Why I left my grad scheme in the middle of a pandemic

Shannon Okyemba

The day I handed in my notice was the most freeing experience in my current adulthood life. Despite working at a top advertising agency, having job security during a time of global uncertainty, and increasing reports of the worst economic recession to come, I left. There was no opportunity waiting for me on the other side: not a job offer, not an interview, not even a clear idea of what I wanted to do, and I still choose to leave.

You may think that I made a rash and unwise decision.

“Why not stay until you can find another role to go into?”

“Why not see if there are any other opportunities in the company to explore?”

I also thought this and asked myself these same questions and more, exploring every option I could think of. 

However, there was one particular question that remained at the forefront; “are you willing to risk unemployment in the middle of a pandemic?” 

Shockingly, my answer was yes. My desire to leave was so strong that it overshadowed my risk-averse nature and my natural inclination to prepare a plan and a back-up plan. I had started this role in January 2019 and by this point I had been considering leaving for six months. So, to have reached this moment, where the thought of leaving brought me peace despite everything, I knew my decision had been made.

I was accepted on to this graduate scheme that was hailed within the industry for its diversity but later discovered this diversity was nowhere to be found in the agency itself. It was as though the agency had wiped its hands clean of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) as it had done ‘its part’. Many reasons led me to make this choice, but at the forefront was that I no longer felt I received value from my role. There are people who can remain in a job if it meets their financial ends and while this is important, it isn’t enough to keep me in a role. I view every role that I undertake as preparation for when I reach the top of my career. 

I need to be intellectually challenged by the work that I do; stretched in ways that will lead to new skills and greater development. I wish to take every opportunity that can incite growth until I feel I have reached my capacity. Unfortunately, this was not my experience with the graduate scheme. This, paired with being one of the very few Black people at the agency, sent me over the edge. Every day I was confronted with the Advertising industry’s culture when tended to exclude certain individuals. Not only was it isolating, but it led me to wonder whether my place on the scheme was tokenistic. I was thrust into an environment that failed to consider how I or other people of colour would integrate into a culture that is inherently exclusive and elitist. 

The next time D&I would be spoken of would be a year later - during the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the media resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

All of this led to a decline in my mental health. I began to feel as though I was regressing as the time that could have been used to improve and expand my skill set was being wasted. Before I knew it, the confidence I had in my abilities began to dwindle. The negatives of the role started to outweigh the positives until one day, I realised there were none at all. I felt stuck. After another day of mundane tasks, it dawned on me: I have a choice. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, I can choose to change course. No matter how hopeless I feel in a situation, it is not final. I had put so much pressure on the scheme that I forgot it was okay to experience something and then change my mind about it. Remembering this empowered me to have faith in myself - I would not only find another opportunity but a better one.

So, we come back to the question that changed it all for me: “are you willing to risk unemployment in the middle of a pandemic?”. What I really asked myself was: “do you believe in yourself enough to take this gamble?”. Of course, my answer was yes.

A Touch Of Colour © 2020