If you had a prestigious job in the City that paid megabucks, would you let it go? We’re often told these days that your worth is based on your earnings. But for my Page 1 Woman, Sepi Roshan, being true to herself far outweighed the desire for big bucks. So, as difficult as it was, she decided to leave her job as a technical accountant in banking to follow a dream she’d had since childhood. And when she took action, she discovered her purpose – creating Astute Radio online, focusing on the advancement of minority women and giving them a voice. ‘I always knew that I was going to do something different’, she said. ‘That’s one of the reasons why I fashioned my life in the way that I have. Every decision that I’ve made, consciously and unconsciously, has led to this point’.
Launched, aptly, on International Women’s Day 2013, Astute Radio has already gone global and gets over 10,000 listeners a month with 21,000 tuning-in, in May. ‘You can jump onto the website, at astute-radio.com, search for topics that interest you and the shows will come up. You then click and listen’, says Sepi. ‘Listeners don’t have to be glued to the internet at a particular time. They can just go on the website and listen to a show whenever they like.’
Read more about how Sepi, a 2014 nominee for the Asian Women of Achievement Awards(Media), did it.
Describe your work and what you do.
Sepi Roshan: I run a radio station. We’re about getting conversations started. We believe that conversations help people connect with other people and with themselves. In the UK, only about 1.5% of voices on radio are that of minority women. So at Astute Radio we’re giving those minority women a real voice and helping them connect with themselves and with other people. We’re also allowing listeners to connect with each other and with the presenter
At Astute Radio, we not only provide the microphone we also support you in finding your true voice and the essence of you as a person. And we do that through coaching and mentoring and allowing you to explore the issues that are important to you, the people around you and to society. We help you tap into your potential, develop confidence and relevant skills to navigate through your life and work.
How did you come up with this innovative idea?
Sepi Roshan: It’s a life’s journey. It’s a combination of my personal experiences, history and cultural background. I have an Iranian background and as a result of the war situation in Iran, we moved to Australia and so I was brought up between two different cultures. I love being Australian and I love being Iranian but there are some gender stereotypes that permeate through all cultures. Sometimes, we say that a person can’t do X because they’re ‘just a girl’ or even sometimes ‘a boy’. A boy shouldn’t do that. A girl shouldn’t do this.
Gender stereotypes affect girls a lot more although there are gender stereotypes that affect boys and men. If you cry, you’re weak, for example. Or, for women especially, in the workplace, if you’re assertive, you’re a bitch. If you know what you want, you’re selfish. One that always annoyed me when I was growing up is ‘Girls should have long hair’. Well I don’t know where it says girls should have long hair. It’s ridiculous.
At Astute Radio, we are proving that gender is not relevant. It really is just about being a person. My philosophy on life is that everybody comes into the world through a particular portal. I didn’t choose my portal. I don’t know if you chose yours. We’re born into a particular life and context. Then we develop within that context, which shapes who we are but that might not be the essence of who we are. Being human is going beyond the stereotypes and that is what we’re doing at Astute Radio – going beyond those stereotypes and really looking at the person.
What essential steps did you take to get to where you are now?
Sepi Roshan: The first step was making that decision to quit my city job. I was at a crossroads and thought, ‘Shall I take that next step in my career? Or do I go and do what I’ve been pining to do?’ I wanted to find more creative ways of helping people. I like communication, taking the fear out of things. This is what I did in my finance role every day but I wanted to do it at a different level.
The other essential step was to ensure that I had my husband’s support, that he was okay with that decision and that he felt his point of view was heard. The decision to start Astute Radio would affect his life. It’s not about me and it’s not just about him or the presenters or the listeners. It’s about everyone involved.
The third step was holding onto the nose and plunging in. Because this is so innovative and multi-faceted that it isn’t a linear process. You just have to do it.
What were the most significant things you did as an Iranian woman that got you into your current position?
Sepi Roshan: The most significant thing I did was that I broke the mould because I felt uncomfortable when I was told that my laugh was too loud or I needed to be like this or that. It was due to a combination of cultural aspects such as respect your elders, children are to be quiet etc, but I suspect there was an overlay of being a girl as well.
I also grew up believing that to be happy, you had to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. And a lot of people still tell their children that. I broke the mould in terms of career because I got into commerce. ‘What’s commerce?’ they all said. And so breaking that mould, actually paved the way for other people to do commerce and finance degrees.
I think my biggest mould breaker is deciding not to have children. This is quite controversial for a woman. And culture has nothing to do with it! It’s a gender stereotype that all women must have children. If they don’t, there’s something wrong.
Astute Radio is about breaking the mould too. We’re looking for women that are breaking the mould and providing different points of views. It helps people find role models that they can relate to.
What’s been your most significant learning on this journey?
Sepi Roshan: Patience and I’m still learning. I’m a very let’s-go-do-it type of person and unfortunately, the world doesn’t work as fast as I want it to. It has its own time. I also need to be more patient with myself.
The other significant learning is you’ve really got to trust yourself. If you don’t trust yourself, then it makes things a billion times more difficult .Trust that your vision and that thing inside you that’s propelling you towards a particular action will happen. Trust that what you’re doing is going to help and touch a lot of people. And trust that the journey is for your own good.
What are your most revelatory moments?
Sepi Roshan: In my early 20s, I went to Nepal and I was still having these nagging feelings. I knew there was something else I needed to be doing – not in an audit firm, ticking and bashing numbers. And I was walking and it struck me, ‘You can take the person out of the situation but you cannot take the thoughts, feelings and the problems out of the person.’ You can’t run from what’s inside of you. If you’re not aligned with who you are and you haven’t found your voice – the essence of who you are – then the nagging feeling will always be with you because the conflict is unresolved.
Second, you can’t hide from your true essence. It’s imperative that you find your voice. Because through finding your voice, you connect not only with yourself and who you really are, you also connect with other people. You find what it is that you are supposed to be doing and contributing. And the people who are there to support you, who get it and you, will be drawn to you. If you’re drawing people who aren’t giving you the sustenance you need, you haven’t found your voice. The third is that we’re all more powerful than we think and we affect people more than we think.
What vital resources that have been crucial for your success?
Sepi Roshan: Everybody needs a Justin – my husband; someone in their life that will love and support them no matter what. Where there is at least one person that when you get up in the morning and you’re having a panic attack and going, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t sent that email! I haven’t spoken to this person!’, they will sit there and they will listen to you.
Another vital resource – finding my voice, listening to it and connecting with myself and others who I bond with. Finding these helps build confidence, knowing and trust.
What do you understand by ‘leadership’ and how has this informed your role as a leader?
Sepi Roshan: The first thing is I admit to myself and to the people around me that I don’t know everything and no one knows everything. I don’t have all the skills either. Some things that are going to add to our amazing vision is stuff that I don’t even know about. I don’t need to know everything but I also give people around me the freedom to do what they do best and the trust that they will do it.
With Astute Radio, I’m not looking for polished, BBC-style people. I’m looking for people who have something to give but have not been given that opportunity because no one has taken the time to step back and go, ‘Actually, you’ve really got something to give, and I want to see and hear it’.
What difference does it make being a woman leader?
Sepi Roshan: I think the difference is just being me. I don’t know how to be anyone else. And a difference that has helped me in being the leader that I am, is reframing what society told me were my weaknesses, as my strengths. My empathy, my ability to see that everyone has something to give and everyone has something special. It’s just about giving people the time and a safe space and saying, ‘I believe in you and I know you have something to give and that’s why you’ve been drawn here and I want to give you that gift.’
Your top tips for women who want to be leaders in their field.
Sepi Roshan: Find your voice. Listen to it and connect with yourself and other people who understand what you are about and what you are trying to do. You’ll draw people who are attracted to who you truly are. It feeds into your confidence because you start thinking, ‘Maybe I’m not so bad.’ But if you’re pretending to be somebody, or you’re surrounded by people and you’re thinking, ‘They’re really not my type of people,’ you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Whose voice am I using?’ It’s not just about physical voice, it’s about actions too. ‘What am I doing that I’m drawing that kind of person to me?’
Secondly, accept that you don’t and can't know everything because the world is vast and abundant.
Thirdly, appreciate those people who get it and get you. Use ‘thank you’. Most people just want a ‘thank you’ out of acknowledgment and respect. Imagine hearing ‘Wow, that was amazing what you did..’ Say it with your authentic and connected voice.
And then lastly, focus on your bright spots because that’s what keeps you going. The bright spot is when you’ve been plugging away for weeks thinking, ‘No one’s listening, no one’s interested.’ And then you get this email which says, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much for giving me the confidence to go and research this issue. Thank you so much for that chat that we had that helped me with my presentation skills and my communication.’ That’s a bright spot.
Tune-in to Astute Radio at www.astute-radio.com