Dhruti Shah is an award-winning journalist with experience in fields as diverse as business, user generated content, development, news, natural history and history and science.
She has been working on coronavirus pandemic storytelling following a recent stint in Washington DC as a specialist social writer for the BBC.
She was selected as Ochberg Fellow at the Dart Centre for Trauma Journalism at Columbia University, New York and a Rotary International Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. She is a member of the Clore Cultural Leaders Network and the Women of the Future Network.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m an award-winning journalist with experience in a wide variety of fields. I started my career in local newspapers and it’s there I understood the power of community and accountability. I’ve been working for the BBC for more than 12 years in lots of different roles including natural history, science, international news, user generated content, social strategies and, of course, business. Last year I was the BBC’s specialist social writer in Washington DC and this year most of my work has been focused on coronavirus pandemic storytelling.
Apart from my BBC work I am an associate trainer with the Dart Centre for Trauma Journalism. In 2016 I was selected as Ochberg Fellow at the centre and spent time at Columbia University, New York. In 2017 I was chosen to be a Rotary International Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. I’m also a member of the Clore Cultural Leaders Network and the Women of the Future Network. I’m a Board member for The John Schofield Trust, a charity which helps young journalists. And this year, I’m really excited that my debut book, a collaboration with fellow journalist Dominic Bailey, is now coming out. Called Bear Markets and Beyond, it’s an illustrated guide to the animals that pop up in the business world.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I always wanted to be a journalist. When I was eight years old that was the path I decided was the one to follow. So I began creating literary sheets and class papers and when I reached my teens, with no contacts in that field whatsoever, would start approaching people asking if they’d take a chance and give me work experience. I come from a state school educated background but even studied hard enough so I’d get into Oxford as I thought that might help me pursue the dream… I went to Mansfield College which had a reputation for building good journalists… I got a role in local newspapers and learnt my craft on the job and on a fast track course up in Newcastle and then steadily built up my portfolio. I turned up at the BBC and realised I’d hit a dream. So then it was a case of building my skills and enjoying the pursuit of becoming an experienced storyteller. My career became more like a vocation.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Well I didn’t know anyone in this field so that was difficult as if you want to progress in my career you need to have connections and sponsorship and be on people’s radar. So it involved a lot of being brave and cold-calling and accepting rejection. There have also been challenges around racism, sexism and classism to have to acknowledge which is sad but the reality. But the beauty of having extra obstacles to face is that it means you become a problem-solver and build up a real skillset of resilience. You work harder to showcase what you are capable of.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I remember being a child in my local library and falling in love with words and stories. That helped me become a journalist. But to have my first book out – and a bestiary – one of my favourite types of books – is a huge achievement for me. You don’t expect people with my name – an usual one – to be authors. I embarked on the book because when I started in the BBC’s business unit, I felt uncomfortable and slightly out of place. I didn’t have a business background; just a lot of skills in making difficult subjects relatable. But this book will help other people understand that business isn’t so scary. It makes money matters fun… I mean you’ve got gorillas and cash cows and monkeys and frogs…
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
My family always believed in me. They told me when I was young I was capable of anything as long I put my mind to it. Even when it’s been hard or I’ve followed an unconventional path, they supported me.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think mentoring is incredibly important. I’m lucky that I have mentors in a variety of fields and of different ages and with different experiences. I’m so passionate about mentoring that I’m on the Board of The John Schofield Trust which helps young journalists navigate the industry by matching them with mentors. Last year I was a mentor at work for a young journalist in Delhi. I think it’s important to help people learn from your experiences. What is just as important though is sponsoring people and being sponsored. That’s when someone backs you – they put your name forward for opportunities when you can’t physically be there; they are a voice for you.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
It surprises me how many people won’t even acknowledge gender equality needs to happen. It does. If people accepted it as a reality and agreed to be allies e.g. be transparent about wages, support women who are being talked over in meetings, be willing to have dialogue, that would help.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Believe in yourself more.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I really want a dog… but also I want to embark on a project which makes me feel a tad uncomfortable as that means I’m learning something. All of my projects involve making people think differently about the world around them. If I can achieve that; I’m doing well…
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