Entrepreneurs

One company is using an obstacle course to start a conversation about race at work

Black At Work obstacle course at Havas Chicago
Source: Havas Chicago
Black At Work obstacle course at Havas Chicago

At one company in Chicago, employees are doing more than talking about Black History Month. Advertising agency Havas created a real-life obstacle course in the lobby that lets employees experience the kind of frustrations and irritations known as "micro-aggressions" that many black people face in the office.

The installation is dressed up in phrases that black people have heard from coworkers, ranging from, "That's so ghetto," to "Can you teach me how to Dougie?"

Also part of the course is the "Beam of Perception," where participants have to walk a fine line to avoid the labels "angry" or "lazy."

Black At Work obstacle course at Havas Chicago
Source: Havas Chicago
Black At Work obstacle course at Havas Chicago

Employees have been participating, and the course has also generated a conversation on social media with the campaign hashtag #BlackAtWork.

Guests and curious passers by have also tried the obstacle course. Some have even brought their children with them.

That's the kind of the engagement chief creative officer at Havas Chicago and one of the minds behind the project, Jason Peterson, hoped for.

"We wanted the installation to be active. We wanted it to mean something and we wanted to start a conversation," Peterson says.

As February approached, he discussed the idea with art director Jason LaFlore. LaFlore, who is black, knew that he wanted to make an interactive instead of a passive exhibit, something onlookers couldn't miss. He gathered peers to discuss what it means to be black in the office and the tone-deaf comments they have heard.

Black At Work obstacle course at Havas Chicago.
Source: Havas Chicago
Black At Work obstacle course at Havas Chicago.

"A lot of people don't realize what things we're experiencing and internalizing," LaFlore says. "Having this installation, people are able to walk through and take a step back."

The exhibit is also a nod to the lack of diversity in advertising, which hasn't changed much since 1978. In 2014, African Americans made only 5.8% of the industry, according to The Marcus Graham Project. That, Peterson says, keeps agencies from doing their jobs well.

"The advertising business needs to better reflect all consumers," Peterson says. "So if your agency or company doesn't have a multicultural point of view you can't really do your job."

The installation will be up at least through the end of the month and, thanks to the positive response, possibly longer.