The Business of Belonging – Shana Gujral

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The Business of Belonging – Shana Gujral

The Business of Belonging: How Shana Gujral is changing the face of advertising

For years I dismissed my South Asian identity and suppressed parts of the culture which made me who I am. Instead, I pretended to be someone I’m not to fit in with the status quo, being nicknamed a ‘malteser’ or a ‘coconut’ in favour of validation. A nickname I hope has died out with hair crimping, tamagotchis and other zeitgeists of the early noughties.

The fact I grew up with a distinct lack of role models that looked like me in the media certainly didn’t help. I spent my teenage years flicking through magazines and watching films which, although I loved at the time (we’ve all seen Hannah Montana, right?!), it rarely left me feeling empowered with a strong sense of belonging.

Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging, for example, is your archetypal chick flick which my generation devoured; I implore you to find a mid- twenties female who can’t at least quote a couple of lines. The lead’s South Asian friend, who although was a main character, ended up with the lamest guy in school, known affectionately as ‘saliva boy’. It hardly filled me with confidence and certainly didn’t leave me feeling inspired.

When it came to the typical 17 year old destiny defining decision about what to study at uni and subsequently, what career path to follow, I was left with a dilemma. Do I go down the stereotypical route becoming a dentist or lawyer, or do I rip up the rule book of South Asian households and find a ‘non conventional’ career. The answer; studying Law at Nottingham University, whilst also filling dance floors across the city with my DJing. Fast forward three years and as a fresh faced graduate with enough burgeoning entrepreneurial drive I couldn’t ignore, I had set up my own street food brand. Whilst all three of these career paths amounted to nothing, except from filling a niche of being the ultimate wedding planner – covering music, catering and even the divorce if the marriage goes south, the varied roles gave me the clarity to understand what I wanted from a job. I wanted to create a platform which gives people a voice and helps them feel a sense of belonging in the creative industry.

With this goal in mind, I set about giving myself a few rules to live my life by…

I learnt to surround myself with diverse thinkers.
I learnt to celebrate my identity.
I learnt the value of embracing over embarrassment.
I learnt to step out of my comfort zone.

And with that, Lila was born with an ambitious mission to close the diversity and gender gap in advertising.

Lila is dedicated to the business of belonging, allowing all people to feel seen and heard. It’s time for the industry to diversify not only their communications, but also their thinking.

When we think of ‘diversity and inclusion’, we typically think of a heavy handed middle aged, middle management HR representative creating a 500 part plan for the business, swamped with meaningless acronyms and with only a smattering of actions which will actually tackle the problem in hand. As a result, many employees switch off when ‘D&I’ appears on the agenda. The purpose of Lila is to create a narrative aimed at opening up the conversation without dampening it before it’s even started. We keep the conversation light but productive, with practical, actionable advice.

Using my place of work as a test bed, I chaired the Race & Ethnicity Network by launching as an unstoppable movement, not a tick box initiative which was refreshing within the business and saw a record number of employees to sign up.

I pushed further, showcasing my knowledge and passion to the Managing Director, leading to getting the green light to create Inclusive Marketing workshops across the global business. I devoured every book, ted talk and course on the market to give me the footing to create a bespoke series of workshops and cement my position as the company D&I expert. These workshops went down incredibly well and before I knew it I had teams across the business knocking on my virtual email door, asking for me to run the training for them.

I challenged brand managers to vet their agencies, question their current communications, and analyse every person they worked with. I challenged brand ambassadors to create more diverse pools of talent and implored teams of Insights to actually CHECK their insights. The problem – there wasn’t even the psychographics of their consumers in place for the insights to be examined. Through my work, that is beginning to change.

With the confidence gained from successfully putting in place the procedures to help change a multi-million pound company, I have begun to scale Lila with the heady ambition of closing the diversity gap and creating long term change in advertising once and for all.

By Shana Gujral
Links: Instagram: @ThinkLila @shanagujral

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