[Video] Hyden’s Joanna Abeyie on the need for greater diversity in the industry

We began by asking Joanna how the Hyden journey started…

“I started doing work experience as a journalist within women’s weekly publications when I was about 16 years old. I noticed really, really quickly that there were very few people from working class backgrounds working within most of the editorial teams that I had the opportunity to work on at the time. I also realised that there was a real underrepresentation of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, and I just thought there must be a lot more people like myself who are keen to get into our industry that were going to struggle.”

“Simply because, I’d learned very early on, that the way to get into publishing was to do lots of free work experience. Now of course if you’re from a working class background you can’t do lots of work experience, so that’s a huge barrier. And also I think then when you go into an organisation like the ones I’d gone into, and you don’t really see many people that sound like you, share in your past experiences, you can wonder if there’s a reason for that sort of lack of representation.”

“At about 18 years old, myself and six others set up the charity. We placed over 600 people into work in quite a short space of time. Then I launched Shine Media when I was 22. And the whole aim of Shine Media was to help people from underrepresented backgrounds get a foot in the doo really, into the creative industries. It was specifically into magazines when I started, but has now expanded out into advertising agencies, tech platforms, broadcasters, television and film production companies, and eight years later, over 3,000 people into work, we are now Hyden.”

Is there still a problem with diverse representation in the industry today? And especially at a time when we live in an increasingly connected, digitised world, and audiences at large are maybe less siloed than they used to be, can a narrower talent pool hinder businesses?

“There is a lot of talent out there that may appear hidden to businesses. I’m going to say it like that because a lot of businesses say they can’t find a diverse range of candidates, so they do appear hidden to some businesses! And all we’re trying to get across is that irrespective of background, belief, experiences: you are valuable. So whether that’s your gender, where you grew up, your religion, whatever, we are just saying look if you are talented and brilliant you should be able to work in our industry.”

“The reason why it’s so important and even more relevant today, is that if we want to become world leaders as an industry, and within the UK, if we want to drive innovation, then innovation essentially comes from a diverse range of thinking, right? So the more people you have around that table that are allowed to create, that are allowed to contribute, that are from a wide range of backgrounds, the more likely you’re going to come up with something magnificent, and different, and innovative. Because there’s different conversations going on, different experiences being leaned on and shared.”

There is a huge amount of debate going on right now, not only within the media and entertainment sectors, but also throughout the wider world, particularly with regard to the position of women in business. As a woman, and particularly one who is so committed to championing diversity in all areas, not solely gender, what is your interpretation of the media industry today and how much further do we need to go?

“I think – it’s an interesting one – for me, being a woman is valuable, it’s brilliant, I enjoy it. And because of that, and because of my kind of resilience, and probably relentlessness and ambition, I haven’t really allowed anybody to I guess control how far I go. I’ve held myself responsible for that. I do think however, it’s easier to do that as an entrepreneur – I think if you’re working in a corporate environment you don’t always have that luxury, you are sometimes working against the powers that be.” 

“I think we’ve come a long way from where we were. I do think that there are a lot more opportunities for women via female leadership programmes, step-up programmes, and I think that women are making it their responsibility a lot more to support women that are coming through and make sure that we all stick together. There are a lot more networks that support women in business, women who are working in the corporate world, thankfully there’s flexible working now so women don’t need to feel guilty about leaving at a particular time because they have childcare.”

“However, we do still have issues, and I think until people open their minds to the value that women – and a really wide range of people bring to the table – we will always have those issues. Certainly, there is that phrase ‘the glass ceiling’ for women, and I think for some other women from different backgrounds they feel like there’s a double-glazed glass ceiling, so I do think that we’ve got a little way to go.”

And finally, looking at the industry more broadly, change is afoot not only in the sense of the people it employs and the business structures we create, but also the technology on which the media industry is based. What should publishers be doing to better capitalise on modern technologies? 

“I think that we’re going to get left behind – or I worry that we’re going to get left behind as an industry – if we don’t really acknowledge very quickly how much the digital space is dominating. And I think, especially from a publication point of view, I know that years ago we started to introduce the website and now we’ve moved into the app. But I think we’ve almost got to start thinking about the next thing after the app. What’s coming next, what’s going to be the next tool of engagement. That’s a big thing we need to start thinking about already and if we don’t keep thinking about how technology is going to develop fast enough, we’ll get left behind.”    

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