Diverse voices: Mihir Haria-Shah on getting a proper job

Who said media is less of a 'proper job' than insurance?

The industry now needs to turn fine words about diversity into action that creates change. Campaign asked a broad range of adlanders at different career stages to share their personal stories and plot ways forward from their experiences

From as early as I can remember, the path to becoming a professional was clear. 

I knew that working hard at school would mean I would have the opportunity to go to a good university. I knew that getting a degree from a good university would then give me the opportunity to get a good job. It was all very simple. And so it came to pass.

My family is of Indian descent, and the family business was in insurance broking. I had spent my summers with my father and uncle in their office, learning and helping where I could. So when I secured a placement on Aviva’s insurance graduate scheme, everything seemed set. I could learn my trade at one of the world’s leading insurance companies, and then take over the business my grandad set up 40 years ago. It was all going according to plan, and my family was hugely proud. 

But there was one key issue. I was unhappy. I realised I was doing something just to appease my family; I really had no interest in insurance. So, after two long years at Aviva, I quit. 

My transition into the world of media was slightly fortunate. I had a cousin who was in a senior role at Twitter. I was (am) a big fan of Twitter, so I asked her how she got into the industry. She told me she had started off at a media agency. I had absolutely no idea what that even meant. 

After some research and some rigorous editing of my CV, I secured a role in the AV team at MEC. Next up was the hard part: telling my parents. 

When I told my dad I was leaving Aviva, he assumed I would be going to another insurance business. Going to work for a media company totally baffled him. When he found out I was taking a pay cut to do it, I’m sure he thought I had lost my mind. 

The process of explaining my decision took time. Initially, my parents would tell their friends I worked in "some type of marketing for Lloyds" – that was the client I worked on – but as I got more senior (and it became obvious I wasn’t heading back to insurance), they began to take more interest. 

After a few years at MEC, I was invited for an interview at Total Media. I loved it. I joined as an account director and have since been given the opportunity to work with amazing people on inspirational projects. Working on these projects has raised my profile, and I’ve been recognised as one of the 30 under 30 by Media Week and had the chance to share my opinions in a wide range of media. 

With this elevated profile, my family and the wider community were suddenly very interested in my job. I believe this is partly because I became present in a world that was familiar to them – the news. My aunt, Rutula Shah, had a very similar experience as she made her way up the ranks of the BBC, finding the questioning around her career became quieter the more senior she became. 

After I was named as the Media Week Rising Star 2019, my job found a role in my community, with the news being published in The Oshwal News, a community group for Indians from Gujarat. I was consequently contacted by four young students who had read the story and wanted to know how I got into the world of media. This is evidence to me that the appetite is out there when the world of media is presented in a positive light. 

Diversity is a critical issue for our industry. The IPA’s 2018 census found that 13.8% of people employed in media are from BAME backgrounds. Diving a bit deeper into that, it revealed that just under 5% come from an Asian background, which is serious underrepresentation, considering the diversity of the capital where most media companies are situated.

I don’t think this lack of representation stems from a lack of opportunity (any more, at least). It reflects a lack of education, understanding and awareness of the world of media in these communities. In many Asian communities, success is viewed as owning your own business. Working for someone else is acceptable only if it’s in a profession deemed respectable. 

We are all in the business of communication. As an industry, we have a responsibility to communicate to BAME groups and communities the opportunities to enjoy flourishing careers in media. And if we don’t, we are effectively consigning the next generation of talent to a fate that does not bear thinking about. Like a career in insurance.

Mihir Haria-Shah is head of broadcast at Total Media

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