Shelley Bishton: Driving change for diversity in the UK media industry

Shelly Bishton Head of Creative Diversity
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Shelley Bishton is Head of Creative Diversity and the Cultural Diversity Network at News UK. She will be a panelist at the Future of Luxury event, where she’ll highlight the need for greater diversity and inclusion of ethnic minorities in the media industry. Shelley took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to Afrowoman Online about the event and why representation for Black people still matters:

As a panellist at the upcoming Future of Luxury event, what can Black women expect to see and hear at the event?

I have worked in the media industry for more than 15 years and have witnessed the lack of diversity first hand. As a Black woman who has advocated for change successfully, creating News UK’s first network for Black, Asian and ethnic minority employees – the Cultural Diversity Network, I am knowledgeable about the importance of diversity to ensure representation and inclusivity.

News UK publishes newspapers, such as The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and weekend supplements, including Style Magazine and Culture. In my role as the Head of Creative Diversity, I share advice and learnings across all titles and radio stations. I am looking forward to sharing this at Issa PR’s “Future of Luxury” symposium event in March. The future insights and trends discussion will talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the media (and society) today. It will also feature other innovators and change-makers. I hope to inspire other Black women to push for more equality in their everyday lives.

It’s great to see the progress you’ve made as a young Black woman media leader; how did you get started on your career path?

I think I was destined to get to my current role but it took a while for me to find my path. I grew up in the multicultural melting pot that is Birmingham in the 80s and 90s. My mother, Merrise Crooks-Bishton and father Derek Bishton were activists and leaders in the community, driving for change and racial equality. They co-founded Handprint, a publishing company which was created to produce educational materials for African-Caribbean students. I spent most evenings after school in their offices in Handsworth. It was an incredibly ethnically diverse area in Birmingham made famous by the race riots of 1981. I can still remember the energy in the office, the buzz, the power and resilience to fight for the marginalised. This would lay the foundations for my drive to greater equality in the UK.

I wake each day revived to make change. Knowing that everything I do, can better the lives of future generations, is all I need to keep pushing forward”. Shelley Bishton

After completing University, I spent the early part of my career grappling with the fast lane in London. I started working in marketing and soon found I had a skill for creating brand partnerships. I spent many years creating some incredible brand collaborations and I loved it. But something never felt right. I never felt my work was aligned with my core values. It all changed when I got this role as Head of Creative Diversity. I can honestly say that I have never felt more alive and balanced. I wake each day revived to make change. Knowing that everything I do, can better the lives of future generations, is all I need to keep pushing forward.

Your work in highlighting the need for diversity in the luxury and media industries lead to the creation of the Cultural Diversity Network. What impact has the network had on creating change for ethnic minorities in the luxury and media industries?

One of my greatest achievements and life changing moments, was when we created the Cultural Diversity Network at News UK. I had a very tough year in 2019 and lost my way, and sense of purpose. One day, around Black History Month, I was overcome with a feeling that News UK was lacking in its representation of Black people. I felt compelled to address it.

I approached the business about my concerns, and from that teamed up with an amazing group of people to form what is now The Cultural Diversity Network. The network serves to address the needs of Black, Asian and ethnic minority people at News UK. Whilst I was Co-Chair in 2020, we saw some unprecedented happenings. Covid hit and was killing our people at a disproportionate rate. Then we saw the brutal murder of Geroge Floyd.

The world as we knew it went into a tailspin, and the network was needed more than ever before. It was this experience that made me realise I wanted to pursue a full time role focused on bettering the representation of marginalised communities in the media. I changed jobs into a full time position as Head of Creative Diversity for News UK in October of last year. It is the best career move I have ever made.

The Cultural Diversity Network is now a counsel for the business. Driving change and speaking for the Black, Asian and ethnic minority employees. Just last week we saw the action of News UK in removing BAME and this was driven by the voices of our network. This is just the start of so much more change.

From your career history and current position, you must have encountered situations of being the only ‘Black woman in the room’. How did this affect your confidence and career? What advice would you give to other Black women in similar positions to deal with this?

I will never forget a recent incident where I attended a meeting with my assistant who happens to be white. When we got to this meeting, it was assumed that I was the assistant. It was such an awkward moment for everyone. But this is the everyday reality of being a Black woman in a senior position. Daily microaggressions are placed on us. Assumptions placed about our character.

My greatest advice is to care for yourself, and to keep your mind healthy and strong: self-preservation, exercise, meditation and mindful practices.

I have an inner circle of people who can build me up and empower me when I need it. As Audre Lorde states, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Shelley Bishton

We have seen this month, Meghan’s candor on race and mental health which hits home for me and many Black women. I have spent my life being called the strong Black woman, aka surviving. Resilience is a key trait for Black women and is often mistaken for unrelenting strength and ability to not be affected by anything. Meghan was told to basically get on with it on her own. Many Black women will understand this situation all too well.

My greatest advice is to care for yourself, and to keep your mind healthy and strong. This involves self-preservation, exercise, meditation and mindful practices. I wake every day at 5am and do some yoga and try to get my mind focussed. I also ensure I have an inner circle of people who can build me up and empower me when I need it. As Audre Lorde states, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

From when you started your career, have you seen a difference in the progress of Black people in the luxury and media industries from the past and compared to young Black people today?

Yes and no. Sadly I think we have a long way to go before we fully address the problems with representation of Black people in the luxury and media spaces. A Reuters report from 2016 found that just 6% of journalists across UK newsrooms don’t identify as white, of which less than 0.2% identify as Black. These are shocking statistics. That being said, more is being done to address it and companies are much more focused on tackling the problem. For example, at News UK, we know we have to diversify the talent coming into our media organisation. So we have invested heavily in internships and apprenticeships.

In addition, we are creating leadership programmes which are focused on addressing the individual needs of Black women and ethnic minority employees. Ensuring we provide the support systems, training and culture to create future Black leaders. It won’t happen overnight but progress is being made and we need to keep pushing.

In your opinion, where is a Black woman’s ‘place’ in the luxury and media landscape today and in the future?

We are integral to it and we will continue to warrant more power. We can see that with how the Meghan interview has been played out in the media. She is a powerful Black woman, who has chosen to challenge the status quo and address her, and our, needs as Black women. This has been applauded across the world. No more is it ok to silence Black women or ignore our needs.

What are your hopes for Black people in the future for entering the luxury and media industries?

My biggest drive for change, are my two young sons. Above all, I want them to grow up in a world where they are not seen as a threat just because they have Black skin. It’s important that they are represented properly in the media that dominates our country. I want them to have an equal opportunity to be whatever they desire.

I can see the change happening, and I am excited to be part of it. The momentum is not faltering, so I am optimistic for the future. We all have our part to play in this and we all need to keep striving for change.

Interested in joining the Future of Luxury event?

The “Future of Luxury” Symposium event will take place virtually in March 2021 in London and New York City at 12pm (local time zones) on these dates:

London: Wednesday, 24th March

New York: Wednesday, 31st March

For more information or to join the event, please visit: www.issa-pr.com/future-of-luxury-symposium

#Afrowomanonline #Blackwomeninbusiness #Blackwomenrising #Equality #Diversity #Representation

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