Sydney ad agency under fire over claims a job applicant told the company didn’t want “three brown skin people” attending meetings

A Sydney-based advertising agency has come under fire after a job applicant claims she was told the agency would not employ her due to the company already employing two other “brown skin people”.

Sri Lankan woman Surungi Emily Hohol took to Facebook to express her outrage over her interview at advertising agency Banjo, saying she was “livid and seriously irritated” over the comments, reports Mumbrella.

“Yesterday I had an interview at a creative agency in Sydney and was told that due to being brown and Indian (though I am Sri Lankan) and have lived in Australia for 27 years I wouldn’t be suitable for the role as they already had two other Indian people,” she said.

“Direct quote ‘the client might be alarmed by having three brown skin people attend a meeting’.”

The Facebook post has been shared widely and reported on by media outlets, with claims of racism directly at the ad agency.

Banjo chief executive Andrew Varasdi declined to comment when contacted by SmartCompany. However, the company said in a statement the situation was an “unfortunate understanding”, and the interviewer, “who is of similar ethnicity to the candidate”, made a “casual remark at the end of the interview”, which was intended to make the applicant feel “at ease.”

“The feedback I received was that the interview was a very positive one, reflected in an email sent immediately to the recruitment company that was complimentary of the candidate, and addressed the possibility to explore further opportunities with Banjo,” Varasdi said in the statement.

“Our position on this remains unchanged. When I learned of the situation I immediately contacted both the candidate and our staff member to offer my empathy and support.”

“There has been a lot of media attention on the issue of equality – including race, gender and sexual orientation, and age – in recent times and we acknowledge that emotions can run high.”

Bec Brideson, diversity advocate and the founder of Global Marketing Women, told SmartCompany the widespread use of social media means “more and more” of these situations are likely to be made public. However, Brideson believes both employers and employees can learn from these scenarios.

“It really shows how we’re beginning to democratise life and empower individuals through the power of social media,” Brideson says.

“These mistakes are beneficial, I think both companies and individuals are learning from them.”

Brideson, who is also the founder and director of Venus Communications, says Banjo’s response could have been better, claiming it was a bit of a “non-apology.”

“In saying ‘emotions run high’ regarding equality and diversity, it’s almost implying that the comments were misinterpreted,” Brideson says.

“Instead of apologising for the situation, the agency could have owned up to this ‘groupthink’ that many agencies are guilty of, and admitted they need to re-educate.

“It shouldn’t be a witch hunt for Banjo, they should take the opportunity to own up to it and admit their mistakes.”

Brideson says with the amount of attention diversity and equality has been receiving recently, acknowledging the issue and still not increasing diversity is unacceptable. Some companies have chosen to implement diversity quotas, which Brideson says is a good approach, for now.

“More and more big corporations have put diversity on the agenda, which until we have achieved diversity, is what needs to happen,” Brideson says.

“Look at how quickly we’ve adjusted to new technology, who’s to say we cant adjust to diversity in the same way.”

In its statement, Banjo said its staff includes “50% women in senior management and 50% women overall, and half of the staff are from ethnic backgrounds including [from] India, Asia, UK and South America.”


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5 years ago

The recruitment industry simply exists so employers and businesses can remain at arm’s length and therefore somewhat protected as they implement questionable, manipulative, and often scapegoating, practices with new staff.

The amount of contractors careers that are destroyed by these practices is largely unseen, but just consider how many large organizations that are undergoing significant transformation activities, how they pull in contract staff, and how – when the operational and project related problems are uncovered – the blame will usually be (at least in the first instance) placed squarely upon the contractor’s shoulders.

Whom – due to the fact that the recruitment industry type of services contract usually

stipulates that the contractor is working for them (not the end client) and can be fired without reason and at anytime – is left high and dry.

In this way the recruitment industry and the end client work together to both, scapegoat new incoming staff whilst also ensuring they do the risky/dirty work and are expendable.

5 years ago

Let’s hope you never apply for a job which requires grammar skills Fred.

5 years ago
Reply to  Ken

Well, I did write that on my phone whilst on a crowded bus. That said, it’s not English 101; just a comment section. Still, my comments (albeit with poor grammar) still stand.

Vaughn Dumas
5 years ago

Could someone please explain this comment “half of the staff are from ethnic backgrounds”. Where are the other half from? Do they not have an ethnic background? Or is ethnicity the privilege of only certain groups?

Don Hesh
Don Hesh
5 years ago

I just looked at their LinkedIn page & view all the Staff profiles.. They don’t have a single brown person out of 130 Staff. They might have an unwritten rule says “No Brown people”.

5 years ago
Reply to  Don Hesh

I work with them Don and have worked with 2 ‘brown people’ just in the last week.

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