Q&A with Yasir Mirza, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at FT

Highlights from our Instagram Live with Yasir Mirza, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at FT about why a diverse media matters. 

Q: Can you tell us how the Financial Times works towards inclusion and diversity?

Yasir: The FT is a brilliant brand and our efforts for diversity and inclusion are threefold.

One of them is access to the industry, breaking down barriers, for underrepresented and diverse communities. Social mobility is at the heart of that. How can we provide entry into the industry, what are those barriers and there’s also a lot of invisible barriers because it’s a tough profession. It’s a profession that requires a lot of social capital. If you’ve had parents and a culture of consuming news in a certain way, being involved in conversations. There’s also the practical barriers of moving to London or within the M-25 and working for media organisations or starting off in an internship and not having the financial support to do that. There’s a social aspect and a practical, tangible aspect of being able to access the industry.

Then it’s also about how do you be your best most authentic self within the industry, when it works in a certain way? If you look at the skill set of a journalist, it’s who they are, their voice, their style of voice. It’s what they bring to the table, less so a particular qualification, although obviously it’s really important that you have grounding in journalism. Then, providing an opportunity to be able to flourish and develop and be at your best.

And then we focus a lot on diversifying the newsroom. You shouldn’t be pushed into talking about issues of race, or social mobility, or Islam, for example if it’s me. I think we have to as an industry adapt and change the way the digital world has changed journalism. We need to adapt in terms of voices, because we’ve got a lot more factions, a lot more activism, a lot of different platforms and people have their own platforms to communicate like what we’re doing now. 

I think we need to not just focus on bringing diverse talent in, it’s about changing the way in which we tell stories, in a way that’s open and inclusive, that hasn’t got the lens of what I call ‘liberal bias’. Years ago, when I was a part of the Frontline journalism club, I would listen to a lot of the journalists talk about the style of content and less is more on the way in which you have the sensibility of telling stories. I think we just need to change that completely because that will then organically and naturally bring in different storytellers who tell stories in their own words in their own way. I think that would create really rich editorial content.

So the job is actually quite broad. It has different challenges. One is about bringing people in. One is about the culture within an organisation, then it’s about practical tips around how do you analyse your audiences. And as you can imagine, it’s incredibly nuanced. I may consume something purely based on my identity or purely not. It’s about getting a little bit more granular because ultimately, we want the brand to be for everyone and we want to be able to find different ways to reach out to diverse communities. 

 

Q: What have you seen change within the organisation since you started?

Yasir: I think we’ve got two really big focus areas which are working out really well. We’ve got the rates of ethnic minority employees joining the organisation. Specifically in editorial, we’ve got two development programmes, one is a sponsorship programme for more junior levels. We provide staff, editorial staff from ethnic and minority backgrounds, sponsorship and mentorship, to help guide them in their careers, and this speaks to their experiences of authenticity, code switching, confidence, and also providing reverse mentoring opportunities to those mentors who are not ethnically diverse, so it’s a two-way street. It’s about helping them progress in their careers, but it’s also providing the opportunities to understand the impact of  equity and all of the conversations that we see only people from diverse backgrounds experience.

We  have another programme that focuses on mid to senior levels because it’s about having really good diverse representation at all levels. So we’ve got this really great programme which we ran last year, where we focused on five staff. We’re now growing because that was super successful.  This creates a pathway for someone, who if you’ve been a mid level editor for five years, how do you progress and create more impact. 

From my days at The Guardian, we had such few diverse black or Asian journalists that they would always be the one person speaking on behalf of a whole community, which will create problems in itself. I think we’ve really moved on from that. Now it’s about the experiences – the culture, inclusion, which is always a tough one because it’s about behaviours. I feel like that’s where we’re at now.

 

Q: What is your advice to newsrooms looking to build greater diversity? 

Yasir: It’s a tricky one. I think we’ve done a lot on bringing talent in and a lot of the representation is there. For me, there’s a big thing around understanding – we’re in a place now where we’re talking about structural racism, we’re talking about history, we’re talking about equity. So I think there probably needs to be some spaces to figure out what does equity mean versus equality? And find more opportunities to do a deep dive into the psychology behind this. Can you imagine if you’re writing a story and then in the comments below, someone’s bringing in the colour of your skin, and they criticise you – the impacts that has on you as an individual, the triggers, the trauma. 

And just some sensitivity and some safeguarding. Maybe there’s times when certain articles have comments switched, or where you wouldn’t put someone in a position to talk about race just because they’re from that background. There’s complexities to that. I think the Guardian have done a really interesting bit at the moment, where they’ve done a big apology and expose on their founder C.P Scott’s link to the slave trade. As an official response, that for them is a way of really tackling it head on and addressing it and from that there will be some really interesting and new story angles, but also internal reflection and conversations of how they work as a newsroom.

 

Q: What are you looking forward to seeing, in terms of your role, the work that you do and the entries that you will now be looking at? What do you hope to see?

Yasir: Some of the key things I would look for is around firstly, having validity and telling a story from a perspective that you’re in a place to tell, whether that’s your own lived experience or whether you’re connected to an issue or whether you’ve got some subject matter expertise in the area. Secondly, I think there’s about really understanding what’s really going on in the outside world. So often, the same stories are told by a number of people. We get a little bit in our own shell. We’re passionate about something, push it out there because of timing but someone else has already told this story or in a slightly different angle. So there’s a really good thing about doing your own research around what’s already covered on it. It’s about what your angle adds. Why would they want to listen to what you have to say? You have to ask yourself that question.

Then there’s a bit around the timeliness to it. I think there’s a pitfall that people will fall into. I could turn around to say I’m a Muslim voice and a voice from a socio economic background. So this is why I want to tell the story. That’s important. But that shouldn’t be the only reason why you do that. It’s about using that as leverage. But also finding ways in which your story is very far reaching. So you can have someone from a completely different background who is able to connect with my story. Because for me, I think when you have something which multiple different people can connect with, that’s when you have impact. 

Watch the full session on Instagram.