EDI Newsletter – January 2024

I've always felt like a minority in our industry…a research advocate from day one!

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While I lack robust data to support this claim, there's a running joke that many stumble into the world of research and then fall in love with it over time.

In my case, however, it was quite a different story.

Towards the end of my Masters, a pivotal moment unfolded in the office of my careers guidance counsellor, Sayeeda, at the University of London Union. This session proved to be more than a routine discussion; it went on to shape the course of my life.

In a prior meeting, Sayeeda had tasked me with pinpointing specific areas and industries of interest. I came back excited to report that I loved the idea of working in research. I believed in the power of telling stories of lesser heard communities, as a way of fostering understanding and guiding evidence-based decision-making.

There I was thinking my decision had been made, only to find out that was just the tip of the iceberg. Sayeeda informed me that there were, in fact, many different roles through which I could pursue my passion for research and storytelling. Did I envision myself in academia, commercial/social research, exploring a career in film/TV, or perhaps going into documentary making?

The amount of options quickly overwhelmed me, leading to an unexpected breakdown in Sayeeda's office. I confessed my fears about the future, expressing that while my family was supportive, I was only really exposed to people in finance, engineering, or tech, industries that I feared weren’t right for me. Plus, the freedom and opportunities I had were rare for many women around me. I had been turning to popular culture, particularly Destiny’s Child, to help me learn how to navigate life as a (somewhat) independent woman. Hopefully this explains my unwavering dedication to Beyonce! :)

This became an important lesson for me in the power of vulnerability. Sayeed and I were both of South Asian heritage, but this wasn’t something we spoke about overtly, until then. While we were a few years apart, which can mean significantly different experiences within diaspora communities, I didn’t have to overly explain myself or justify my fears - she just got it! This was perhaps the first time I understood the value of having mentors and champions from a similar cultural background. They've often been through similar experiences, so, along with empathy, can provide tried and tested solutions.

While I was still a little nervous, Sayeeda helped me feel empowered by the choices I had - it was indeed a privilege and she encouraged me to go with my heart. I spent time looking through the lists she had curated for me detailing different opportunities in research. It’s there that I came across social research, and I guess, the rest is history!

However, before I bring this story to an end, I realise I haven’t yet explained where my passion for diversity came from or touched upon my career to date.

Let’s rewind to the beginning - here’s my why!

Growing up, I was always fascinated by diversity, particularly the vibrant culture we shared as South Asians living in the UK. While on the odd occasion some tensions would arise, by and large South Asian communities lived happily side-by-side. As South Asian history was not part of our school curriculum, I never had the chance to learn more about my heritage. Thankfully, as part of A-level History I was able to interview my grandmother about her life.

My gran (Husan-Ara Mirza) was always my hero, in more ways than one! But getting to hear about her life made me see her in a whole new light. She was an activist who dedicated her university years to the struggle for India's Independence. She taught me about the things that unite us, and those that can sadly be used to tear us apart.

I became obsessed with ethnic dynamics and how to achieve cross-cultural harmony. During my undergraduate degree (American Studies) I studied everything from the depths of ethnic conflict, to the role music and entertainment can play in bridging cultural boundaries. Straight after this, I did a Masters (MCs) in International Public Policy, which is where I developed my technical research skills (SPSS was my bestie).

My early days in research:

Even though I had found research, if I’m honest, I never knew how my career would shape up. That’s actually something they told us at our UNI careers day - the good news and the bad news was that there was no clear path for careers in social impact. The uncertainty was compounded by the fact that we were just coming out of a recession, and roles in diversity were not particularly visible at that time.

Needless to say, my family were not best pleased about the lack of clarity! However, over the last 12+ years, I've been lucky enough to find my way and be supported by lots of amazing people.

While early on in my career there was less demand for research focused on diverse audiences, my specialism in this area always felt valued. When relevant opportunities did arise, I was brought in as a specialist and got the chance to work side-by-side with senior colleagues and major clients. The research sector also seemed to genuinely appreciate cultural diversity, perhaps given its emphasis on multi-market studies. I distinctly recall being informed that my proficiency in Urdu/Hindi was a genuine asset. Hindi wasn't officially acknowledged as one of the key international languages for the UN or in the business world, so at least in my experience, this linguistic skill never received the same level of respect as some others. But in research, I finally felt seen, and this was an early sign that I had picked the right industry.

My worlds coming together:


Over time, and particularly in the last few years, the focus on diverse audiences and the field of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) more broadly, has thankfully become more prominent. I’ve had the chance to help many commercial clients in sectors such as music and entertainment (e.g. Spotify and YouTube) navigate and reach diverse

audiences through research, and work closely with governments and non-profits to support them in better meeting their socioeconomic needs.

In the last few years, I have increasingly been able to focus on my broader work within EDI. This includes being part of the MRS’s Representation in Research Steering Group, and launching training courses on Inclusive Research and Embedding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within organisations.

The same year I started in research, I began attending South Asian dance classes at BollyCo. I quickly became more involved in the management of the company, as it perfectly brought together my passion for music, fitness and diversity. Along with having hundreds of people attend our weekly classes, we’ve worked on major productions (including Marvel), with high-profile brands such as Deliveroo and Microsoft, and artists such as DJ Snake. My favourite moment so far was acting (physically) opposite Angelina Jolie.

I initially kept my worlds of research and dance quite separate. At least in my view, South Asian music and entertainment doesn’t always receive the same level of respect as some other art forms. I was therefore worried about stereotypes and judgements. However, with the visibility of our work at BollyCo growing and the hands-on experience complimenting my research, plus encouragement from industry peers, I have gradually felt more comfortable integrating these facets of my life and sharing them more openly.

After working in research agencies for over a decade, in 2023, I got the courage to embark on a new journey, setting up Bye 2 Stereotypes, a brand that brings together my Research, Training and Advisory work. As you know by now, big decisions don’t always come easily to me. But when I was thinking about spreading my wings, a loved one reminded me of the wise words of Rumi, which I will leave you with…“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.”

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