Are 'Geniuses' and 'Gurus' Part of the Ad Industry's Diversity Problem?

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On the last day of Advertising Week Europe, a panel discussed whether anything has changed since ex-TBWA London Chairman Trevor Beattie in 2012 declared the industry "too posh, too white, too male." The consensus: not enough.

One of the less usual suspects may be adland's hyperbolic self-promotion, said Binna Kandola, senior partner at Pearn Kandola consultancy, a professor of psychology with a focus in diversity and development:

I love how people in your industry talk about themselves. This person is an "advertising genius" and this person is a "guru" .... You don't hear that in other industries. There's no such thing as an "accounting genius" or an "accounting guru." The language counts. Genius itself is a loaded term.

"Guru" and "genius" may tell outsiders that you've got to be hyper-educated or a top university graduate to enter it, Mr. Kandola said.

Shelina Janmohamed, VP at Ogilvy Noor, said that alienating tone may have started almost intentionally. "One of the ironies of advertising is that its terrible at communicating what it actually does," she said, "There's a bit of hubris in the industry ... wanting to keep a bit of magic to it by remaining aloof."

Mr. Kandola also cited managers' fear of being perceived as prejudiced: Concern that giving constructive feedback will be perceived as sexist, racist and in some cases ageist may be stunting employees' growth, he said.

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