Yorkshire Asian Young Achievers Awards WINNER – ROMANA SHAH

Romana Shah
Account Manager

Some self-promotional PR!

I am very grateful and honoured to be announced the winner for the YAYA awards – Media category – organised by the QED Foundation and sponsored by LOCALiQ. The awards celebrate individuals from diverse backgrounds, shining a spotlight on the adversities and challenges they have overcome. Seeing my picture in the paper (which my mother has already laminated!), I felt the same rush my clients feel!

Sheffield Star - Romana Shah

Sheffield Star – Romana Shah

The win is a testament to all the hard work I have put into building my career these last few years. There are a lot of people I would like to thank who have supported, mentored and trained me to perfect my craft – my family and friends, FieldHouse Associates, Flame PR and The Taylor Bennett Foundation. 

I cannot forget my biggest cheerleader, my mother!

With so much love and support, I want to give back and I am passionate to tell the stories of under-represented people like myself. I am a mentor of a Muslim tech community called Muslamic Makers and am offering my PR skills on a pro-bono basis to help Muslim entrepreneurs tell their stories.

Overcoming adversity, challenges and barriers

I was raised by a single mother who was the first within our desi (South Asian) community in Sheffield to be divorced and there was a lot of stigma attached there. There were cases where some men in the community would have their wives stay clear of my mother. WHY? I think they thought being divorce was contagious =D 

Having said this, my mum let nothing stand in her way. She raised two girls alone, balancing motherhood with college, having no qualifications before marriage. In the last decade, she has worked her way up to a Higher Level Teaching Assistant. She is an example of not settling for less and going out and doing something with her life, even when she was heavily criticised.

Romana and Mum

Romana and Mum

I was the first one in my family to go to university, coming out with a first-class degree in English Language and going on to do a Masters in PR. It was almost unheard of for a woman within my Pakistani community to move out of her home for her career to another city. Usually, if she was moving away it was because of marriage. My immediate family was very supportive, but like any desi household the wider community always has a say – things like a girl being away from home is shameful. It’s clear I haven’t listened, because five years on and I’m still in London (clinging onto my accent!).

Last year, I attended the #SheStartedItLIVE Festival, hosted by Angelica Malin, Founder and Editor-in-Chief at About Time Magazine. On one of the panels, which focused on juggling motherhood and careers, Shazia Mustafa, Founder of Thirddoor spoke of the additional challenges and barriers she faced. Not only was she a woman, but she was also a South Asian woman and received a lot of criticism for being career-driven and an entrepreneur. It was the first time I had heard on stage someone talking about the additional layers of challenges people of my background face as part of the whole diversity and inclusion debate. After the talk, another lady in the audience spoke about how she had a family member call her place of work to get her fired, because of the stigma attached to working women in the community. Cases like this are not uncommon and so it was refreshing to see someone shining a spotlight on the issue at an event aimed to inspire women.

I have been told myself in the past: there isn’t a place for a hijabi Muslim like me, there is a glass ceiling and I can only go so far. It’s shameful to put this much focus on my career as a “desi girl”. This award is proof that blocking those voices out using it as a fire to thrive will be recognised.

“When people say you can’t, you say WATCH ME!”

Diversity and inclusion

There is a lot of focus and talk on diversity and inclusion across industries. There have been many times I’ve been the only hijabi or person of colour in the room, regardless of the type of event – whether its cybersecurity, entrepreneurship or banking & finance. 

The lack of ethnic diversity across the PR industry continues to be the profession’s dirty little secret. However, there are initiatives such as the Taylor Bennett Foundation which seek greater diversity. It’s a 10-week intensive training course created to help BAME individuals get into PR.  

Promoting diversity and inclusion doesn’t mean we have to have big initiatives and programs such as this. It can start with small gestures and acts which make people feel like they belong. I am grateful at FieldHouse Associates where the team does everything in their power to make me feel accommodated, from securing non-alcoholic wine for a wine tasting to allowing me to pray during work hours and offering flexible hours during Ramadan.

My message to you! Paving the way forward

I have an important message for people like me who come from diverse backgrounds, whether it’s because of your gender, sexuality, religion, disability, ethnicity etc. Don’t cut yourself short and think you don’t belong, or there is not a place for you in certain organisations. There is so much conversation about the real need to create diverse workforces. Know you are different, own it and put your stamp on it and use it to stand out.

If you don’t know something, go out and learn it. That doesn’t mean it has to be a university degree. Reach out to people in your chosen field via Linkedin, ask them for a coffee or arrange to shadow them in their job to build your experience. Plus there are so many free online courses and events!

If you think you don’t know the right people and don’t have the right contacts, go out and shmooze and build relationships. I didn’t have a ready-made network when I started, but I made damn sure I would go and meet as many people as I could. I haven’t let Covid stop me, I have used every chance to arrange virtual coffees with people in the industry. 

Have that fire and hunger and you will see the reward!