Inspirational Woman: Saj Merali | CEO, PPA

Meet Saj Merali

CEO, PPA

Saj Merali is CEO of the PPA. In this piece, Saj talks to us about how she got into the media industry, the importance of calling out biases and her biggest achievement.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve been working in the publishing industry for over 20 years, holding senior positions at some of the world’s biggest media brands including the New Statesman Media Group where I was Chief Revenue Officer, Euromoney PLC as Commercial leader of the Insider Publishing Division and Incisive Media. 

I joined the PPA as CEO in 2021, and for those of you that don’t know it, the PPA represents UK multi-media business members, consumer magazine publishers, business-to-business data and information providers, customer magazine publishers and smaller independents. 

Having spent most of my career in this industry, one that I love, it’s an honour to be leading an organisation that represents such a thriving sector, bringing together members to make key directional decisions and affecting change in areas of significant importance.

High on my agenda is to increase representation across our industry and encourage young talent from all backgrounds to bring their voices and experiences to the fantastic range of brands that we represent and the wide variety of roles that our sector can offer.   

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No – I fell into media. And If I had it probably wouldn’t have turned out this way. I never thought of myself as a CEO, and that comes with its own issues, so in a way not planning it worked to my advantage. I really came into my own when I started to take on more management and leadership roles and I found I was naturally good at it. 

I stayed in the industry for years, took on a variety of roles that exposed me to all elements of the sector and learnt so much about the broader eco-system.  Once I had honed my skills, gained as much knowledge and experience as possible and demonstrated success, the CEO role felt a natural next step.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Of course I have. Who hasn’t?

And being a muslim woman from an ethnic minority and working class background probably means I have had more than my fair share, however I have learnt to call out the biases and I’m really proud of what I have achieved.

The world of business is changing for the better and I’m excited about being a part of that conversation for the part of the media industry that I represent. 

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Interestingly, it’s pretty connected to the challenges I stated above. I have been through my own journey about bringing my whole self to work and after 10 years of working in publishing I took the decision to wear my headscarf, which I had thought about doing for such a long time.

My head was filled with my own fears and assumptions – am I still going to connect with clients? Will I do my job well? Will people still respect me?…The list went on. But I did gain the confidence to go for it and it’s been a really positive experience.

Of course I still face challenges and obstacles, but my headscarf is a very visual part of who I am. It allows me to stand out and be a role model for other women. I feel passionately about the next generation. I don’t want them to face as many stereotypes and I am keen to be a part of changing that narrative. I want to make a difference to the part of the world that I can directly affect.

Level Up Summit

 

Don’t miss our Level Up Summit on 06 December, where we’re tackling the barriers for women in tech head on. Join us for keynotes, panels, Q&A’s & breakout sessions on finance, people management, negotiation, influencing skills, confidence building, building internal networks, maximising the power of mentorship, and much more. 

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Creating trust. If you are authentic, open and honest then trust comes as a by-product. And when you have high trust, then that’s where the magic happens.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’m a massive fan of mentoring and I advise everyone to find someone they can have frank and honest conversations with, draw on experiences and create a safe space for discussions around career progression. There is also a difference between a mentor and a sponsor. It is even better to find someone to have your back in the business. To catch you if you fall – but also push you forward into new opportunities and get you out of comfort zone.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Ultimately it boils down to how we are measuring it and that what gets measured gets done. Businesses are excellent at measuring EBITDA, profit and loss, but until we make that connection between D&I initiatives and profitability, it will be slow progress. We need more leaders to follow the steps of those ahead in their game and to take accountability. As soon as those measures get reported as company stats the more progress we will make.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Don’t worry so much about what other people think of you and don’t be so reliant on positive affirmation and feedback about your work. As you take on bigger roles in your career, know that you have earned your seat at the table and that you are there for a reason. Be honest, trustworthy and operate with humility and let your confidence shine. If you’re in the right lane and you come up against a barrier don’t make assumptions around why that’s happened.  I’ve learned that assumptions can be wrong, you rarely know absolutely everything about what is going on, so take the time to understand the context and remember it’s not always about you!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We’re focused on looking ahead, about how the sector is evolving, so there’s a big responsibility to represent our members and drive it forward in a way that’s right for the industry.  We are championing important issues such as sustainability and ensuring that the industry has a progressive people strategy. I want to ensure that ours is a diverse and inclusive sector in which people can thrive, and one that attracts a broad range of people and skills required from data scientists to content creators.

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