Acceptance, Diversity and Authenticity: Tips For You From NABS’ B.A.M.E Senior Leader Mentors

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Some of our industry’s most revered leaders came together at Advertising Week to share their career learnings and advice at our B.A.M.E Leaders speed mentoring session. Here, they reveal their hopes for the industry following BLM as well as their tips for progressing your career.

Kimi Gilbert, managing partner, The Future Factory

Don’t shy away from who you are.

I’ve heard a lot of stories from people in the industry who’ve felt they’ve had to hide their true selves in order to fit in and get ahead. I know someone who went by his middle name, George, at the office as he felt his first name sounded too ‘foreign.’ Someone else I know who went to Pret with her colleagues every day as she wasn’t sure how they would react to her bringing in jollof rice. And a friend styled his hair in a certain way as he thought it made him look more ‘presentable’ in his ad agency.

Please know that I am not being critical of these people for acting the way they did. Sadly, prejudice does exist and I understand why they felt pressured to seem a certain way. However, I strongly believe that as minorities we must resist the urge to be anything other than what we truly are. Why should we dial down aspects of our appearance and modify our behaviour to try and be what we think the majority want us to be? If people are going to ‘other’ us, that’s their problem, not ours.

What I’ve found is that authenticity can go a very long way. After graduating from university, I received a competitive scholarship to move to Vienna for a work placement. When the selection committee called me to tell me the good news, they told me they chose me because, unlike with some of the other candidates, with me they actually got a sense of who I was as a person (in my application essay I made sure I put my Korean heritage right at the forefront).

Today, when choosing between two candidates at work with similar levels of ability who are going for the same promotion, the deciding factor is often whichever person is more genuine. I want to surround myself with people who are comfortable in their own skin – pretending to be people we’re not, with opinions we don’t actually believe and with preferences we don’t actually have, limits what we can achieve as a team.

Jayesh Rajdev, VP brand solutions, The Addressable Platform

I want to see the diversity of our industry reflect the diversity of our nation, both in terms of the work we do and the people doing it. But that starts with better diversity at the very top. Media organisations must start making positive changes to the composition of all those white male-dominated boards.

As a collective, the diversity of our backgrounds has never been higher on the agenda. Whatever change you were thinking of trying to make or make happen, whatever impact you wanted to make, there has never been a better time to be proud of who you are, and to show how good you can be.

Rania Robinson, CEO and partner, Quiet Storm

I don’t think it will come down to one action to address something so deep-rooted and systemic [as racism] following BLM. Like any real change, it comes first from realisation and acceptance that there is an issue and then collective, sustained action that addresses every barrier and creates real opportunity for change.  I think we’ve finally reached mass acceptance within the industry but what we really need to see is mass action. 

Unfortunately for anyone to survive this industry and do well you need resilience.  This is particularly true for the black, minority ethnic community.  Developing a strong sense of self and the value you bring to the industry and not giving up, even when the challenges feel impossible to overcome.

Christopher Kenna, CEO, Brand Advance

Please get rid of the word ‘BAME’ from the industry and actually from our language. It’s a lazy word that does not represent any community.  White Irish, Black, Eastern European… who are we talking about? None of them are the same.

Our actions after BLM should be to just be better, do better, think better. Let’s ensure there is no bias in our industry. Make sure that your output on behalf of our clients is truly reaching and representing everyone. And just because somebody is Black or multi-ethnic should not mean that they have to do anything different to their white counterparts to further their careers. What’s needed is for the playing field to be entirely even.

Liam Mullins, managing partner, the7stars

I have felt for far too long that our industry is predominantly full of people who look the same and come from the same background – whether that’s in the office, at industry events or how we help brands to show up in communications.  BLM has to be more than a moment in time. It has to be the start of finally getting the industry to address and redress this issue of inclusivity within advertising.

Find your supporters. Who are the people that champion you, that give you advice both positive and constructive that help you to reach you the heights that you aspire to?  Nobody gets there on their own.

Sarah Jenkins, managing director, Saatchi & Saatchi London

I’d like to see more collaboration across holding companies, agencies and client partnerships – sharing best practice and also keeping each other accountable. There’s still too much chat and artificial energy.

Change is coming, and it’s going to get better and better, but it won’t happen overnight. You need support. Join any mentoring programme you can, build your network, build your tribe and your support crew. Don’t feel like you are on your own navigating all this.

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