Winner of Management Today’s 35 under 35, Polina Changuleva is a multi-award-winning Diversity, Equity and Inclusion expert.

Founder of the world’s first Joyful Inclusion consultancy – Same But Different she works with the brands of tomorrow to build a future in which we embrace each other’s differences and celebrate our similarities.

Having previously led the Women’s Inclusion Network at Yahoo – one of the biggest names in tech, she has worked for some of the world’s biggest brands as a Cultural Advisor and Racial Justice advocate. Some of these brands include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Reward Gateway, Xbox and more.

Polina has continuously challenged the status quo and continues to do so through her work at Same But Different Consultancy, the UK’s 50:50 Parliament Diversity Committee and her work supporting minority-led businesses.

Having spent the last decade working in media and tech, Polina is a global expert and international speaker on all things diversity and inclusion, partnerships and tech.

Before starting her consultancy, Polina has led and grown numerous award-winning, multi-million partnerships for Xbox Advertising across 16 markets, creating pioneering brand partnerships with some of the world’s biggest brands incl. McDonald’s, Burberry, Lego, Paco Rabanne, BMW, Deliveroo, Adidas and many more.

This is a story about connecting the dots backwards. So before I tell you more about my work as DEI advocate and leader, let me start at the beginning.

I was born and raised in Bulgaria and only moved to the UK for my undergraduate studies shortly after turning 19. I would be lying if I said my childhood experiences haven’t influenced my life to a huge extent.

Watching my parents go from severe poverty to working hard and simultaneously building a family and business from scratch for the last 30 years has been nothing short of inspirational.

My parents did a great job in exposing us to new cultures as much as possible even in a place like 90’s post-communism Bulgaria where diversity was pretty minimal. They role-modelled inclusive behaviours and harmonious living with others from different races, religions and nationalities for me and my sister which I can now see made a huge difference to our worldview compared to our peers.

They also instilled in us the mindset that anything is possible with enough hard work, belief and sacrifices which shapes who I am today. From an early age, they made us comfortable with the idea that to get extraordinary results and achievements you need to be comfortable with being different and standing out.

It is no surprise I became an overachiever – leading the first school union, being president of the first school newspaper, competing in sports and performing arts, excelling at school, taking part in national Geography competitions and even being named one of Bulgaria’s brightest young entrepreneurs at 16.

Watching my parents build a business from scratch with no formal education or financial backing, taught me a lot about the ins and outs of entrepreneurship and while I did see the numerous sacrifices they had to make, it also inspired me to follow their footsteps and start my own business one day.

Seeing my mother step into the role of a single parent and the main breadwinner after my dad’s passing when I was 17 following years of battling with cancer and its aftermath certainly made me grow up faster and become independent, taking on more responsibilities from an earlier age.

My early exposure to other cultures made me extremely curious about the intersection of history, culture, geography, social dynamics and behavioural psychology. It is easy to see where my passion for DEI first started and how I have spent my life chasing a deeper understanding of that intersection and dynamic. I would be lying if I said that my sister’s experiences with bullying, discrimination and othering in society did not fuel my passion for justice and fairness from early on.

I have never been afraid to be different and that goes back to my upbringing. I remember my family joking that I would make a great philosopher because I question everything and have never been afraid to chart new paths.

At the start of my career in the UK, I found myself in workplaces where I was the only woman and the only minority ethnic employee which led to plenty of sexist, ageist and discriminatory comments and behaviours daily. A few jobs later I decided it was time to be more intentional in my selection of future employers and went on to work for companies considered to be DEI champions in the tech space such as Yahoo and Xbox. Yet the gap between our aspirational inclusive future and today’s reality remains huge and I truly believe that it will take all of us to narrow.

Having seen the impact of minority leadership development programs for myself in my time with Thomas Cook, I was inspired to own my voice and step up to champion and serve others. In the years after, I went on to lead the Women’s Inclusion Network at Yahoo – one of the biggest names in tech and work for some of the world’s biggest brands as a Cultural Advisor and Racial Justice advocate.

Wanting to use both my privilege as a white cisgender heterosexual woman and the stigma attached to being a minority ethnic, neurodivergent woman or “the only one in the room” for good, I created Same But Different Consultancy – the world’s first joyful inclusion consultancy and a space where we embrace each other’s differences and celebrate our similarities.

My work on challenging stereotypes and transforming cultures has led me to partner with organisations such as Yahoo, Lego, Publicis Media, Reward Gateway, Google, Verizon and more.