Interview with Joanna Abeyie, founder and Managing Director of Hyden Talent

Joanna Abeyie may be just just 31, but she’s achieved more in her career so far than most of us an hope to achieve in a lifetime.

She was named one of the TV Collective’s Top BAME Leaders, which saw her honoured in a photographic exhibition. She was awarded the Federation for International Periodicals Publishing’s (FIPP) Rising Star Award 2017, We Are The City Rising Star 2018 and Bullhorn’s Recruitment Leader of 2018.

She was also invited to 10 Downing Street to meet Prime Minister Theresa May to celebrate Black History, and has given a TED Talk on Social Impact in Muscat, Oman.

Joanna’s work has been highly recognised by the Mayor of London and Joanna has been awarded Freedom of The City, A Freeman for the Guild of Entrepreneurs and a Freeman for the Haberdashers Livery Company.

What’s your career background?

I started my career as a journalist in the magazine industry and it was actually my time doing this that made me realise there was a real need to make a change.

I founded the award-winning creative industry diverse talent recruitment business Shine Media in 2009, which recently morphed into Hyden (taken from the old English word for ‘hidden’), as part of leading global recruiter SThree PLC.

I’ve been a consistent campaigner for diversity within the publishing, TV, radio, digital and creative industries, and have helped to place more than 3,000 people from diverse backgrounds in permanent and freelance jobs in the creative industry.

I’ve been asked to speak for the Confederation of British Industry, Policy UK, Bullhorn Live, Recruitment Leaders Connect, Talent Leaders Connect, BBC Step Up Programme, Sky Sports Women In Leadership Programme, Advertising Week Europe, The Professional Publishers Association Festival and BT and EE’s Flexible Working Campaign.

Hyden is an inclusive search business and diversity and inclusion consultancy business. Shine Media and Hyden has worked as a consultant and become a key diversity partner for the BBC, ITV, ITN, Channel 4, Sky, Hearst Publishing, Bloomberg, MediaCom, MC Saatchi & Saatchi and Viacom to name just a few.

My vision with Hyden, has seen me pioneer and launch Inclusion and Diversity Strategies in many creative businesses. Hyden has graduated from multi-award winning Shine Media Social Enterprise and then LTD into a multi-award winning industry recognised Executive Search Firm and Diversity and Inclusion Consultancy practice.

Today I have over ten years of experience in current affairs, news and entertainment news both in the UK and America. Joanna has interviewed some of the business and entertainment world’s most reputable and successful professionals, politicians and celebrities for the BBC, ITV, Sky News, The Times Online, The Mail Online, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC London, The Sun and Daily Mirror. I also presents her own Sunday evening news and events roundup on BBC Radio London’s Dotun Adebayo show.

I’ve always harboured a passion to tell stories that challenge preconceptions of stereotypes and that unearth hidden social subcultures. This saw her set up own production company LH Productions in 2014. It has seen her produce and present programmes on children of alcoholics for ITV This Morning at the end of 2016, as well as segments on female ex-offenders struggling to find employment for BBC Inside Out in 2015. In 2016, Channel 4 gave Joanna her biggest commission to date with Hip Hop Millionaires, a series of C4 shorts co-produced by LH with Sugar Films, Big Head Productions and supported by The TV Collective.

Today, I’m a trustee on the Board of Trustees for The Lord Mayor’s Appeal where she works on the Digital Skills Strategy with Alderman Peter Estlin. Joanna is the most recent addition to the board of Non-Executive Directors, for CIC and formerly Government owned, Investors in People.

I’m also the first and youngest black, woman to be appointed to the council of the The Media Society and lead on the representation of diverse talent via their roster of inclusive events.

I’m also called upon to be a judge for awards including Audio Production Awards, Professional Publishers Association New Talent Awards, Royal Television Society Awards and the inaugural Black Women in Business Awards.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I noticed that in every one of my work experience placements, everywhere I went the workplace had little or no variety. Where were the working class, where were the ethnic minorities? I was 17 years old, and I decided I wasn’t going to rest on my laurels. I wanted to do something to help bring about change.

I’m driven by the passion to see real and lasting change. My mission is to continue to steer the diversity agenda and create a more inclusive environment in creative industry for people from a myriad of ethnicities and backgrounds. From the boardroom, all the way down to entry-level.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I was only able to make my idea a sustainable business once I’d gained enough interest from businesses. I ran my business and my worked full time as a journalist and it was only after eight years really that I could really spend all my time on it.

Throughout that time we’d made great impact but not much money. It wasn’t until 2015-ish that I was able to go freelance and make TV programmes before having to think about finally cutting the cord and giving my business my undivided attention.

What’s your USP?

My business partner says it’s my ‘pixie dust’! I’ll go with that. If I tell you what makes me different it will probably cease from being, just that!

Who’s your target audience?

Any business who want to create a working environment where opportunities are based on fairness and merit. Inclusion means making everyone feel valued irrespective of the labels society has given them. I just want structures, institutions and organisations to be fair – a fair chance for everyone to be successful.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

You know, never underestimate the power of  a personal recommendation. Most of my business has come from personal introductions and public speaking engagements. I think being honest about my own experiences and sharing best practice has helped businesses to see I’m genuine about my work and my aims.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

I haven’t really had a strategy. Rightly or wrongly… but I’ve only ever tried to just share what I do and hope that it moves us closer to a more inclusive industry. diversity and inclusion.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Me! Getting in my own way. Telling myself negative things, carrying worry and all these concerns about ‘what people think of me’.  I mean who cares? I mean who actually spends that much time thinking about me anyway?!

Everything I’ve ever needed to achieve what I wanted is in me. This has to be fact because something about me, is letting these blessings come true. So spending so much time giving myself  hard time was energy wasted. Honestly, if I had a pound for all the bad things I’ve said to myself over the years I’d be a trillionaire. Be kind to yourself!

And your proudest moment so far?

I have two moments that stand out for me. First being when Broadcast Magazine featured me as  a Broadcast Hotshot this was in 2016 after ten years working as a journalist and broadcaster.

I was 28 and I was loving the work I was doing. I felt like the mainstream broadcasting industry had finally accepted me and rated my talent. Being working class in the TV industry really isn’t easy and I kept going because I believed in myself but it was a long time before the industry said ‘Jo, we see you’.

I didn’t keep going for the industry’s acceptance – of course not – but it was nice for them to recognise the hard work that had gone into my work off-screen with recruitment but also my work on screen with the three shows I’d made. Especially as all topics were very personal to me.

The second proud moment was when I was 18 and realised that I had the ability to help people from a broad range of backgrounds find a job and get them to believe in themselves irrespective of the knock backs they had faced through their own career pursuits in the creative industry.

I felt that was special, that even with my own insecurities I somehow I was able to help people overcome theirs and just go for it. So I guess the birth of Shine Media is one that I’ll forever be proud of. It was/is an organisation driven by my heart and the team, our talent and I had some great times!

Why is work so important to you?

Without being or sounding cheesy, I don’t feel like I work. I really love what I do, which is why I ‘work’/do it so much. I enjoy pretty much all aspects of the role. I guess that’s the beauty in choosing something you believe in and feel is purposeful, it makes you feel like it’s not really work.

Saying that, I’d be completely lying if I said that the amount of work I do can take its toll. I’ve been a really hard worker since I was at school (accept for my science and maths lessons – I could have worked harder in those!) and I guess I don’t know any different so sometimes it’s about learning to listen to my body and mind when it’s trying to tell me enough is enough.

Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by so many things, events and people. A huge influence in my life however are my friends and family. They inspire me in many ways, to forgive myself, be kind to myself, keep going even if it feels too tough and to try and enjoy the moment.

Despite how busy all my friends and I are with our own lives, they are all always just a message or call away. If I’m not working, I’m with my friends, their children and my family. I like that – that’s what is important isn’t it? All the professional achievements in the world would never mean more to me than those I love.

How do you balance your business with your family?

I used to be terrible at this. Family, friends, boyfriends would feel second to much of my professional aims and goals for a really long time and if they were honest probably still do. This isn’t a feeling I’m proud they felt, in fact it was for wanting better for them and me that I guess I would push so hard and be that friend that was late, absent or forgetful.

So although my commitments could be challenging for those who wanted to just enjoy some time with me, I was only doing what I thought was the only way I knew to improve my circumstances – work non-stop.

Luckily for me I’ve been blessed with friends who are family and a family that I love an unquantifiable amount. So I’m luckily standing here today at 31 with all the friends I started this journey with and they along with mentors, siblings, parents and colleagues have been really supportive – in every capacity.

Now, that public apology is complete, I’ve got better at balance. I will not work on weekends unless it’s absolutely essential. I run 5k on the weekends – some weekends I skip – but I do make sure I get back in gear.

I go to yoga classes. I have a sister’s weekend every month. I try not to go two months before going to visit my family who live out of London and aim to regularly pop in to see my dad. As for friends that’s easier to some degree as we like similar things and social media makes it easier to speak to them daily and see what they are up to, especially my best friend who lives abroad.

But it really boils down to priorities all ‘ships’ take work and effort and they will disappear if you don’t try.

As for romance… I’m still single so your guess is as good as mine. I’ve tried lots of ways to balance work with a partner and the fact I’m singe probably says I’ve not mastered it yet!

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

This is an interesting question. There are lots of books, blogs etc. that give helpful practical tips and suggestions on how to develop a successful business, so I don’t want to offer you advice that you could easily get in those books.

I am a keen reader and have and still do rely on the wisdom and learnings of many authors. But what I wished I’d listened to sooner and a piece of advice given to me a long time ago by a wise man called Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa (I’ll name check him ha!) was to look after myself and it’s something my mentors have said to me time and time again since and the penny has only just dropped over the last two years.

So my first piece of advice for you is: ‘self-care is how you get your power’, it sounds wishy-washy but entrepreneurship is lonely. It looks lavish and sounds good. But when it starts and stops with you, your leadership and your personal health you realise very quickly how important it is to look after yourself. Remember to be kind to you.

Don’t be motivated to be rich, to be able to post something on social media that requires external validation, to be famous. Be motivated to be the best. Do your best until you know better, then do better. If you keep this attitude in your life, you will constantly evolve for the better.

Remember what got you here won’t get you there. Don’t be afraid to embrace a new level of you, sometimes in order to be prepared for what’s to come you might require different tools/equipment/way of thinking. Don’t be afraid to push yourself to level up.

Finally, I believe in nothing before it’s time and it’s helped me deal with failure,learning and rejection. Sometimes delay and not denial, if it’s meant for you it won’t pass you by.