Q1. What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is being able to do something I’m passionate about during nine-to-five. And I've described it in that way because previously I had a ‘day job’, working as a corporate lawyer, and a variety of side hustles doing projects I was passionate about. You're exhausted because you've got the day job and you've got these multiple side hustles, so getting to do something that you're passionate about as your day job is definitely the best part. It's so, so incredibly rewarding to know that you're able to create impact as part of your daily job.
Q2. What skills have been the most useful in your work?
I don't know if it’s a skill set per se, but having lived experience across a couple of diversity dimensions does help provide those greater insights to be able to problem-solve and innovate. And so, whether that's leaning on experiences from arriving in Australia from Afghanistan as a refugee, or whether it's socio-economic background - because I certainly started off in Australia living in social housing; or perhaps applying a female lens, or a cultural diversity lens. There are multiple intersecting identities at various points in my career.
I think it was my ESL teacher who recognised that I had potential, but I was always a shy person who wouldn't say anything. When she said, ‘We're going to put you in the debating team’ I was mortified. I couldn't write my own speeches. But she'd help me write my speeches initially, and then we went on to win the Metropolitan championships. It’s that experience in debating, that I very much credit for my communication skills today.
Q3. Who in the media inspires you?
I desperately wanted to be Sandra Sully when I was younger. And, in some ways, it also is connected to media diversity in Australia in some sense. I loved watching Sandra on Network 10. But I think it was also the fact that I didn't see people like me. I just thought, ‘Sandra Sully's so easy to say’. Can you imagine my name? Nobody would know how to say it.
It's interesting that I now head up Media Diversity because one of the things I want to be able to do is help create an environment where young people, no matter how bloody long their names are or how different their names are, can go ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ So, I do admire Sandra Sully and I was inspired by her for that reason. Obviously I didn't pursue a career in journalism. But here I am heading up Media Diversity Australia so I can help others.
Q4. What’s the most useful advice you’ve had?
One of the best pieces of advice is to think about who you needed when you were younger, and to try and be that person for someone else. Which, I think, is always really lovely. And I often think about, ‘what did I wish I had as I was growing up?’ What support did I need, what kind of mentoring did I need, what kind of character? And I try to be that person, whether it's in a professional or personal capacity. One of the things I do now, is I formally and informally mentor people; I can have a coffee with them and give them support and advice throughout their careers and help in championing other people.
Q5. What are you looking forward to?
I look forward to putting myself out of the job. I think a lot of the causes I've been involved in have come about because there's some sort of social issue that needs resolving. So, I look forward to those issues resolving, whether it's an Australian media landscape that looks and sounds like Australia, so we don't need Media Diversity Australia, or whether it's some of the work I've done in the anti-racism space. I'd love to not do those things.
Given the 'reckoning' we are witnessing across the industry, following the revelations by MDA Advisory Board member Stan Grant, I do not see that happening any time soon. The past few weeks have highlighted the deeply embedded and unaddressed issues that have been bubbling away under the surface; issues that so many either wilfully or unconsciously keep dismissing. Now is not the time to look away or safely assume your workplace is 'fine'. The unique insights we have, via our research and networks, paints a picture of an Australian media industry that has serious issues which desperately need addressing, and we intend to play our part in that.
I look forward to a landscape, whether it's Australian or global, where some social issues don't exist, so we don't have to lean on our lived experience to be able to tackle some of these big issues.
About Mariam Veiszadeh
Mariam Veiszadeh, CEO of Media Diversity Australia, is an award-winning human rights advocate, lawyer, diversity and inclusion practitioner, contributing author and media commentator.