“We are a diverse company that gives every demographic the same opportunity” -said the companies that reject most international talent.
During 2020 and 2021, I was in my final year at University, and like all the students in my cohort, I had to start thinking about what I wanted to do after my studies. It was quite an unusual moment in time to start thinking about a future beyond studying. If we are being brutally honest, a Masters was not even an option. The reason behind this is that I had to pay more than double if I wanted to pursue a postgraduate degree in the UK as an international student- so a door was already closed then.
Nothing looked like what we’ve seen before. A pandemic had just started, our student life was not a thing anymore, and we were meant to finish a degree and get as much experience as possible without leaving our room. The job market was as chaotic as ever, companies had to continue operating with as few resources as possible, recruitment had stopped and the Class of 2020 and 2021 were in the hunt for a job opportunity.
Around October time, I went online and started applying for the companies that I looked up to or knew about. Companies with shiny lines on their website that talked about inclusion, diversity and innovation; companies that had amazing marketing campaigns out there; and companies that were globally recognised.
I remember spending hours on my applications, making sure my CV aligned with what they were looking for, writing personalised cover letters for each application, and then I would jump on the diversity and inclusion section:
“Do you hold a British passport?” “Would you require a visa to work now or in the future?”
“We value every application and we do not judge applications based on gender, religion nor ethnicity.”
The international student experience
I would then send my application and get an automated email saying I have been rejected seconds after I submitted it. A vast majority of those applications got rejected due to my nationality and the need for a visa in the future. All of that got me thinking, do companies really value diversity? How far are they willing to go in terms of inclusion? Is a Mexican passport that bad for my future? I stopped believing in those shiny lines on the websites unless I saw an actual diverse team on their LinkedIn page. I stopped looking beyond brand reputations and asked myself what type of team I would like to belong (or could belong) to.
Hiring someone that required a visa in the future represents a cost for a company, but could it not be an investment? A study done by HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) found that out of all the students in higher education, around 20% of students are from abroad. However, according to Home Office figures, only 3.5% of those international students managed to secure a job in the UK.
Final year in times of COVID
That final year was a massive struggle. We were facing a pandemic of a magnitude that we have not faced in recent years. Like most students, my university life got completely disrupted and the job search was more difficult than ever. Many companies had stopped recruiting, some of them were cutting their budgets and most of them were trying to understand what this new reality meant. This meant that students like me were facing more competition and fewer places. I started to lose motivation but I kept on applying, hoping that one day I would finally land a job.
And with that my final moment as a student came. In a normal year you would have gone to your final lecture, maybe go for lunch or a pint with your coursemates to celebrate and look forward to graduation. However, things were different this year and I logged in to my final lecture at University- which was an online lecture delivered by a guest speaker. The guest speaker gave one of the best lectures I have listened to in my university experience, which made me want to engage with the conversation. Asking questions throughout it, made the interaction more natural and we ended up connecting on LinkedIn which ultimately led to a follow-up zoom between us. Afterwards, like some of those things in life where you get a serendipitous moment, life opened that door to me and I got offered a job in the guest speaker’s creative experience agency, Aurora.
Prior to this encounter, I had been filling out applications with the words they wanted to hear; every time I went on an interview, I would research the tone of voice they used and their goals so I could match my answers to theirs. For the past 10 months, I had been trying really hard to blend into a company’s culture rather than finding one where I could belong. My first encounter with Aurora was different, I showed them who I was and what I was interested in. There was no prior research, nor prepared questions from any side. There was genuine interest from both sides in learning about the company and learning about myself.
Finding where I belong
Joining Aurora felt natural. My first call with the Aurora founding team was full of passion and ways of leading that I have never heard of before. A creative experience agency founded by two women with widely different backgrounds in the industry but shared the same vision for the future; a Client Director based in Canada managing a creative team spread across the world. For the first time, my passport was not even part of the conversation. Working in different time zones was the normality, and even though Aurora’s office is based in one of the most gorgeous places in Liverpool, location was not a problem to join Aurora.
Aurora had international clients, they knew the power of the internet and the importance of a working model that adapts to employees’ situations- they did not see a reason why they couldn’t welcome someone like me into the team. And I? I believed in a company once again.
During my time at Aurora, I have experienced things that I thought would not be possible in the corporate world. As a foreigner, there comes a point in your life where you have to decide between your home and host country- as there is no job that is going to let you have a mixture. Aurora understood the globalised world we live in, and has offered me the opportunity to spend some time working remotely from Mexico; this way I could see my family without jeopardising my job. This is the future of the agency industry; hybrid agencies that not only understand their client, but think of their team first. Those that not only adapt the brief to different target audiences, but adapt the working environment to the social environment we are living in.
From adapting the number of working days per week to being able to work from anywhere without losing the team’s interaction. The future is using technology to your best advantage. Digital tools like Google hangouts or Miro boards allows us, as a company, to make the Atlantic Ocean feel like a puddle that can be crossed in seconds. These tools allow us to work with clients in any part of the world, with a team spread across continents without losing presence and the creative passion towards projects.
I have entered an industry where only 1% of founders are female, where most of the time you are expected to live in London to pursue your career aspirations, and diversity is more of a keyword for client’s campaigns than an important topic across the team. Working with Aurora has been an eye-opening experience, full of ambition and passion towards bringing people together to do something new. Aurora is taking that step that is leading an industry towards a more inclusive and conscious environment, and I am proud to be part of that process.
This year has been full of learnings. From learning to do antigen tests every week at home to learning my value as an individual and as a team member. Working with Aurora has demonstrated to me that nationalities are not a disadvantage in the workplace. But most importantly, it has taught me that you should never give up who you are and what you believe in, for any company.