The importance of widening participation blog by Khairat Shaaban

The importance of widening participation

After celebrating my 1st Babel birthday, I want to reflect on my journey as an intern to a Social Media, Marketing, and PR Consultant in a transformational time for the business. We’re spreading our wings, not just with our clients but to the wider PR community. From strategic senior hires to employee-led DEI initiatives, it’s been a whirlwind start to the year. As a black Muslim woman, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives aren’t just buzzwords or trending topics, they’re opportunities to help lift people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life into life-changing spaces.

Khairat Shaaban speaking to a client at an event

Career office conversations

Before we get into the details of my first corporate job, let me take you back to where my career journey began, with a lovely career coach. As an inquisitive youngster, I often found myself in the careers office with Ms. Karen Green discussing my future. Through her connections with local businesses in a very working-class town outside of London, I had the opportunity to attend apprenticeship sessions at O2 Telefonica, or as it’s now known VMO2, and participate in a week’s work experience with Mars. For a fun but embarrassing trip down memory lane, I’ve found the slides from my end-of-week presentation at O2 after learning about different technologies. My PowerPoint skills have improved, especially with the help of Babel’s new branding and tone of voice guidance! All these experiences exposed a young Khairat to a range of opportunities in the workforce including telecoms operations, marketing, and advertising. It’s fitting how I’ve found myself working in a role that incorporates all these elements; marketing, communications, and telecoms.

Despite exposure to the working world, I wasn’t sure if I knew what career path I wanted to go into and felt apprenticeships were for people who were more sure about what their dream jobs were. So I applied for a sandwich year course at the University of Nottingham studying International Media Communications and French. As the first person in my family to go to university in the UK, I wanted a taster of what it was like, so I also attended a summer school with Sutton Trust. I was determined to discover my domain and spent my free time trailing through online career quizzes and reading bios and data from prospectuses to uncover possible post-school careers.

Khairat Shaaban and People, Culture and Training Manager, Stacy Stapes at a review meeting

Authenticity, apprenticeships, and audiences

Despite it being the path I went down, I still believe university isn’t a prerequisite for finding a fulfilling role. In fact, I recently listened to a campaign podcast with Shola West, who advocates for alternative paths for paving careers in the creative industry. Her work is amazing but one key point stood out to me – the importance of maintaining authenticity with your audience. Since her level 3 digital marketing apprenticeship, she has dived into various marketing realms, from partnerships and influencer engagements to branding and events. Her TikTok platform AllThingsMediaSis, supports young creatives with practical tips and advice for getting into the media industry. Despite collaborations with UK industry giants like Channel 4, Sky, EE, Department For Education, and more, she’s expressed a reluctance to engage with universities, as she didn’t go down that route herself. Her authentic influence and impact has been exemplified with a shiny Forbes 30 under 30 2024 shortlist recognition amongst multiple high-profile speaking opportunities at industry events.

Authenticity, combined with a thorough understanding of your target audience and a 360 marketing strategy, can ensure your brand (personal or business) cuts through the noise. As I mentioned (both in my last blog and commentary featured in PR Moment), “social media is no longer an afterthought but an integral cog in your marketing machine that needs meticulous, professional management and planning.”

Babel's Women in tech Working Group launch

Student of life, for life

I got stuck into social media management through the Nottingham Advantage Award at university, where I helped to build a TikTok profile for a local heritage site and encouraged students and the wider community to visit the site and learn more about the culture.

During university, I was always keen to make the most of my leisure time and engage in societies, committees, and other extracurricular activities beyond the lecture halls and seminar rooms. It’s good practice for PR essentials – networking and media relations. Whether it’s a student-led university society, international trade event, company offsite, or client review. Ultimately, everyone is human, building people skills and putting yourself out there takes practice.

Following the Black Lives Matter movement during COVID, I joined the Curriculum Task Force to investigate whether our department’s modules explored an inclusive and diverse range of topics. Alongside this investigation, I was an EDI student leader under Tara Webster-Deakin attending local schools in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to encourage modern foreign language uptake amongst White working-class students. After one of my friends secured a dream internship through 10,000 black interns, I completed my own application, interview, and assessment for an internship in the Spring of 2023. I had seen the scheme advertised across social media but wasn’t confident in the results. Fortunately, I took the plunge, completed the internship, and was offered a permanent role, but that’s a story for another blog!!

It’s crazy to think that this time last year, I was racked with nerves about stepping into ‘big shoes’ and beginning my corporate career. Thankfully the team at Babel leave no stone unturned during the onboarding process, from interview, and internship, to entry-role induction as a permanent employee. Our people and culture manager, Stacy Stapes always goes the extra mile to ensure seamless integration into the team, from talking through initial queries (mainly fashion-related in my case – smart casual if you were wondering), and IT equipment set-up to organising training across the agency with our impressive onboarding spreadsheet. Recognition as the leading agency by the PRCA for Continuous Professional Development program for the fourth year running exemplifies our focus on upskilling talent to be the best PR professionals in the industry.

Babel team at Social Pottery offsite

Final thoughts

If you’re organised and want to stay ahead of a saturated job market – research, network, and make an effort to try new things unbiasedly. Nepotism isn’t as rife as it used to be, there have been some changes in the media and tech industry, with some agencies leading the way on this, but there’s still a lot more work to be done to create the change we speak about. It’s why I’m happy to have landed at Babel where we’re striving for a culture driven by the people, representative of the faces we see around the City. At Babel, this has taken shape in the form of a DEI Committee, a Wellbeing team, and a Women in Tech Group. I’ve been participating in these initiatives because I have a passion for change and Babel recognises the collaborative work that industry leaders and individuals need to drive impact. Proof of this is our partnership with Big City Bright Future as part of our investment into nurturing the next generation of PR talent.

Ultimately, everyone has to forge their career path based on what they want to do, but it’s important to have windows into the workforce throughout your studies to make well-informed decisions. Organisations such as intoUniversity, Big City Bright Future, Sutton Trust, and 10,000 black interns have had monumental effects on individuals’ career trajectories, especially mine. I would highly encourage companies to prioritise engaging with widening participation. I attended the PRCA Workplace Champions Awards and spoke to Claire Quansah about companies keeping jobs live until recruiters can ensure they’ve engaged with a diverse pool of candidates. Creative initiatives like these uplift individuals from different backgrounds into a realm of opportunities. I hope you enjoyed my journey thus far, stay connected with me on Linked In for updates!


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