Inspirational Woman: Dr Joanna Abeyie MBE CC | Founder & CEO Blue Moon & Partners

Dr Joanna Abeyie MBE CC, is a Commissioner for the Civil Service, a Common Councillor for the City of London and Founder and Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Consultancy Blue Moon & Partners.

Joanna is also the author of Pearson Published book, Inclusion Needs You, holds a number of NED and Trustee, Public Speaker and former Head of Creative Diversity of the BBC.

Can you tell us about your journey from being a journalist and broadcaster to becoming a champion for diverse talent in the workplace?

Growing up, I was deeply inspired by Michael Parkinson, a former newspaper journalist turned television interviewer, who interviewed A-list celebrities from various backgrounds. These interviews, often revealing humble beginnings, ignited my interest in journalism. My aspiration wasn’t fame but to share stories of significant, inspiring individuals with others. This realisation shaped my educational and career pursuits, recognising early the importance of strategic planning and gaining practical experience due to my low-income background.

In sixth form, understanding the competitive job market and the need for a distinct profile, I sought work experience. This decision was driven by a strategic mindset, acknowledging my disadvantaged position compared to peers from more privileged backgrounds. My journey into journalism began with a visit to my career advisor, who helped me identify my passion for journalism inspired by Parkinson. I was determined to overcome barriers, including a lack of resources and guidance on professional correspondence, to secure work experience.

The challenges were numerous: accessing a computer, learning to write effective letters, finding contact information for magazines without personal internet access, and affording postage. I gathered addresses by visiting newsagents and jotting down details from magazines. Despite these hurdles, my persistence paid off, and after numerous rejections, I secured a work experience placement.

However, the challenges didn’t end there. Financial constraints posed another barrier; without my educational maintenance allowance during half-term, I struggled with transport costs and lunch expenses. Determined, I walked to my placement, foregoing lunch.

This experience highlighted the systemic barriers faced by individuals from socioeconomically diverse backgrounds in accessing opportunities in journalism. It fuelled my passion not only to excel in journalism but also to facilitate opportunities for others facing similar obstacles. This commitment to diversity and inclusion became a driving force in my career, motivating me to create platforms and networks to support underrepresented talents in the industry.

During one such work experience at The Voice newspaper, I interviewed Samuel Kasumu, which further solidified my commitment to fostering inclusivity. Our shared values and purposes highlighted the importance of creating spaces for diverse voices, leading to the formation of initiatives aimed at breaking down barriers for underrepresented talent individuals aspiring to careers in journalism and beyond.

This journey from an inspired teenager to a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion in journalism underscores the transformative power of perseverance, strategic planning, and a commitment to social equity. It reflects a deep-seated belief in the potential of journalism as a tool for change and the importance of providing platforms for all voices, regardless of their background.

What motivated you to launch Elevation Networks at such a young age, and how did that experience shape your commitment to diversity and inclusion?

Samuel and I had a similar passion, which was to level the playing field for all talent. I had made progress within the journalism and the media world. We were dreaming big, wanting to support people who didn’t have the spotlight on them in the corporate scene. It wasn’t just us, though; we had this awesome crew of seven other people who were all about making a difference. We came from different backgrounds, and we were committed to supporting students from non-top-20 universities into work. We were targeting the graduate talent pool, because back in 2005 Law Firms and Financial Services sectors primarily used Grad schemes and fairs to access early careers talent, convincing them there was relevant talent outside of the graduate pool was challenging – thankfully that has changed now – but we were keen to at least challenge them to think about universities that weren’t just redbrick or Oxbridge.

That’s how Elevation Networks started. Our motto was “Know who, know-how” and we would create networking and/or career opportunities for those from underrepresented backgrounds like Barclays Capital and Morgan Stanley. And guess what? It worked! In just two years, we got 600 people into jobs and connected with over 30,000 students, all thanks to some clever partnerships and campaigns, like Visible Women, that hit the mark.

This whole adventure showed us that companies were open to engaging with talent outside of their traditional talent pools. diverse talent. But it also made me think we might have missed a trick by not reaching out to those not in university at all—people who were just as ambitious and skilled.

Looking back, I reckon the partnerships we made with our sponsors were pretty good for us, but maybe we sold ourselves short, considering the doors we were opening and the new paths we were paving.

These early days lit a fire in me to keep pushing for diversity, equity, accessibility for disabled talent and inclusion, eventually leading me to start my organisation, and that was when Shine Media was born, this provided jobs, education, training and onboarding support to talent, I created all our services and products using my imagination and based on the challenges I had faced and I could see were occurring within the industry. 

Shine Media placed over 3,000 people from diverse backgrounds into work within creative industries. What were some of the key strategies you implemented to achieve such impactful results?

I launched Shine Media in 2008. My goal was clear from the get-go: remove the barriers that kept those from minatory backgrounds with persistent challenges in accessing the creative industry. Those early days were driven by pure passion. I didn’t earn anything personally from Shine Media until 2015, by this point we had been going 7 years and had already placed around 2700 people into jobs. Myself and those who came to volunteer with me were all about the mission, not the money, pouring every dime we eventually made back into training programs to give our talent the support they needed and level the playing field for them.

What really made Shine Media stand out was our grit and total belief in the untapped talent out there. We weren’t just filling jobs; we were on a mission to show the world how valuable diversity is and to dismantle privileged opinions on what and who ‘talent’ was.

I was keen to ensure we were offering a professional, consistent, and accessible service that was relevant to the challenges facing the industry at the time, and what we felt would become a challenge for diverse talent in the future. I was very fortunate that many of those who had offered me work experience or who had offered me guidance, or mentorship were happy to support me with Shine Media and joined our Advisory Board. I owe those individuals a lot, the connections, encouragement, support, and advice were invaluable and that combined with the efforts of those who volunteered with Shine Media are huge contributors to its success.

We were able to offer our candidates and talent, pastoral support, CV writing and cover letter, writing support, we ran mock interviews, assessment centres with organisations all with the aim of ensuring we could secure them their role, and we did. Many of them went on to work for the likes of MediaCom, Bloomberg, ITV, Channel 4, BBC, Banijay, Fremantle, The Guardian, the list goes on. The thing that warms my heart the most is Shine Media’s Legacy. Today I watch Sky News and see the main anchor and they engaged with Shine Media, or I see the credits of a TV programme, and I know we helped those people secure their first and second jobs – its incredible. I have a special fondness for some of those who had left the prison system and are now absolutely smashing their career goals, I like that when society might have written them off, they decided to own their destiny, learnt from their actions, and moved on positively. Honestly, makes me emotional even as I write this.

We didn’t stop once someone landed a job. We stuck around, making sure they had the skills and know-how to navigate their new role and industry.  Everything I/we learnt we turned it into tailored training sessions, filling in any gaps and getting our talent ready for whatever the industry threw their way.

Shine Media was really my values in a product/ service – it’s the same for Hyden Talent and now Blue Moon & Partners, every product and service has come from my ideation with the aim of doing things fairly – which I feel very strongly about. There was nothing, I wouldn’t call your bluff on. If an organisation described a problem as to why they couldn’t hire inclusively, create an equitable working environment, or attract and recruit diverse talent I would find a solution – I was like a dog with a bone. I couldn’t accept unfairness – still can’t – and I can’t accept being lied to either. If you want to do something you will, I did and I had very little of my own!

I wouldn’t change a thing about that experience Shine Media will always be my proudest achievement we helped – I like to help – and it had a lasting impact. I had no money, but I was happy helping ha! To date, Shine Media placed over 3000 people into work, not bad for a girl with my personal background!

In the end, it was about turning barriers into breakthroughs, making sure the talented we backed could not only get their foot in the door but also kick it wide open and succeed!

What inspired you to found Blue Moon, and how does it differentiate itself in the realm of executive search and diversity consultancy?

Oh, where to start? My journey with Shine Media has been nothing short of a dream. Over eight years, we bagged 23 awards and managed to place 3,000 people from such a broad range of backgrounds into jobs, turning what might have been early career hopes into serious industry game-changers. Picture this: all while keeping up with my day job in journalism and running Shine Media in my so-called ‘spare time’. Seeing our program alumni shining on red carpets and getting their names in credits—that was the moment I thought, “If I can make this impact with early careers talent and experienced hires, imagine what I can do with the C-suite and Executive Leaders?’

And that’s exactly what I did. Encouraged by what we’d achieved and the incredible talent I’d seen, I shifted our focus to senior leadership.

Using my solution orientated mindset, I designed inclusive executive search processes to introduce senior level talent into Executive roles. This an Employability a recruitment process aimed at increasing the hiring of deaf, disabled, and neurodivergent senior talent, a leadership initiative just for the ladies, and these swanky Executive luncheons for top-tier networking. It wasn’t just about filling slots; it was about shaking things up for the long haul.

My later collaboration with SThree, the global Tech recruiters. Together, we launched Hyden, my service that aimed at spotlighting the underrepresented executive leaders of the talent world and sprinkling some of that Shine Media magic into the exec search arena. After two fantastic years at Hyden, a conversation with a private investor allowed me to launch Blue Moon, a venture back out on my own.

Blue Moon offers three services: diversity data analysis, (think pay equity and ethnicity gaps), providing consultancy services including strategy, cultural transformation, EDIA education and inclusion Audits, and inclusive Executive Search services. We’re not just about finding you talent; we’re here to make sure they thrive, offering onboarding support to companies and new hires alike, and executive coaching to keep those placements permanent, and building embedded processes to ensure this work continues beyond our involvement. We weave ourselves seamlessly into your team’s fabric. You won’t even need us anymore. It’s this all-in approach to EDI that sets Blue Moon apart in the bustling world of exec search and EDIA consulting. 

As Co-Secretariat for The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity, what are some of the key initiatives you’ve been involved in to promote diversity within the creative industries?

As Co-Secretariat for The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity, I have been deeply involved in spearheading initiatives aimed at advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (EDIA) within the creative industries. Our endeavour commenced in 2019, fuelled by a profound commitment to addressing the formidable challenges of DEIA that persist within the Creative Industries.

Working alongside my Co-Secretariat with Alex Pleasance, we embarked on the creation of a collaborative platform where stakeholders ranging from HR professionals and talent scouts to hiring managers and creatives themselves could engage in candid dialogue concerning the barriers hindering genuine progress in EDIA.

We began with a series of roundtable discussions, serving as catalysts for momentum. Subsequently, we undertook a substantial research endeavour in collaboration with esteemed scholars from King’s College. Our objective was to convene a diverse array of industry experts to confront pivotal questions regarding the cultivation of inclusive workplaces and the facilitation of broader access to opportunities.

The culmination of our efforts has yielded robust research outputs, exemplified by reports such as “The Creative Majority: What Works” and “The Global Majority,” which illuminate effective strategies for fostering inclusivity and dismantling entrenched barriers within our industry.

Of particular significance is the unveiling of the “Five A’s” blueprint in our inaugural report, providing practical guidance for creative organisations aspiring to elevate their DEIA initiatives. Moreover, insights gleaned from our research have informed deliberations within the House of Lords, contributing to the formulation of policies aimed at ensuring the enduring efficacy of EDIA strategies within the creative sphere.

Our journey has been characterised by a profound spirit of collaboration, rigorous research, and steadfast advocacy, and I’m proud of the power of our collective action in effecting tangible change.

Could you share some insights into your role as a Non-Executive Director for Investors in People and how it aligns with your mission for inclusive working cultures?

As Non-Executive Director for Investors in People, my role was to support in furthering the organisations’ mission of ‘making work better’. I stepped down in 2023, after serving two terms. I am still involved in their work, and it was a complementary role to my work with Blue Moon & Partners.

Over the course of two terms with Investors in People, I had the privilege of leveraging my expertise and passion for EDIA initiatives to contribute to the organisation’s overarching goal of improving workplace environments. This has entailed engaging in strategic discussions, providing insights, and participating in decision-making processes aimed at enhancing the well-being and satisfaction of employees across diverse industries.

My role as Common Councillor, Co-Secretariat and Civil Service Commissioner are all aligned with Blue Moon, my involvement in just an extension of my EDIA commitments.

I always find it humorous when people say, ‘you do so much’. I do the same thing in different roles/titles, and it comes very naturally to me – as I said earlier it’s an extension of me and my personality not a job I have spotted and would have liked to do. When it’s part of who you are – you show up that way wherever you go, so of course I would be thought of to take on roles. I live and breathe Blue Moon/Hyden/Shine Media – it’s not a strategic career move or an opportunity to make money. Trust me, I’ve lost more money than I’ve earned!

When we launched Shine Media, none of us were in THAT privileged a position to extend ourselves like we did – and its only hindsight that taught me this. We were students, some of us ourselves receiving hardship funds from our universities, and balancing two part time jobs while building EN, and our studies, we didn’t even blink… it’s only at 37, I can see what a special thing we did. I completely took it for granted at the time – it was just ‘what we did’.

With your involvement in various organisations such as Innocence Project London and UN Women UK, how do you balance your commitments and ensure you’re making a meaningful impact across different spheres?

I’ve got my sights set on becoming many things in the future, and they are all in the making. I’ll share the news throughout the year as it all happens.

I was elected as a Common Councillor for the Cornhill Ward, in the City of London. It is something that allows me to influence the heart of the city, and one of the most influential institutions in the country. I take the role seriously, and sit on several committees, including the Equity Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee, the Police Standards Integrity Board, Education board, Homelessness and Rough sleeping, and Children’s & Communities Services, and I work hard to ensure I take an active role in these committees and the influence they have on the lives of those who live and work within the City.

As a Civil Service Commissioner is a role I gained on appointment by the late Queen, on recommendation of No.10. The values of the commission are again, my personal values that those who are hired to run His Majesty’s government are appointed on merit, open and fair competition. I’ve just spent the last 19 years doing that via Elevation Networks, Shine Media, Hyden and Blue Moon & Partners. Why wouldn’t I want to ensure that those who run the country are the best for the role and have been recruited inclusively – it’s what I live for ha!

When I’m not doing all that, I’m over at Blue Moon, pouring my heart into consulting on EDIA strategies and inclusive hiring via Blue Moon & Partners.

It’s a balancing act, but I do it. It allows me to use my skills in so many ways, making sure that fairness and inclusivity aren’t just buzzwords but real practices in public service and beyond. So, yeah, it’s a busy life, but it’s impactful and I love every minute of it.

Even if I do get DM’s I get asking me if I go to so many events to ‘network’ – which I find a highly irritating question. I wish I had so much free time that I’m at dinners and award shows because I have nothing else to do! I HAVE to be there – it’s called commitment to the roles and responsibilities you take on! Honestly, if I don’t have to be somewhere – I’m not. I’d definitely be with the horses or Tobes the Tabby! 

What advice would you give to companies looking to improve their inclusive hiring practices and create more diverse working cultures?

For organisations aiming to enhance their inclusive hiring processes and cultivate a more diverse workplace culture, a strategic and principled approach is paramount. It is imperative for companies to delve deep into the foundational reasons underpinning the need for diversity and inclusion initiatives. This introspection should transcend superficial motivations such as regulatory compliance or superficial brand enhancement. Instead, the rationale should be intrinsically linked to the core operations and values of the business. For instance, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) integrates diversity not merely as a moral stance but as a strategic necessity to produce content that resonates with a broad audience spectrum, thereby maintaining its competitive edge against streaming services.

After establishing a solid ‘why’, ensuring that diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies are equipped with the necessary authority and resources to effectuate tangible change is crucial. Merely appointing a head of diversity without granting them the influence or means to initiate meaningful actions may result in ineffective symbolism rather than substantive outcomes. The position of D&I leadership should be strategically aligned with the company’s overarching objectives and positioned within the organisational hierarchy to drive impactful change.

Additionally, the selection of an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) champion should be conducted with discernment. It is essential to look beyond superficial attributes and focus on candidates with a proven track record of fostering equitable workplaces and promoting inclusive hiring practices. Evaluating potential candidates through strategic challenges during the recruitment process can help ascertain their capability to align with and advance the company’s specific needs.

The journey toward enhanced workplace diversity and inclusion hinges on two critical aspects: a deeply rooted understanding of the ‘why’ behind these initiatives, ensuring it aligns with the company’s core mission, and the appointment of a capable EDI&A leader who possesses the authority, resources, and strategic vision to transform principles into practice. By adhering to these guidelines, companies can lay the groundwork for a genuinely inclusive and diverse workplace.

Being a Livery woman at the Haberdashers Company and a governor of their schools, how do you leverage these positions to promote diversity and inclusion in education?

In my capacities as a Liverywoman of the Haberdashers’ Company and a governor for Mulberry Academy Shoreditch and Shoreditch Park School, I have embraced the opportunity to significantly influence the educational landscape. These roles offer me an opportunity to actively contribute to and shape educational policies and practices, ensuring they align with principles of diversity and inclusion.

Although my commitments as a Commissioner and Councillor necessitated stepping back from my governance role at Haberdashers’, my dedication to advancing educational excellence remains unwavering. One of the key avenues through which I continue to impact education is through mentoring. By holding regular sessions each term, I aim to increase self-esteem and awareness of opportunities that may otherwise seem out of reach.

A focal point of my efforts is advocating for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Championing the rights and needs of these students is not only a priority but a passion. It is essential to ensure that the educational environment is inclusive, accommodating, and supportive of all learners, regardless of their challenges. I advocate for policies and practices that remove barriers to learning, enabling SEND students to excel and achieve their fullest potential.

The overarching goal of my involvement in education governance and mentorship is to cultivate an inclusive community within the schools. This entails creating an environment where diversity is celebrated, inclusion is practiced, and every student feels a sense of belonging and potential for success. By integrating these values into the core of educational institutions, I aspire to leave a lasting impact that champions a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive educational journey for all students. 

Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations for advancing diversity and inclusion in the coming years?

In the forthcoming years, my objectives and aspirations are firmly centred on significantly advancing equity, and inclusion across various sectors. My commitment to these goals is unwavering, and I am keen to share the strategy planned to achieve them.

I hope the publication of my book, “Inclusion Needs You,” which is slated for release with Pearson in Business later this year will help. This book is designed as a comprehensive guide, aimed at empowering individuals at all organisational levels—from entry-level employees to senior executives and board members—to effectively contribute to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion efforts. I intend to provide a pragmatic framework that demystifies the concepts of EDIA, offering actionable steps towards fostering an environment of belonging and acceptance within workplaces.

Additionally, I am pursuing the ambition to serve as a Magistrate, with a focus on applying a compassionate and insightful approach to justice. This goal reflects my belief in the importance of addressing the root causes of societal issues within the justice system and implementing measures that are both kind and effective. By becoming a magistrate, I aim to contribute to a justice system that is equitable and considers the individual circumstances of all involved.

My journey also includes a transition into Human Rights Law, which is already well underway, to qualify as a barrister. This move is motivated by a desire to engage more deeply in advocacy for justice and to utilise legal mechanisms to champion human rights on a broader scale. My experiences with organisations like the Innocence Project London and as Expert Advisor for the New Scotland Yard Counter-Terrorism Advisory Group, and work with City of London Police has laid the groundwork for this transition, and I am committed to using my legal expertise to advocate for significant societal changes.

Over the next six years, as I delve deeper into human rights law, I plan to simultaneously focus on business development, to entrust the leadership to capable successors who can sustain and expand upon our efforts.

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