Supporting the post-Covid talent pipeline 

How Ally Owen is taking the Brixton Finishing School mission across the UK to improve access to all underrepresented groups and break down the class barrier

Next year marks five years since I founded Brixton Finishing School (BFS), and as we come to the end of 2020, 230 young talents from multicultural, socially mobile, neurodiverse and majority female backgrounds will have passed through this award-winning accelerator that finds, trains and places ‘underrepresented’ talent in roles. 

My hope was that in five years, I’d be seeing some tangible change across the industry, but the truth of the matter is that social mobility in this country is slowing down – the pandemic is having a dramatic effect on opportunities for incoming young talent and coupled with this, incidences like the summer’s A-Level results debacle clearly illustrate just how much postcode inequality there is in this country – with those that benefited and those penalised according to the algorithm. This is just one of the issues that we hope to tackle by taking BFS’s mission out of the capital and across the country, with the launch of The AD-Cademy.

Addressing social mobility

We need to start addressing the impact of the lack of social mobility in our industry, there is an incredible disconnect that nationally, 93% go to state schools, 7% go to independents but when we look at adland, around 5% are working class and 41% are defined as being raised within the ‘elite’ class – not even upper class. Look around your organisation – how inclusive does it feel at class level? 

We need to start asking ourselves if we are truly inclusive when it comes to welcoming underrepresented groups into our organisations. When I started out in the industry 20 years ago, I internalised a lot of shame about where I was from, I focused on changing my accent, my voice and trying to look the part. I wish I could say that this experience has changed, but unfortunately even graduates from the BFS class of 2019 are still experiencing the same hurdles that I faced decades ago. One of them recently told me that much as she desperately wants the industry to change and diversify for the better, she too feels like she’s had to change and hide her true self and doesn’t want that to be the experience of other young talent like her.

Inclusive creative teams

Even when we look at the work that is created, people with ‘advantaged’ voices appear in adverts about trust and stability such as banking, while those with less advantaged voices tend to get cast in ads about chocolate bars and supermarkets. 

Additionally, there is the very uncomfortable fact that the tropes that exist around black working class British people and those from a white working class British background are so very vastly different – one is the cheery Cockney geezer, the other is a very upsetting trope of people participating in hidden economies. 

We cannot begin to break past these until we start creating more inclusive creative teams. The value of different lived experiences is the alchemy of amazing learned experiences plus that viewpoint from the world. 

That’s why I’m launching AD-Cademy. We need to create inclusive environments for every young person to thrive, so they can showcase the unique perspectives that bring value to agencies and their clients. I want to rewrite adland’s talent blueprint, at scale, to take all the lessons learnt from Brixton and reach young people across the country, and we can all become allies to achieve this together.

Becoming allies

There has been a groundswell of support across the industry this year, as the pandemic has led to businesses re-evaluating their structures and fully embracing some of the more challenging issues that 2020 has thrown at us collectively. Rather than grappling with the inequalities of access, we can work together on an organisational level by supporting industry initiatives, and there are a growing number from BFS through to Create Not Hate, Commercial Break and others. 

On a personal level, we all need to value and recognise the hunger that comes from people that have come from less fortunate backgrounds – when you’ve come into the world with fewer resources, you become more resourceful, which is such a great value to have in your teams and will keep our industry culturally relevant in the challenging year to come. To find out more about The AD-Cademy visit

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