The Important Role of Intersectionality in the Ad Industry


Omelet CEO on why lived experiences and identities are what make incredible storytelling

AAPI Heritage Month is an interesting and reflective time for many of us who exist within the community. It’s special to hear the voices and stories of folks who are doing incredible things for the community and culture at large.

It can also be a really interesting time to take a deeper view into the construction of identity.

Lived experiences

Identity is something that took me some time to fully wrap my head around. I’m Sri Lankan (Canadian). And like many first-generation kids, assimilation into the broader Western culture was my starting point.

In the past few years, thanks to a lot of work by a lot of wonderful people, I have been able to feel more comfortable in the multiple parts of my cultural identity. I’m not just a female leader. I’m not just a South Asian person. I’m not just a first-generation kid of incredibly hard-working immigrant parents. I’m not just Muslim. But the aggregation of these things and many many more, make me uniquely who I am.

And that doesn’t fit neatly into the box of expectation. I am by definition a bit messy. As a CEO, I feel even farther away from the truths of what I’ve been taught to expect to see in a CEO: the emotionless strength, poise and formality we’ve been taught to seek in leaders. I’m a strange, a little awkward but fully passionate being who brings myself in all my quirky glory to everything I do.

I believe this is a part of the conversation that’s often missing or misunderstood when it comes to DEI or JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) and how it shows up in our work. It’s too easy to revert to box-checking of the many spectrums of diversity. But without understanding the nuance of real human stories that underlie every intersection, it’s hard to truly feel seen by advertisers and brands. The manifestations of experience that come from crossing some of these lived experiences and identities are what makes incredible storytelling.

Sense of belonging

All to say, living on the outside of things can be a strangely lonely place to be. I’m grateful for my own tribe of weirdos who find themselves in a similar (but different) space. In a way, I love being an outsider because it provides a perspective that I believe is valuable in our business of folks who are insiders; it’s forever a healthy distance.

It can feel really detached and somewhat negative because in many ways, I haven’t connected in the same ways that others can or let down a certain kind of wall. I’m sure in some of those spaces, I can appear kind of sullen or withdrawn, but it’s not out of anything but not quite knowing if and where I belong. And I’ve felt that way in so many spaces that are built to be welcoming and filled with wonderful people, but it’s that nagging voice that says “They all belong. What on earth am I doing here?”

The idea of community, as a result, can feel like a far-away concept. Even when it is built for folks like myself. This makes me remember just how important the nuance of intersectionality is to all of these conversations and the spaces we build to come together.

A herculean task

Creating cohesion across cultures and identities is a herculean task. Watching events like the Goldhouse Gala a few weeks back and all the activities around AAPI Heritage Month is mind-blowing and underscore the power of community that encapsulates a huge number of intersecting identities and extraordinary humans.

Creating a space that holds so many is seemingly impossible. The API community is so faceted, covering an enormous chunk of the earth’s surface as well as its cultural footprint. Goldhouse specifically has done an incredible and mindful job of supporting and celebrating the intersections and interconnectedness of our communities.

Intersectionality is an important part of these conversations. Understanding what connects and bonds us and acting on it with specificity. When we see the nuance of intersectionality represented in media and culture (and also in how we gather), it has the power to shift things even more profoundly.

This article first appeared in

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