Mahnoor Mahmood meets inspiring author, comms professional, and podcaster Advita Patel.
Growing up in a country far from one’s homeland presents unique challenges and requires great patience and adaptation to a new environment.
South Asian communities, especially those residing in the United Kingdom, serve as prime examples of perseverance and sacrifice.
Many individuals left their homes at an early age to secure better lives for themselves and their families, leaving behind loved ones, culture, and familiar surroundings.
During South Asian Heritage Month, running from 18 July to 17 August and dedicated to sharing stories and experiences, Asian Sunday was privileged to hear the inspiring tale of Advita Patel, an inclusion strategist who founded her own company CommsRebel, and her journey of growing up in the UK.
Born in Manchester, Advita was considered an outsider for the majority of her childhood.
She said: “I grew up in a very racist area of Manchester. Every day I was told I didn’t belong. Our house was set alight, cars smashed up, tyres slashed, fireworks and mice through the letterbox. It was relentless for several years.
“This behaviour led me to hide from my identity and avoid my culture for years because I had this desire to fit in and belong,” she revealed.
Advita is one of many people who were abused because of their heritage. But, as challenging as her life was, she did not quit. Instead, she rose higher than she could.
She said: “After many years of unpicking the trauma I decided that I was no longer going to change who I was to make other people comfortable in my company.
“I embraced my heritage and stopped seeking validation and permission from others. Since then, I’ve launched three businesses, written a book, won awards, spoken globally, and started my own event for people who want to do things differently in the world of work,” she said.
Being in the communications sector for almost 19 years, Advita gained much experience about dealing with all sorts of people. Three years ago she founded Manchester-based CommsRebel, which she leads.
Talking about what inclusion means to her, Advita has quite a lot to say.
“For me, it’s about feeling valued, supported, heard, recognised, and respected for who you are. No one should ever go through their life feeling ignored or undervalued,” she said.
With Priya Bates Advita recently co-wrote a book entitled ”Building a Culture of Inclusivity” in which she aims to spread awareness about equity and inclusion in the workplace.
In today’s world, where gender equality is still a sensitive topic, women like Advita are steadfast about making a change.
She said: “We’re often seen as the model minority. This means that people expect South Asian women to be submissive, quiet, and non-confrontational.
“If we go against that stereotype, people believe we’re being difficult and too disruptive. Many have also been raised in communities where we are expected to ‘serve’ others and be coy with our behaviours.
“We’re often told not to cause a scene, work hard, be grateful, and keep our heads down. However, with that said, things are starting to change. More South Asian women are speaking up and are achieving incredible things.
“We’re seeing an influx of remarkable role models sharing their stories and shifting outside of the model minority stereotype. I’m constantly in awe,” Advita added.
In the spirit of South Asian Heritage Month, spreading awareness about inclusion and biculturalism is crucial. It’s not wrong to say that things are different than they used to be decades ago. Have they improved?
“Compared to what we experienced in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, I’d say yes. We’re starting to see more representation around us, on TV, media, fashion, music, business, politics, and leadership.
“However, there’s still some work to do to address some of the biases we face, not only from people outside our communities but also within our community. In our own South Asian communities, there’s discrimination between different groups, religions, and castes.
“When there’s limited solidarity, we are in danger of not progressing, and rather than fight against the oppressive systems set by privileged people we battle amongst ourselves without thinking about the bigger picture.
“We should be supporting each other to thrive, celebrating our successes together and championing each other because, if we don’t, how we can we expect anyone else to do that for us?” she asked.
Asian Sunday concluded its interview by asking Advita to deliver a message for people who are trying to ‘fit in’. She had a simple answer:
”You’re not alone. Find your community of supporters and don’t fear speaking up. You deserve to feel valued, recognised and supported for your work.”
Advita Patel’s journey exemplifies the indomitable spirit of those who, despite the odds, navigate the challenges of living in a foreign land while preserving their cultural heritage.
Their stories enrich our understanding of the human experience and inspire us to create a more inclusive world for all.
Her advice to everyone:
“Great things can happen when you advocate for yourself and start to believe in your self-worth.”