Bloom North Profile: Ally Owen, Founder, Brixton Finishing School and The AD-Cademy
What do you most admire in a colleague?
Team players who value the combination of all our efforts as more important than individual ego or gain. At The AD-cademy they are essential, our work is all about collaboration and facilitation. I admire clarity of speech with a dose of kindness, and a commitment to pulling your weight. I fare least well with people who clearly can’t be arsed to add to a room, and best with those who try to find the value or lesson in any situation. Accountability and humour go a long way when things go off course (which they will, as we are human)!
What moment in your life most helped in shaping your career?
I’ve had multiple moments that led me to activism. I’m an industry veteran (nearly 3 decades) and have experienced classism (e.g. having my handbag checked to see if it was fake by a posh colleague before I met fashion clients), single parent-’ism’ (e.g 18 weeks after having my daughter my finances meant I had to go back to work - on my first day a male colleague told me ‘I can’t believe you’ve left that lovely baby at home’) as well as the ‘standard issue’ sexism and ageism that’s rife in our industry. I’m white CIS, and able so I’ve learnt I’ve also benefited from privileges and this made me feel I needed to change the system.
My ‘moment’ was when Katie Hopkins was employed by the media outlet I was running a significant revenue line for. I was outraged that she got a platform and a voice while so many of the communities I cared about didn’t. I thought ‘Someone’s got to do something!’ Then realised that if I did think that, that someone was me. This kick started Brixton Finishing School and, eventually, our national AD-Cademy. Both are designed to change the blend of our talent pipeline so all voices are included in our industry. The power of advertising to create cultural norms cannot be underestimated, therefore we must ensure all our country’s cultures are present, not just a majority type.
Which women do you look to in life to help guide you?
My friends, colleagues, other activists, neighbours - there are SO MANY brilliant (and often overlooked) women around me. I am blessed to have so many role models for change - whether that’s a teacher who told me I could, icons like Michelle Obama and Gina Miller, to those women who invested early in BFS to make it happen. Our graduates who identify as female are a never ending source of inspiration for me. Literally they are badass.
What advice would you give your 20 year old self?
The structure is designed to limit you. 75% of the time it will be structures and class that will fxxk you over, 20% it will be a learning experience around behaviours you need to work on. (5% of this will be you being prideful and a twat). Don’t internalise your lack of progress/recognition/promotion of a reflection of your talents. YOU ARE DAMN GOOD AT YOUR JOB. It’s a symptom of a system that’s designed for a singular type of talent to succeed. Be self aware, be accountable, be honest and don’t accept the narrative your worth is less. Keep that flame inside you alive.
Brixton Finishing School works to create a diverse, inclusive and equitable talent blueprint for our industry. Talents from multicultural, socially mobile, neurodiverse (& majority female) backgrounds pass through this award-winning accelerator that finds, trains and places ‘under-represented’ talent in roles. Recognising the impact that COVID-19 will have on young people’s futures, Ally also launched the game-changing AD-Cademy program which will give over 2500 students a year across the UK a fairer chance to succeed. The North West is a key talent target for 2021/22.
Allys' accolades include Campaign 2021 Female Frontiers Championing Change Honouree/Campaign 'Trailblazer' 2020/ BIMA 2020 Champion for Change/ AD Age 2020 'Woman to watch in Europe'
Twitter @BrixtonFSchool @Ally_N1