Tom Bayliss
Mar 20, 2024

The privilege that comes with a traditional English name

We Are Social's Tom Bayliss, who was named Mohammed Khan until he was adopted, reveals the racism he's faced while working in adland but also the opportunities he has realised

The privilege that comes with a traditional English name

Hi, I'm Tom Bayliss. But I haven't always been. For the first 18 months of my life, my name was Mohammed Khalid Pervez Khan before it was changed as part of the adoption process by my white, British parents.

They already had a biological child and went on to adopt three children who were all multi-ethnic. Growing up, we didn't see our colour as our point of difference. But of course, as an adult, other people made me aware of my colour, particularly during my 25-year career in advertising.

I've recently been delving into my birth history in order to get an Irish passport (my biological mother was of Pakistani and Irish descent). It's got me thinking about my name and how it's affected me over the years. I've no doubt that my lived experience is very different from what if would have been if I hadn't been adopted.

I imagine that version of me would have been Muslim, been part of a multi-ethnic community, would have celebrated non-Christian festivals and could speak another language other than English. I might have had an extended family that lived in another country.

I've also wondered if that version would have had the same career path. Sadly, I doubt it. Research from King's College London found that job applicants with English names received 26.8% of positive responses for leadership roles, compared with 11.3% for non-English names. And even those who don't have the barrier of a non-English name can face frustrating questions.

Over the past 25 years of working in agencies, clients and colleagues have asked me multiple times what my "real" name was. I've also been asked repeatedly why I don't celebrate Diwali, which curry is the hottest, which country I was born in and if I can achieve a sun tan (I can—brown skin does tan!).

In many instances, I was the first person of colour any of my colleagues had ever worked with, so they felt they could ask those sorts of questions. When I started in the industry, I was aware that there was no-one else in the agency who looked like me, and there was no one who was openly gay (also like me). Eventually, a confident and smart multi-ethnic female group account director was hired. This was the first person I'd seen in a work environment who looked like me—I hadn't even realised I needed a role model, but she instantly became one for me. It helped transform my confidence, my drive and my aspirations.

I'd like to say that over the years, the number of diverse peers or role models has rapidly increased. Still, none of my previous agencies have had people who looked like me as part of their leadership (I'm fortunate here that the brilliant Mobbie Nazir [global chief strategy officer] has been a longstanding member of We Are Social's global leadership team). But as an industry, we over-rely on using a handful of individuals to represent multi-ethnic senior leaders. While these people are all inspiring individuals, we can and should be showcasing a broader representation of people from different backgrounds. This is why—despite not being particularly comfortable with the spotlight— I've decided to share my thoughts.

There are signs in the industry that change is accelerating. Only last week, on my way to a client meeting with a few colleagues, all of us were from multi-ethnic backgrounds for the first time in my career. It will take time for great talent from junior to mid-level to make their way through the ranks, but it's happening. The profile—and the names—of industry leaders will look very different in the future.

I love my name. It's part of my identity and who I've become. It helped me get into interviews and made me slightly more comfortable around my colleagues and clients. It represents the adoption lottery I won, the privileges I've been given, and the opportunities realised.

Conversely, it has made me reflect on the opportunities that so many others miss out on. The industry is improving, but there's still a considerable amount of bias towards those who don't fit in the category "norm" of the ad industry.

We still need to see more faces like mine, or names like Mohammed, mentioned in the industry press. From a quick search of Campaign's 2024 articles so far, the name Mohammed has been mentioned twice. Pick any relatively traditional white name—James, Stephen, Tom, etc.—and the mentions are four, five or more times higher.

While I might not be writing under my birth name today, I hope that sharing my story will encourage others to speak out and help build an industry that accommodates everyone.

Tom Bayliss is the chief client officer at We Are Social. This article first appeared on Campaign UK.

Campaign India

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