Mary Musasa on how a paid internship changed her life

Internships offer a chance for talent from different backgrounds to enter the advertising and production industry, but only if they are paid

Photo: Mary Musasa

When I was growing up in south-east London, I never thought someone like me could work in the advertising industry. I’m from an immigrant family and I was still in primary school when we arrived in the UK from Rwanda. When I was growing up, I had very traditional career expectations for myself, and so did my parents. I knew nothing about the creative industries. They were never mentioned as a career option at school, but I always loved adverts; for me, they were just as exciting as music videos.

Even though I’m now running my own business and building the successful career I wanted in film/advertising production, I feel like I’ve achieved it against the odds. The Mad Men reputation persists for a reason, and the workforce is still homogeneous when it comes to sex, race, and class. For me, everything changed thanks to the kindness of one person who stopped to talk to a temp.

I went to the University of Kent and did a degree in social sciences, which was about 95% psychology. When I graduated in 2012, I thought I was going to become a therapist, but my older brother had launched a small film production company after leaving uni, which gave me the courage to follow my passions.

With no contacts to speak of, I thought temping might be a way in, so I went for admin placements at ad agencies. But instead of getting a foot in the door, I was ignored – it didn’t seem to work. That changed while I was temping at St Luke’s London, where someone stopped to talk to me, asked why I was temping there, and seemed genuinely interested when he asked what I wanted to do.