Brixton ad school grads pen letter urging industry to improve diversity

Three Brixton Finishing School (BFS) graduates have written an open letter to the advertising industry urging action on its diversity and accessibility problem.

Mahalia Peake, 23, Kristina Kirova, 23, and Melanie Nogueira, 21, attended the 10-week advertising school between 29 June 29 and 5 September this year.

Peake, who lives in Streatham, was the first to come up with the idea. She felt frustrated after finding out internal recommendation is the most common route into the industry. Following a chat with BFS Founder Ally Owen, she was inspired to do something about it.

Peake said: “The ad industry has a big responsibility to take care of what it’s saying and make sure it represents everybody.”

But she realised she was not the only one feeling frustrated. Her peers, Kirova, a marketing assistant at KFC, and Nogueira, who is looking for a job after graduating, had shared similar concerns. The women decided to write the letter together.

Nogueira, who lives in East London, said: “As an industry that connects to so many people, you need to represent the people you’re selling to.”

Speaking with an infectious enthusiasm, Kirova, from Islington, added: “When we speak about advertising, it’s such a ‘closed door’ kind of industry. I just want to kick down the door and get everybody in.”

The letter, published in the advertising publication Little Black Book, outlines four values the industry should strive to embody:

  • Open and accessible
  • Innovative and inclusive
  • Creative with a diversity of thought
  • Kindness and respect

The values are followed by five ‘actions for change’ the industry can adopt to tackle the problems raised in the letter. These include establishing a blind recruitment system, and better job advertisement.

“We didn’t want to complain for the sake of complaining,” Peake said. “We wanted to point things out and then say: ‘and this is how you can fix it’.”

Former digital director at Campaign magazine Yasmin Arrigo supported the women with the project. She said: “It was a pleasure to work with Mahalia, Melanie, and Kristina on their letter to Adland, which powerfully articulates some of the barriers to entry.

“I’m looking forward to following their careers and championing them and their peers from the Brixton Finishing School Class of 2020.”

The graduates say their message has been received with an overwhelmingly positive response. They hope it will encourage tangible change in an industry that this year experienced a drop in the number of BAME employees, according to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

Mahalia Peake, Kristina Kirova, and Melanie Nogueira (bottom row) with their Brixton Finishing School classmates.

BFS is a free summer school for 18-25 year olds offering advertising masterclasses, workshops, and networking events led by high-ranking industry professionals.

Applicants do not need a degree and the school is aimed at people who would otherwise find it hard to meet the right contacts to get into ‘Adland’. The school relies on external funding.

To sponsor, donate, or apply for the course, visit www.brixtonfinishingschool.org

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