‘You need to hire those who make you uncomfortable’ – says drag queen Leo Burnett creative director

The advertising industry is failing at diversity because agency managers are wired against hiring “anyone who isn’t like themselves,” a creative director of Leo Burnett Hong Kong has claimed.


Openly gay drag queen performer Gianni Gurnani has called on creative leaders to fight against unconscious bias within the industry and actively hire people who “make them uncomfortable”.

Speaking to Mumbrella Asia, Gurnani, who performs under the name Gigi Giubilee, dismissed the oft-quoted phrase of “cultural fit” as a byword for hiring the same people.

“Agencies talk about diversity a lot: we hear about it from recruiters and conferences,” said Gurnani. “But what prevents diversity is the homogenised culture. When leaders and hiring managers interview candidates, they have a stronger connection with people like themselves – an unspoken bias that’s immune to the diversity efforts.

“In a lot of markets, the homogenised market is straight, white and male – we all know that from every awards show and agency leader pictures. We see they all look the same. But it goes deeper than just gender, race and sexuality. It’s about taste; a certain kind of music, a certain kind of style or humour

A post shared by Gigi Giubilee (@gigi.giubilee) on

 Gianni performing as Gigi Giubilee

“I have read a lot of articles by chief creative officers and chief executives who say ‘we don’t see gender or race, we only care about great work’. That’s an excuse; honestly that’s bullshit. There are tons of people who are not like you, who are doing good work – they need to look harder. Bring people in who you don’t get and who make you uncomfortable because that’s how this problem will be solved.

Hailing from the United States, Gurnani began performing drag at university and says his alter-ego and sexuality has on-occasion led to him being discriminated against.

He explained: “[Bosses] don’t want to expose me to certain clients because they are worried about what I look like or how I will behave in a pitch – whether I would scare somebody. This [discrimination] happens to almost every woman in advertising; people assume you cannot work on a certain type of business because you’re not a straight male. A lot of the time people cannot separate the work you’re doing from who you are.

“I usually happen to be the person brought in to ‘spice things up’, so it’s not prevented me from having the same opportunities as other people, but generally it is a barrier to finding a diverse group of people in your agency. There are many who are not as weird or strange as me, but they don’t quite fit in with that group of people. Those are the ones who fall through the gap.”


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