and to be held and to have space, which, when you haven’t had that for so long, that actually is the counterbalance. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  05:32 

I think that’s the key to volunteering. And reflecting on this a lot recently, I think if you can get involved in something where you’re actually using your skills and your passion, then it doesn’t feel like a chore or extra work in a way that it perhaps it might do as any task would be if it doesn’t really align with what you’re naturally good at are interested in.  


Chloe Davis  05:51 

I think that’s my, I think that’s my choice. With volunteering, you have the choice to remove your skills, if it’s not a place where you feel safe, or you feel celebrated. And these are all places that have kept and keep me safe, but recognise my skills and celebrate them and want them to be there too. And, and I think that’s really powerful. When you get to give something to community as part of a team, you can collectively see the work that you’re doing. I think that is as much bars and adrenaline and euphoria that keeps you going, you know, I know.  I’m gonna have enough energy to last me I think probably until October because of being around 25,000 people who are all there to celebrate UK Black Pride that you can’t bottle it, I can’t explain it, you just have to be there. So having those moments throughout the year and all the different spaces where you get the energy, get that joy, but also when you’re sad, you have that place to fall back to that, I think is what I what I tried to do more than anything else. I think that’s what it means when you truly volunteer and community. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  07:03 

I want to reflect back on something you said right at the top when you started speaking about your journey. How you had your first episode after 10 years of silence. So can you explain what that meant. And I think that would lead quite nicely into what mental wellness looks like to you, having been through a seismic mental health experience. 


Chloe Davis  07:24 

So when I was 14, my best friend in the whole world was my older cousin. And my parents used to call us pinky and perky. And unfortunately, I was 14 he was 18. And he died by suicide. And when you lose a child it’s devastating when you lose a child under those terms. I think it just changed the path of my family. And all the adults were asking for questions and trying to work out why. And you know, my dad said, Well, maybe we should speak to Chloe. So as a 14 year old who’d never been steered wrong by her family, I spoke my truth and said what I thought and I think it was a bit too or and a bit too real for the adults to take at the time. And everybody told me to be quiet. And so I did. That’s what I did.  


You know, I had a great family that told me I can never do any wrong. So when they told me to be quiet, and it was obviously too painful, I did I internalise everything for 10 years, I stopped talking about my pain, my joy, you know, my problems, you know, I stopped celebrating myself. I started acting out, you know, anything to get people to hear me. And none of that seemed to work until I was 24. And my body said, You’re not listening. You know, you’re, it’s not working, whatever it is that you’re trying to do, and you’re suppressing, so I’m going to make you do it. And so I had a full physical, mental and emotional breakdown. I ended up in hospital. And it was my house for three days. And I worked for John Lewis, and they came knocking on my front door.  


I ended up in hospital and tried antidepressants, but that doesn’t seem to work for me. It actually made me go the other way. And a bit loopy for me. But what they did do was they said that, you know, we have our partner discounts and we’ve got a great scheme for our partners, we have occupational health. And so you can have free counselling you can have six to 12 sessions. I have 13 tattooed on my wrist because I had 13 sessions and my first counsellor’s name was Diane, and she was incredible, because she actually got me to really hear myself for the very first time to stop lying to myself to say stop bullshitting myself and to actually just own my own truth in a way that I haven’t done for so long, or that I was relying on other people to do that for me, because I’ve forgotten how to do it for myself.  


And since, I’ve continued to go on and have other episodes, you know, that will continue to happen. This isn’t there is no, there is no cure, when there’s actually nothing wrong. And by that, I mean that I have a higher emotional intelligence because of the some of the things that I’ve gone through, I am honest enough with myself that there will be periods in my life where I’m absolutely not okay. And that’s perfectly okay. Sometimes I’m going to be at 80%, sometimes I’m going to be 30%. And it’s just about me trying to be as transparent and honest as possible, as I navigate through those times for the people that will interact with me, but also all the people that I interact with. And that’s why I say that I’m a mental health survivor. And that I don’t live with it, it lives with me. So therefore, when it leaves me it has to navigate how I navigate. And I think that for me, is really important language, that wellness. And being you’re never 100%, well, there’s always something going on in the world, that you can be as close to that as possible.  


So for me, mental wellness is the transparency, that honesty, but also being protective, of what can impact my mental wellness, and not necessarily being in places where I do that or don’t. Because I think when you’re more, when you’re more emotionally aware, when you’re more sensitive to the rhythm of the world, and things that are going on. Sometimes I know when outside life, and societal things are happening, they might have a deeper impact on me, because I’m more sensitive to that. So things that will be happening in community, I have to be mindful to protect my peace. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  12:14 

I’m really sorry to hear that you went through that. And it sounds like an immensely challenging thing to go through at any age, let alone when you’re such a vulnerable age of 14. And it’s comforting to hear that you’ve since been able to seek out the support that you need. And the notion that this has actually given you more empathy and more understanding and that you realise for you mental wellness,  it’s an ongoing practice, and one where you protect yourself and communicate your needs. There all kinds of positive and inspirational outcomes from what is undeniably a terrible thing to have gone through.  


Coming on to any extra mental wellness support people might need, if they’re members of multiple underrepresented communities, such as your situation? How do you think that comes into play both in terms of your own experience and what you’ve been through? And also in our industry? In our workplaces? What what do people need? And how can managers best support them? And indeed, therapists as well, you know, do your therapists give you any kind of extra support or insight that you need? That’s really specific to being a part of the Black community in the LGBT community? 


Chloe Davis  13:45 

That’s a really good question. And the mirror more than anything else, you know, it, it took a long time to find a Black queer therapist who identified in this similar way as myself. And the power of having a therapist like that means that that hour of my time that I pay for is as healing and as nourishing as I need it to be. Sometimes we don’t talk, sometimes we just cry. Having that space is so incredibly important. And I think that’s the same throughout the workplace throughout, wherever you go, that that understanding of my lived experience is key. So I think that when, you know workplaces, or managers or leaders are thinking about how they can support people who are reflections of myself, it’s to be able to understand the lived experience.  


And if it’s not in your doors, make sure that that is communicated clearly because someone who looks like me isn’t necessarily going to have walked the same path as me and understand and we’re not all a monolith to each other. But if you understand some of the experiences, you know, my story, strangely enough is not any different to a lot of LGBTQ plus people right now. When we think about the, you know, the percentage and the rate of suicide within our LGBTQ plus community for our young people, there will be people who look like me who are far younger than I am, who are impacted by the loss of friends and family and community members. And so as they then navigate their adulthood and go into the workplace, much of that experience will carry with them.  


I think that’s why it’s so important to keep utilising these conversations keep talking about this, you know, the work that MHFA is doing, talking about suicide and the different lived experiences and how, you know, Mental Health First Aiders can spot this, but also what leaders can do in the workplace. You know, it’s why spaces like NABS are so incredibly important for an industry that is so, so far, so intense, so creative, relying on emotional capacity, and creativity. And so when you’re at your best you are running, but when you are also at your best you are running and not protecting yourself, because you’ve got deadlines and trying to do all this work. So it’s being mindful and putting in places things that we can do to protect people’s mindset, you know, to allow people to do hybrid days to not necessarily be in the office, or actually to come and have that community together, I think it’s really important that we’re just aware of where we’re at, and who is with each other and who is not there. And I think that’s the place that we just have to keep building and growing and learning from because we don’t have all the answers nor nor will we.  


And even if we create incredibly inclusive cultures in the workplace where people can thrive and people are happy, the world outside will have an impact on that when you know, people die, people are murdered, things happen, people’s rights are taken away, that then changes how people navigate their day to day when they come to work or has an impact on their mental health. So I think leaders have even more of a responsibility to make that part and parcel of the strategy of their business and the well being of their people. Because it will happen to them to is not exempt from senior leadership to mid to junior, everybody’s mental health is impacted things, especially after the pandemic. So we have to make our people our priorities, again, 


Louise Scodie – NABS  17:44 

Thinking really specifically now about Black women, because the new project that you’re running, which is really exciting, is investigating the experiences of Black women in the industry, and then sharing those experiences so that some actual change can happen. What Black women need in terms of support and understanding of visibility that they’re currently not getting. And how can people in our industry be useful managers and allies to Black women to help rectify anything that needs rectifying? 


Chloe Davis  18:20 

I think more than anything else is you know, when we say believe Black women, trust Black women support Black women uplift, Black women, that hasn’t changed throughout our industry, there are, you know, I could be having this conversation through many different lenses of difference, but specifically through the lens of Black women. I know so many incredible Black women in our industry who have had to fight to get the positions that they have for their seniority, who are not only facing possible sexism in the workplace and other types of discrimination because they are mothers or their carers or, you know, they are LGBTQ plus. And when you have so many different layers that you carry, it’s hard battle. But when you’re also trying to do the job and fight for change inside the business, and I think that’s what’s more important than anything else. There are so many people who have committed their skills to making our industry better. And the challenges that they face far outweigh those of my white counterparts, those of you know, our South Asian siblings too. And so I think that’s where the balance needs to be readdressed. And the simple fact of the matter is, it’s not data that we actually dial down to on a regular basis. And if we do dial down to that data, we don’t actually publicise it. So what’s the good of doing the work if we don’t tell people about it? And I think for me, that’s what we’re trying to do with this survey. Collectively, you know, with our partners, but also to the industry, and not just to, you know, the industry in the UK, but also around the globe, because our people travel around the globe.  


But I think it’s really important to start, where you come from and for me at home, is to actually know where we’re at, to have the data to support our experiences for our industry, to really be able to listen, because we are so reliant on data and an insight. And we create that into the work that we build and put out there. But if we don’t retain and actually do that same data for our people, then we’re just going to keep talking to ourselves, and nothing’s going to change. And so it’s really to make sure that these experiences are heard. And that we interrogate where the gaps are, where the issues are, and then collectively, how we can do this work together to make that positive change. Because that, ultimately, is the goal more than anything else.  


You know, I love this industry. I’ve loved this industry for many, many years. And there are so many amazing Black talented women who share the same sentiment, we are passionate about the work that we do in this industry, and we just want to collectively change it for the better. So I think two allies, this is not going to be easy reading. I think any survey of this kind is never going to be easy reading, when we actually are saying out loud, that there are problems. There are things that need to be addressed. These are some of the examples. But what we’d like to do is collectively come together to create a space where we can unpick and unpack those, and then really do the work not only for ourselves, but for the next generation of Black talent, regardless of whether they are women. They are LGBTQ plus they are elders, you know, they are neurodivergent or from disability community, it’s a way to look at talent for talent sake, rather than you’re looking at it because you carry a different characteristic. But I think to to balance that out, you have to understand those experiences first and correct those I think that’s what we’re trying to do more than anything else.  


Louise Scodie – NABS  22:29 

 NABS did a piece of work in 2019, diversity and focus, where we spoke to people across underrepresented groups about their experiences of adland. And what came through was, there is so much to do, and that people just aren’t able to reach their potential, because they are either not being supported, or people are using up so much mental energy. So code switching or trying to fit in or feeling as though they don’t fit in all of the mental energy that could be spent on creativity and bolstering themselves and, you know, works actually doing the work that they’re not able to do that properly, because they’re just so worried all the time. And no one’s helping them with that. And I think that’s one area where you know, NABS, and you would see eye to eye on that the mental wellness piece here is just absolutely key. Once someone feels more supported, and they’ve got an outlet to go and talk to someone, whether that’s therapy or going to a group coaching or whatever it is that they then have some mental space freed up for their actual work. But employers need to be on board with this, don’t they? I mean, you’ve got to have managers being really active in inclusive practices, don’t you? 


Chloe Davis  23:40 

Absolutely. You know, you’ve that’s why I said, this isn’t easy, like managers, myself included, you know, leaders, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You know, this is this is not this is not all positive conversation, when you’re talking about how someone feels and how they navigate through space. And they didn’t feel like they could do it with the fullness of themselves. And so that kind of always comes from a place where people sometimes get in their own way. And I think that businesses really need to interrogate the work that they’re trying to do in a positive way for their people. And remember that it’s for the greater good of the people, not for the individual. And I think we’ll really start to get somewhere because, I mean, I know that in the experiences that I’ve had been NABS for three years, as you’ve interrogated and really looked at the experiences of our people in our industry, when we look at this through a cost of living crisis, we look at this through in the LGBTQ post crisis, even, you know, the worker support you’ve been doing with time to all of this is coming into you at Super accelerated rates in ways that it never used to before.  


And so when you put that information back out to people, it’s stark reading but you have to accept it’s happening and then be prepared to do the work. We’re not saying anything different, what we’re saying is just dial down even more within the characteristics of community in the diverse layers that people carry. This is really truly some of the things that are happening that may not even come into NABS, because people will communicate in places of safety. That’s why spaces like UK Black Pride exist. Because it’s within your own community, you feel like you have the safety and the comfortability to really share your experiences with people that are like you to then be able to create the change.  


So I think that the space that our industry really, really needs to get to, there’s so many people doing such great work, and all we’re doing is trying to collectively come together and dial down to the root, to really heal that and fix that we’re not trying to root it, but you know, it’s gonna definitely need some I’ve got my gardener thing on it’s gonna definitely need some treatment and, you know, some health, some health back to it to, to get the soil to grow. That takes work, you know, all takes some real mindfulness and things that we’ve never actually properly done. Not to say that we didn’t try. But by properly I mean being consistent. This isn’t something that just stops in the end of May, when we’re no longer in mental health months, or when we’re no longer in Black History Month. This is constant work that we have to do for our people. And that requires effort and commitment. And so I think this is why I always say it has to be a strategic directional, because then it underpins your business. And then you’ve basically committed to, you’ve decided that this is the right thing to do, but also that you’re making it non negotiable. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  26:58 

It’s one of the reasons why NABS has partnered up with Outvertising , MEFA and Brixton finishing school, so that we can work together and stay plugged into groups that are helping different underrepresented groups. Because we know that essentially, we’re stronger together, if we’re going to help to promote diversity, and mental wellness across our industry, that you know, that community piece is really important to us. And it’s clear that it’s really important to you, you give so much to different communities and you get so much bad and that’s where your your recovery and your healing process is coming from it seems to me, how does the adland community lift you up?  


Chloe Davis  27:43 

Oh, my God. I have met some of the most incredible like minded amazing souls in this industry. I’ve worked in I think every single industry, apart from advertising over my, you know, 25 plus year career. And I did get a feeling of a sense of home when I got here and really kind of connected with like minded people. I mean, I have all the time in the world for Kevin Morosky, is such an incredible talent and it’s been someone that has absolutely been my champion and my rider you know, Madeline McQueen has been absolutely amazing. And you know, a member of the Congress club, I would never have been as connected to her now if I hadn’t have been inside on on this side. And you know, I’ve had amazing experiences with the team at Lucky’s and you know, I’ve gone on to now be part of WACL and Bloom and MEFA. And really continue to just meet inspirational people from all around the globe, who we all have the same thing in common. We are all passionate, and we are all storytellers. And we are all creative in an abundance of different ways. But we’ve all committed to be on this mission to tell other people’s stories, and that for me, I think is probably one of the most beautiful things that I could ever have asked for without realising that’s what this industry would do for me as someone who is so tied into community and hears the stories on a day to day basis to be able to articulate them and visualise them strategize and see them played out on a big stage. Yeah, it genuinely is, is something that I feel very, very lucky to be in a position that I am in to do the work that I do. I really don’t take it for granted, but is some powerful stuff. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  29:56 

We’re an industry of storytellers. And that’s what we do. And it’s really uplifting to hear that you’ve connected into those elements of storytelling and community in order to get comfort, get solace, get companionship, and also get partners for the really important work that you’re doing. What’s the lesson that you’ve learned about how to support yourself?  


Chloe Davis  30:25 

I’ll be really honest, this industry gave me my confidence. Yeah, I’ll be honest, I, you know, it was it was an interesting time when I came into this industry, and I was really trying to rediscover who I am on my own terms, in a way that I don’t think I had for a while. And I think this industry really did give me my confidence back it really gave me you know, that that mirror element to to own me on my skills and what I do in abundance, and then to really kind of thrive. And I think that’s the place that I find myself in today. It’s not, you know, with honesty, it’s not always consistent. And, you know, when you, you have two children, you do all the different things that you do, you know, you can’t be superwoman, Superwoman, you know, did always turn back into an ordinary human being on the other side, but yeah, I think this, I think this industry gave me my spark back. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  31:34 

That is great to hear. And especially considering everything that you’ve been through. It’s fabulous to hear that not only have you got your spark back, but you’re strong enough to share that spark, with our industry and with so many different groups. So there’s been amazing speaking to you, thank you so much for everything you do. Thank you for being so open and vulnerable. And also for somehow managing to get time off from dealing with the kids to speak to me as well, which is a massive effort in and of itself. Chloe, if people want to find you, where’s the best place for them to do that?  


Chloe Davis  32:08 

I am on LinkedIn as Chloe Davies, or you can find me on an account I’ve just joined threads, Instagram and threads at simply was Chloe. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  32:18 

Fabulous. Go find Chloe, you can find out more about her work and, and everything that she gets up to there. If you’ve been affected by any of the issues that we’ve spoken about today, then please give NABS a call. Our support advisors are here to listen and to give you advice, guidance and any other support that you might need. In the meantime, Chloe, it’s been brilliant speaking with you, and I just still remain humbled that you get up to so much. But now I understand that you get so much out of it as well. And everyone who benefits from your work is just so lucky. We’re lucky to have you. Chloe, thank you very much. Have a great week. 


Chloe Davis  32:55 

Thank you so much, Louise. It’s been super lovely to talk to you today. I wish everybody that’s listening a fantastic week. Enjoy yourselves. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  33:05 

Thanks Chloe. 


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