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Meet Steve Keith: The Branding Man

The founder of the Queer Student Awards on the importance of diversity and equal opportunities in the workplace

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After stepping out of the corporate world and diving into a more creative path, it took Steve ten years in a high-pressure work environment and a trip to the Philippines to reassess his work priorities. Now, he is the director of branding and consulting at The Branding Man, podcast host and the brains behind the acclaimed Queer Student Awards. We caught up with Steve to chat about everything from championing young queer talent, to knowing when to take a step back from work in the name of personal wellbeing. 

What made you want to start The Branding Man? 
I was in a corporate career for ten years and I loved it, but I wasn’t looking after myself and I burnt out towards the end. I handed my notice in and then I went travelling around the Philippines. As I sat on a lovely beach in the Philippines, I remembered thinking, ‘I do love what I do, I just need to be able to channel it a bit more effectively for myself and my own mental health.’ I’m currently living at home in the Lake District with my parents. I moved back from London last year and it’s a timely reminder of why I decided to start my own business. I’ve always been surrounded by people who work for themselves and often thought, 'shall I have a go at that?' I always feel that as adults we don’t always explain the world of work to our young people in ways in which they understand. The Branding Man's vision was to create areas for employers where they could hire my services to work with young people to test their ideas and to change their job descriptions and job postings to language that was more inclusive for young people. 

Can you tell us about your work with the Queer Student Awards, and why it’s important to champion young queer talent? 
I wanted to create something that would celebrate the fantastic work that goes on within the LGBTQI+ community. I have met a lot of fantastic people and they had similar thoughts, feelings and frustrations around the way in which, during Pride season, all of a sudden a splurge of rainbows appear and corporate logos. From our perspective, there’s limited depth to that work, to me it’s very tokenistic.

The LGBTQI+ community has had a lot of the safe spaces that we would use to meet our friends and to be ourselves, such as clubs, bars and coffee shops, taken away from us. I know that has happened for everybody but it's particularly affected our community. It’s something that is very important to us and we have had to adapt to building those relationships and maintaining those networks online. Particularly for young people who are coming to terms with who they are, and how they might identify, not having the opportunities to meet people in real life and have that evolution of their identity validated (is problematic). I thought the best way for me to contribute and use my own platform was a celebration. 

Inspiring a younger generation is really important, do you think there needs to be a stronger focus on championing young talent? 
I spent nearly eight years working for EY (Ernst & Young) focusing on their apprenticeship brand, and I feel like a lot of the time that we pay a lot of lip service to stuff, and we say alternatives to university are important, but we then reinforce those options by saying you need a degree to do a job or that university gives you something that apprenticeships don’t. Education systems are not equal, and the way that we teach our young people to prepare them for the world of work is a very long way away from what it actually is. It is something that needs to be tackled globally. I would like to see more synergy in the conversations that are happening to make sure that there are equal opportunities across the board. 

Is there a piece of career advice you wish you could give your younger self? 
Ask for help, and ask for it more often. I am a very proud person and it took me a long time to ask for help. After my corporate career, I got much better at it. I had fantastic support around me and my manager was fantastic. When I shared things and spoke about things I was struggling with I realised how important It was to ask for help because they can work with you and unblock what was stopping you from progressing. 

What projects are you currently working on? 
I am currently producing a new podcast with Not Going To Uni and Amazing Apprenticeships, and we have launched a podcast that is dedicated to supporting parents with the career conversations they have with their children. There’s a lot of work going on with student recruitment and career advice in schools that opens the eyes of young people to the options that are available, but they are closed again when they go home and share it with their parents. And their parents rightly or wrongly push them down a different route because it’s what they think they should do. We wanted to create a podcast that would help to educate parents so that when they have those conversations with their kids they are adding to the foundations of what has already been done. 

What are your future plans for The Branding Man?
With the Queer Student Awards, it’s about evolving and seeing where it goes for next year. I’ve got a plan to hopefully move to Manchester by the end of next year, so I'm going to start scoping venues out there. And bringing young people on board and shaping that with the podcast; it’s going to be about making it wonderful with all the guests. And for The Branding Man I’m thinking about what direction I want to go with it next. For the time being I've nailed it in terms of maintaining the focus on employer branding but shifting it firmly into the diversity and inclusion space.

Words: Grace Goslin

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