Inclusive Hiring to Grow Company Culture with MEFA

5 mins

On this week of the Life in Digital Podcast, as part of our new 'Leading with Inclusion' se...

By Amy Halls

Senior Marketing & Talent Manager

On this week of the Life in Digital Podcast, as part of our new 'Leading with Inclusion' series, talent manager Amy Halls is joined by Naren Patel, Founder of Media For All [MEFA]. They discuss some of the common barriers that companies face when trying to hire diverse talent, such as unconscious bias and lack of support from leadership, and ways to create more inclusive workplaces, including mentorship programs, targeted recruiting efforts and fostering a culture of belonging.

MEFA’s mission is to help Black, Asian and ethnic minority talent thrive in the media and advertising industry and ultimately increase the ethnic diversity of the media and advertising industry in the UK. Their ambition is for MEFA to become the default community for Black, Asian and people from ethnic minorities in Media (or affiliated industries) and they exist first and foremost to support our members and provide a home for them.


The Creation of MEFA

Naren has worked in media for over 30 years, specialising in out-of-home. Throughout his working life he has always been a part of the Advertising Association and NABS, which he is a trustee for. He came to the decision to set up MEFA after realising at a NABS event that he and one other person were the only non-white people there.

After research, he was shocked to see the stats:

  • Less than 10% of people in media are non-white.
  • Less than 4% in c-suite are non-white.

He realised that the industry clearly wasn’t attracting talent. Whilst there are amazing companies such as WACL and BLOOM that help women in the sector, there was nothing for ethnic minorities in the sector.

Naren began by contacting ethnic-minority people he knew and sat down for dinner with them to discuss the best way to move forward – they decided on speed mentoring. Whilst NABS run a lot of speed mentoring events, which involve specialists going around to 40-50 juniors and offering their advice, Naren suggested that they run an event with all the industry leaders being from Black, Asian or other ethnic-minority backgrounds. The purpose was to showcase that talent exists at a senior level, and show people that this is an industry where you can succeed.

When they ran the event, they expected 50-60 people to turn up. Over 150 people showed up,

“It was ridiculous, the energy – that got me going, okay, we need to do this!”

After finishing working full-time, Naren took the decision to put time and energy into building MEFA.


MEFA’s 3 Company Pillars

MEFA’s first pillar is ‘Recruit’, this pillar ensures that members are aware of jobs that are going in the industry - this is done in two ways. MEFA has 14 sponsors, including companies such as Global, Clear Channel and Omnicom, who has recently joined them. They have a membership community channel where sponsors post their current jobs, which they then amplify. The second way is a WhatsApp group they have which currently has 650 members. The members within the group chat also post the jobs available at the companies that they work at. Although they might not personally know the people on the WhatsApp chat, the idea is that knowing there is someone who works at the company similar to you, and in the same community that you are in, makes it easier for you to apply. It removes any barriers and gives people the opportunity to ask what the company, culture, and inclusivity is like before applying.

MEFA also have a partnership with the Ark Academy which runs schools in disadvantaged areas where a lot of their pupils are Black, Asian, or mixed ethnicity. They go into these schools and talk about the media sector and have started holding ‘inspiration days’. Pupils have the chance to go into the sponsor’s offices and see what working life is like in a media company, to inspire children to consider a career in Media.


There is a real issue with ethnic talent coming into companies and leaving, so, this pillar is about how MEFA can make these people feel more welcome. This is through the creation of the community, although people might not work at your company, you know there are others in the same sector who look like you, speak like you and have faced the same challenges you have. It’s about encouraging people to stay at their companies, feel a sense of belonging and feel less alone.


The final pillar addresses mentoring and training. MEFA run workshops for their members, getting people to give talks about topics such as confidence, and create a safe space for people to talk. Mentoring is their main offering, which involves matching mentors and mentees based on skills, years of experience and areas people want to learn in. The first year when Naren ran the mentoring scheme, there were around 50 people, the second year there were around 130, last year 170 and this year there have already been 200 people register – it is growing very quickly. One of Naren’s current challenges is finding more people to mentor, if this sounds like something you would be interested in, sign up here. (Please note you must be from Black, Asian or any other ethnic-minority background).


Inclusive Hiring and Retaining Talent

“Businesses have started doing the first bit really well – getting the talent in”.

Naren explains that the problem with recruitment bounties, or referrals, is that you end up hiring all the same types of people, resulting in a lack of diversity within the company. A lot of companies have decided to stop doing this and are insisting on diverse pools and trying to ensure that on average, the pools are matching the population. Alternatively, bias training has been another popular method to ensure you’re hiring for skills and not just to ensure people are ‘fitting in’.

“I’ve hired hundreds of people in my life, and I probably have a 25-30% failure rate – like most people.”

Naren explains that people need to realise, it’s not always the best candidate on CV that will be the best employee. Although you look for people for skills, you naturally look for people who will fit into your culture, but you need to look for people who have the skills, and can grow your culture, and improve your thinking and creativity. He uses an analogy of football to explain this further:

“If you hired all the people with the best skills, you’d only employ strikers, but you’d lose every match. You need balance”.

Inclusion is the part that’s harder. Naren explains that creating a system to hire diverse talent is easy, but bringing people in, ensuring they feel a sense of inclusivity when there’s no one else like them in the company, and deciding getting them to stay is the bigger problem that companies are facing. Naren suggests that companies need to work a lot harder on making sure people fit in, and ensuring minorities get the help they need to succeed. Research indicates that programmes of sponsorship are the most successful. This might include senior talent taking junior talent under their wing and giving them some training, providing reassurance, being someone they can talk to, and generally helping them along the way.


This blog covers just a fraction of everything Amy and Naren discussed. Listen to the full podcast here, now!



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