LONDON — Ten communications professionals have been selected as the first candidates to go through The Xec. Leadership Scheme, which has been set up to create the next generation of Black, Asian, mixed race and ethnic minority PR leaders and to increase boardroom diversity in-house and in agencies.

The Xec. Leadership Scheme – the first of its kind in the UK – has been developed by BME PR Pros with the advisory board of The Blueprint diversity mark. It is supported by Google UK and delivered in partnership with PRovoke Media and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

The 10 in-house and agency candidates, who secured a place on the scheme after a rigorous application and interview process, are:

  • Maria Adediran, account director, Wimbart
  • Kemi Bamgbose, communications manager, Lambeth Palace
  • Sebrina Kepple, international PR manager, McAfee
  • Kenon Man, deputy director of marketing, University of Nottingham
  • Anaïs Merlin, account director and deputy head of mobile and telecoms, CCgroup
  • Maxine Myers, communications manager, Imperial College London
  • Ben Roberts, director, Harvard
  • Sanjani Shah, global head of PR, The Body Shop
  • Whitney Simon, senior account manager, Gallium Ventures
  • Scarlett Zhao, PR manager, international corporate communications, Alibaba Group.

Elizabeth Bananuka, founder and CEO of BME PR Pros and Blueprinted (pictured) said: “You never quite know what to expect when you launch a new initiative and open for applications. When we launched The Xec. leadership scheme for Black, Asian, mixed race and ethnic minority PR and comms pros, all we wanted was to find eight candidates worthy of a place on what is surely a money-can’t-buy opportunity. What we got was a lot more than that. We found 10 genuinely talented, inspiring and brilliant PR and communications professionals that we believe are tomorrow’s leaders.

“I am honoured they chose to apply for a place on The Xec. and I cannot wait to see what this exceptional cohort will achieve in future years. I cannot thank Google UK, PRovoke Media and the CIPR enough for supporting talented BME PR and comms pros to get the careers they deserve. The Xec. would not have been possible without their generous support and partnership and the wise counsel of The Blueprint Advisory Board.”

The chair of The Xec. interview panel, Tobi Ruth Adebekun, who is also a Blueprint advisor and communications manager at Snap, said: “It was an honour to chair the interview panel and see such a strong cohort come out of the application process. What I found especially exciting was the diversity of the applicants in so many ways: backgrounds, experiences, industries, cultures and more - and all at the top of their game. Anyone who says they find it hard to find talent from underrepresented ethnic groups, simply isn’t looking hard enough.”

Launched in March 2021, The Xec. leadership scheme is a 10-month course covering 14 training days (including with the PRovoke Media team and a Google Day), 14 masterclasses and 10 ‘My Career’ talks delivered by a diverse range of industry leaders including award-winning creatives, communications directors and agency owners from organisations including Google UK, the Guardian, Ketchum, Blurred, Twitter, Diffusion PR, Fanclub PR and Manifest.

Google’s vice president of EMEA communications and public affairs Tim Chatwin said: “I'm excited to be supporting The Xec. and we are looking forward to working with this talented group of communicators.”

Course participants will also have the opportunity to curate and present a PRovoke Media event to be broadcast in June 2022. Each candidate will be allocated a BME PR Pros mentor for six months. The class will also create and host a podcast series, judge CIPR awards and be given £5,000 to create and launch a group campaign.

PRovoke Media CEO and editor-in-chief Arun Sudhaman said: “It’s incredibly encouraging to see how The Xec. Leadership scheme has struck a chord with Black, Asian, mixed race and ethnic minority PR and comms pros. Unfortunately, these are groups that have historically been left behind by the wider UK PR industry, but no longer thanks to brilliant initiatives like this. I’m very excited to follow the progress of the first cohort, not only because they will create the next generation of BME PR leaders, but because there will be much that we can all learn from The Xec. Leadership scheme.”

And CIPR chief executive Alastair McCapra added: “This strong first cohort of leadership candidates tells us that this scheme is the right fit for many aspiring leaders in our sector. I wish them all the very best as they embark on their programme and I’m sure they will be making their presence felt in years to come.  I’m very pleased the CIPR is supporting this programme and we wish it every success.”

The cohort’s bench of mentors are: Daljit Bhurji (CEO and co-founder, Diffusion); Preena Gadher (co-founder and managing director, Riot Communications); Jessica Hope (founder and CEO, Wimbart); Claire Johnson-Tusinska (regional leader, strategic solutions, communication and public affairs EMEA, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices); Adrian Ma (founder and managing director, Fanclub PR); Doyel Maitra (group communications director, Hachette UK); Claire Quansah (head of client and business development, Social); Alicia Solanki (managing director client experience, Ketchum UK) Chinedu Udezue (senior strategy consultant) and Anisha Vikram Shah (consulting director, Blurred).

Also from Blurred, CEO and founder Nik Govier is one of the tutors on The Xec. She said: “I have no doubt that The Xec. will make a tangible difference to the careers of this first cohort. In the interview process I saw potential combined with talent and a genuine desire to be all they can be – that's a powerful blend. Often in our industry, people of colour aren’t given the opportunity – or even a level playing field – which is why The Xec. matters so much. I can't wait to watch these industry leaders-in-waiting flourish.”

Photo credit: John Ferguson