An interview with Reeha Alder-Shah, managing partner, AnalogFolk London.
Published first in The Drum magazine.
In the marketing sector, there has been little escaping the growing need to create a diverse workforce that reflects society. As part of this drive, BAME 20/20: Meet the Changemakers was created in order to shine a light on those from ethnic minority backgrounds succeeding in business.
As a force and catalyst for change the #BAME20/20 initiative were co-founded by Adrian Walcott, founder and managing director of Brands with Values and Amanda Fone, founder and CEO of f1 recruitment and f1 search. Its aim is to attract and retain BAME talent into the media & marcomms (MMC) sectors as a professional career path and accelerate sustainable results that mirror the UK’s population demographics.
One of the Lead Advisors is Reeha Alder Shah, managing partner for AnalogFolk, featured in this interview. Advisors form the #BAME20/20 Steering Advisory Group. They support our Ambassadors who are all rising stars and role models in their own right, each of whom has made a commitment to help target messaging to young people about careers in the MMC sectors.
Q. How Do You See The Issue Of Diversity Across The Marketing Sector In Comparison To Other Sectors?
A. While I think the issue of ‘inclusion’ is a problem in most industries, I’m more disappointed in our marketing sector given we arguably have the most fertile grounds for an inclusive and diverse working environment. With a high percentage of millennials in our workforce, creative thinking as a prerequisite for employment, and technology-first innovation, its unacceptable that we still have anciently layered hierarchies, closed networks for the white middle-class (male and female), and a ‘need to be seen' culture that prohibits flexible working.
Q. If You Were Starting Again In Your Career What Would You Do Differently?
A. I would spend less time hiding my differences, and more time embracing them. Businesses, particularly the creative sector, need diverse thinking which can only come from diverse upbringings, values, outlooks on life and more. For example, I never felt comfortable saying I came from a low social mobility background and it took 12 years in the workplace for me to feel confident wearing a sari to a work event, out of fear of ‘not fitting in’.
I'd also be more confident blending work and life and not hiding the fact that I’m a proud female leader, whilst also being a proud mum. Millennials don’t see work and life as separate parts of their day, so to appeal to our most captive talent pool, our leaders must celebrate their whole selves and allow others to follow suit.
Q. How Do You See That Issue Being Solved?
A. Firstly, we still lack diversity in leadership which makes it hard to enable diverse thinking, and hard for our young diverse talent to relate to. Women, for example, represent 50% of our entry-level talent, but only 20% at the top. It’s not simply a matter of ‘leaning in’ and copying current leadership styles, but instead feeling confident to show an authentic style that may also lean on softer skills that aid inclusive values, behaviours and working environments.
Entry-level salaries also prohibit those from low social mobility background from even considering the sector as a viable option. Agencies should commit to the London Living Wage pledge, from cleaners to graduates, and then help educate grass-roots talent about the exciting opportunities available, to enable equal and fair entry into the sector.
Finally, traditional policies within our industry hinder inclusion. Everything from robust recruitment policies such as blind CV’s and unconscious bias training, to leading paternity policies and equal parental paid leave will help drive inclusion at all levels, from all backgrounds.
Q. What Advice Would You Give To Those Of A Minority Background Getting Into The Industry? What’s The Best Way To Go?
A. Embrace your differences. I’m currently coaching eight people from BAME and low social mobility backgrounds, and the stories I’m hearing in 2018 are harrowing. From hiding the fact that the entry-level salary means a two-hour unsafe bus journey to work, to not fitting into daily conversations because the stories they tell are worlds apart from their own life.
While it takes a lot of self-belief and confidence to be your authentic self, you should remind yourself every day how valuable your differences are and therefore why they should be shared. Remind yourself that you represent over 50% of Londoners and over 20% of the UK population, so your voice matters and is the key to us developing effective marketing that builds emotional connections with our customers.
Q. How Do You See The Role Of Organisational Culture In Improving Inclusion And Diversity?
A. Culture is critical to driving inclusion throughout organisations and they can only be built if the company’s values enable inclusive behaviours such as honesty, trust, openness and vulnerability.
I believe an inclusive culture can only be set by pulling apart every part of a business’s DNA - from it’s policies and processes to its training, development, values and behaviours. And once they are pulled apart, they need to be re-engineered to fit today’s workforce. So for example, difficult questions like whether the creative process enables inclusion when the decision making is made by 1 person (who statistically does not represent our UK population with only 3% females). If you want to allow culture to be built from the ground up from not just the culture fits, but the cultural misfits too.
Q. If You Could Push Agencies To Do One Thing, What Would It Be?
A. The first step to driving inclusion is to talk less and do more. You need to start by shining the light internally on yourself and seeing how inclusive and diverse you currently are. An audit that explores the current makeup of your business, from gender and ethnicity to social mobility and sexual preference is the start of understanding diversity. But ensure you add a second lens which asks the softer questions about whether folk feel they can bring their whole selves to work, and feel confident to be themselves every day. This gives you an honest understanding of where you are today and the marginal gains you need to make to build a genuinely inclusive and diverse workforce.