Mohit Rajhans is not afraid of blazing a path. Today he is the co-founder of Think Start Inc. and author of Rethinking Your Content and Growth Beyond Your Personal Brand. But he started his career in media, in a way that was confusing because it involved flourishing and a struggle simultaneously.
Mohit joined us on ABCDEI to break down the lessons he took from living in this conflicting duality between diaspora and mainstream news media. Through the conversation with Mohit, we identified many transferable lessons of unlearning for workplaces of all sizes.
Bollywood is not the Indian film industry
If you tuned into the podcast, you’ll recall Mohit regaling us with stories of his red-carpet interviews with the likes of Bollywood megastars Shahrukh Khan or the late Sridevi. He even told us about his own Bollywood cameo alongside former Miss India and superstar Juhi Chawla. Through those stories, one thing became worth emphasizing is that Bollywood is not Indian cinema. For the uninitiated, India has several regional language film industries; Bollywood is just the biggest and arguably most famous overseas. Why are we pointing this out? Because it reaffirms the fact that marginalized groups are not monoliths. The Black experience isn’t singular, nor is every trans person’s journey or every story of living with a disability.
An honest look at blind spots
When Mohit was coming up in the media industry, he became well-acquainted with the media industry’s expectations – and failings. For instance, he found a direct facade with leadership. The leadership in the late 90s wanted to create front-facing diversity programming and content for the market for the halo effect. However, the reality was not consistent with the picture being painted in front. There were beautiful and diverse teams on billboards in front, but behind the scenes, management was still making the same mistakes by treating marginalized talent differently.
Going back to the monolith concept, Mohit pointed out how the fight for the one person of colour sportscaster or entertainment reporter seat, was tough. And once the seat was won, the person felt the need to take the whole burden of diversity on themselves in order to fulfill that gap. Being a mascot for diversity is unfair, inaccurate and a very heavy load to take on oneself.
Setting the next generation up for better
Mohit made the decision to shift his 2.0 career into consulting with the goal of helping the younger generation avoid making the same mistakes that were made in the first round, when he was growing up in this business. As a father, he grapples with what his children see in the world today. On one hand, they have friends who are from many different countries, speak different languages and have different ideologies and it’s no big deal. On the other hand, they come home and watch the news and wonder about how someone’s last name can work against them in terms of employment and acceptance in society. It’s a huge contradiction.
If Gen Z is resentful because we should have figured this out by now, that’s fair. We need to expedite conversations that matter – especially in organizations that have commitments to the communities they serve. We need to talk about representation, inclusive leadership, training manuals, customer service bias, client relationships and counsel. We need to get specific and get over our aversion to change. Let’s just acknowledge that it will get bad (for us) before it becomes good (for everyone). But the journey will be worth it, for future leaders.
Since ABCDEI is all about learning and unlearning, this is how we have unpacked the concepts shared in episode 6 into simple and actionable ideas:
- Embrace systemic change is possible. That is the silver lining of the global pandemic: almost overnight, we changed the way we work, live, educate and broadcast mainstream news, all from the safety of our homes. Let’s use that lens to champion other changes that are necessary in the journey to building equity.
- Seek feedback differently. Stop seeking feedback unilaterally. No one is looking to the 50-something CEO to roll out the TikTok strategy. For that, we’re looking at the youngest in the corporate ranks or even our teenage kids. Let’s learn to seek other types of feedback differently too. We need to look at DEI topics like that, because we stand to learn a lot from the next generation of “inclusion natives.”
- Look beyond the reason for change. As Mohit pointed out, some leaders today are motivated to drive change by a fear of shame. Shame for being old-fashioned, rigid or stuck in stereotypical ways for their respective industries. Whatever the reason may be, positive change is still worth fighting for. For us, personally, that has meant sometimes saying yes to the token seat. It isn’t ideal, but if it means we have a seat at the table and equal share of voice in the conversation, we are willing to overlook the reason that got us there. Change has to start from somewhere.
If you have found yourself wanting to unlearn but wondering where to even begin, or if you have a guest idea, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here for being seen and heard,
Rohini + Susan