The amazing Shomi Williams, a psychological therapist, joins me on the show this week, discussing the important topic of mental health and seeking therapy in marketing. You really do not want to miss this incredibly powerful episode.
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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)
Shomi runs a platform online called Lafiya Health that focuses on delivering mental and physical health education and services in a culturally competent and accessible way. She also works with people on a 1:1 level to support them with their emotional well-being needs.
In this episode, we discuss:
Why she thinks looking after mental health is important.
What (if any) differences does she believe exist between white professionals and POC professionals in marketing who need help with their mental wellbeing?
What she thinks the perceptions are of mental health and wellbeing in the POC community.
What she thinks holds people back from taking that first step and seeking out a professional to have a conversation with.
Advice for people listening currently struggling with their mental health.
Tips for approaching the issue with colleagues who you may feel are suffering from poor mental health.
Her thoughts on people having therapy and either being open about it, sharing with the public, or being guarded and saying nothing.
…and much more!
As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!
Azeem Ahmad: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Azeem Digital Asks Podcast. I know I say this all the time, but I really am excited for this episode because I genuinely believe that there’s a massive space for this type of topic to be discussed, which has not been discussed. And I’m very glad that my guest has agreed to join me today.
Azeem Ahmad: She’s Shomi Williams, a psychological therapist, who runs a platform online called Lafiya Health, which focuses on delivering mental and physical health education services in a culturally competent and accessible way. She also works with people on a one-to-one level to support them with their emotional wellbeing needs.
Azeem Ahmad: If you haven’t gathered already by the name of the episode on what I’ve just discussed, we’re talking all about mental health and therapy in marketing. So Shomi, welcome to the show.
Shomi Williams: Hi, Azeem. Thank you so much for having me.
Azeem Ahmad: More than welcome. How’s it going?
Shomi Williams: It’s all going well. The weather’s good, so I’m happy. That’s all I need really. How about you?
Azeem Ahmad: Very much the same. I don’t want it to get too hot though, because hay fever.
Shomi Williams: Oh yeah.
Azeem Ahmad: It’s real out here, which causes problems. But yeah, listen, that’s enough talking from me. I would love for you to give a quick intro to yourself for the listeners to learn more about you.
Shomi Williams: Okay. Hi, everyone. My name is Shomi. I’m, as mentioned, I’m a psychological therapist. And I do a lot of outreach work to, I guess, broaden the education around mental health, to demystify it, destigmatize it.
Shomi Williams: I run online workshops for different topics that would be beneficial for a lot of people, and then group therapy courses. And of course just general therapy as well. Yeah, so that’s essentially what I do. I also like playing video games.
Azeem Ahmad: Oh, now I have to ask before we get going. Favorite video game?
Shomi Williams: Ooh, that’s a really hard one. Do you know what? Just because when I look back of everything, I will say that my favorite of all time is Grand Theft Auto. Yeah, or Tekken, one of the two.
Azeem Ahmad: Good, good answers there. Good answers. I’ll have to pick your brain some more about that after recording, because this is not what the episode [crosstalk 00:02:10].
Azeem Ahmad: So let’s dive straight into it. I’d love to hear from you, why do you think that looking after mental health is important?
Shomi Williams: I think it’s important just because it just, it contributes to everything really. Our productivity is down to our mental health, our social connections, how well we are in a community, how well we are in a family. And how well we feel in ourself is all down to our mental health.
Shomi Williams: So it’s even linked to our physical health as well. When your physical health is good, your … Sorry, when your mental health is good, you have a better immune system, you’re less susceptible to pain. So it’s just good all around. Good mental health means good life, good living satisfaction levels are high, your immunity’s high. Everything is hunky-dory.
Azeem Ahmad: Love that, that’s a great answer already. I’m very glad that I reached out to you. So again, thanks very much for agreeing to join me on this.
Shomi Williams: No worries at all.
Azeem Ahmad: I’d love to learn from you, because you must speak to a variety of people from all different backgrounds. So I’d love to learn more from you about what, if any, differences do you believe exists between white professionals and people of color, POC professionals, in this space who need help with their mental wellbeing?
Shomi Williams: That’s an interesting one, because a big component of what I do is about being culturally competent, because there are gaps in the understanding of mental health between different types of people. And then that’s just down to what actually contributes to our mental health.
Shomi Williams: Some societies are more individualistic, I guess, in a Western society, we’re a bit more individualistic. The connection that we have to our parents, it’s a lot less dutiful, whereas where I’m from anyway … So I’m West African, I’m Nigerian. What you might find as well is the way in which people relate to their family is very different. Very, what I guess over here, might be seen as unhealthy is just the norm over there.
Shomi Williams: And I guess with mental health things are very … It’s very subjective. What is a problem in one area isn’t a problem in another place of the world, or what was a problem 100 years ago considered … For example, hysteria in women was a mental health problem, now it’s just life.
Shomi Williams: So there’s just a difference of understanding of, I guess, just what’s important to everyone. And sometimes that can make people feel very overlooked when they’re speaking to a professional about something that they hold near and dear to them, and the professional is from a society where it isn’t held in the same way.
Shomi Williams: Yeah. Sorry, I know I’m being a bit roundabout. But yeah, sometimes there can be a bit of a disconnect when it comes to what’s important to you, based on where you’re from in the world.
Azeem Ahmad: I love that, and you’re absolutely not being roundabout at all. It’s really interesting. So thank you for sharing that.
Azeem Ahmad: I’d love to dig a little bit deeper then and say, specifically looking at the POC community. From my own personal experience I’d love to know, I believe that there is a specific perception around mental health and wellbeing. I’m absolutely not going to put words into your mouth because the episode is about you. So I’d love to learn from you. What do you think the perceptions are of mental health and mental wellbeing in the POC community?
Shomi Williams: I think at the moment in the POC community, it’s very secondary. It isn’t a priority in the way that physical health is. I think because a lot of people have come to the UK, and they’ve had to have their immigrant mentality on where it’s all about the hustle and building some kind of generational standing for their children. Thinking about mental health and how satisfied and happy they feel and self-actualization, isn’t a priority.
Shomi Williams: And when their children are in a better position due to their hard work and the children are not functioning to a certain level and they’re like, “I’m not feeling great and quite depressed in uni,” the parents can very easily be like, “What are you talking about? I’ve just come here on a boat and survived the brutality of severe racism, and university is getting you down.”
Shomi Williams: So there’s a massive disconnect where it’s not a priority. As long as you have two legs, why aren’t you walking forward? They don’t understand that your mind is slowing down those two legs. So I think it’s seen as very secondary, very frivolous, and something that only the privileged can focus on.
Azeem Ahmad: Completely agree with you. And I’m glad that I didn’t put any words into your mouth, because that’s exactly the experience that I had when I was younger. When I was younger and I was in that space where I wasn’t feeling great literally, my parents would say exactly the same thing.
Azeem Ahmad: A lot of similarities like, “Oh, I’ve dealt with X, Y, and Z, and you’re only dealing with A, B and C. You just needed to get your head down, work harder and get on.” But I truly believe, as you alluded to, that we are slightly more culturally aware that our parents are, slash, or were. Which is brilliant, so thank you for sharing that.
Azeem Ahmad: Which leads me very nicely to my next question. I’d love to draw on your experience. So without being too specific, I’d love to know what you think holds people back from taking that first step and seeking out a professional like yourself to have a conversation with?
Shomi Williams: I think one thing that holds people back is the fact that they need to acknowledge that there’s a problem. And who wants to have a label, who wants to acknowledge that, “There’s a problem with me. I need help.” Especially if you’re still able to function. The problem isn’t stopping you from functioning, so you’re still able to somewhat do the things that you think are important.
Shomi Williams: It can feel a bit humiliating, especially when you’re conditioned to see it as a weakness. Nobody wants to say, “Hey, I’m weak.” And I think already there’s such a stigma. People can very easily use depression to insult each other or anxiety to insult somebody. So it’s almost like claiming in insults to a lot of people, because of the way in which it’s stigmatized. So they find it very hard to say, “I am this thing that I find to be so negative and I need help to not be it.”
Shomi Williams: And also, it takes a lot of work as well. And I guess as well, just being a person of color, the services have historically not been the most favorable to us. So we’re very used to being dismissed from, for example, if you’ve grown up in schools where being black means that you are more likely be expelled or you’re more likely to be put in certain classes despite your ability. And then your encounter with the police is negative as well. You’re kind of conditioned to not have that much trust for, quote unquote, white services.
Shomi Williams: So already you’re less likely to even go to the hospital, even if there’s a physical problem wrong with you. Let alone a mental health problem, which is invisible. There’s already that distrust that’s been ingrained. So first we have to admit that there is a problem, then you have to go to people that you are conditioned to not really trust and to try and avoid. So it’s not easy to do, it’s not easy to confront that.
Azeem Ahmad: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Again, you’ve led me very nicely to my next question, specifically drawing on, and calling out POC marketers.
Azeem Ahmad: If there are POC marketers who are listening to this that are struggling with their mental health, but have not yet taken that first step to seek help, what advice would you give to them? And then separately, if there are any marketers, not necessarily POC, in the same situation, what advice would you give to them?
Shomi Williams: I would say it’s very easy to think … When you’re in that fog, it’s very easy to think that whatever you do, isn’t going to work. But it’s good to at least give it an attempt, and then you know if it’s going to work or if it’s not going to work. And at least cross that off your list that, “Okay, I’ve tried this. It hasn’t worked out for me.” It’s really important to advocate for yourself. You know that you’ve had times when you’ve been better and you deserve to go back to a time where you’re feeling better.
Shomi Williams: So it’s definitely possible, these mental health problems are not … They’re not definers of you or your destiny. It’s just, it’s a very human thing. Just like having the common cold doesn’t mean that you are now a cold-haver and that’s it for you. If you do get help, you’re on the right track and it’s possible to get better.
Shomi Williams: So I would just encourage people to advocate for themself. Seek help, give it a go, continue trying. Even if it doesn’t work, try again, reach out to … You can speak to your GP. Some work places, they have their own therapy systems within the workplace that you can call up. Go to people that you trust. Obviously not everyone is so clued up, but people that you trust and you believe are clued up. Go to them, speak to them about it as well.
Shomi Williams: Try and reemerge yourself into things that you used to do. If now, because you’re quite low, you’re not doing the things that you enjoy and you’re not socializing, try and take baby steps towards re-immersing yourself into that.
Azeem Ahmad: Love that, that’s absolutely brilliant. And I’m about to throw a question your way that I haven’t prepared you for, so apologies.
Azeem Ahmad: Contacting a GP right now, in my experience, is pretty much impossible. I’d probably have more joy going back to the first ever house I lived in, finding out where my next door neighbors have moved to and if they’ve got any pets or not, it’s that hard. So if there are people considering taking that step but are finding it very hard to speak to a GP, what alternatives or what other options would you recommend?
Shomi Williams: There’s a national service called the IAPT service, so I-A-P-T. If you’re based in England, you should have a local one. Just Google your area and the word IAPT, see what’s available. And a lot of the time, most places allow you to make a self-referral. Some places you can only refer through your GP, which should change, and I think a lot of them are trying to make self-referral accessible. But as of now, I’d say about 70% of them do already allow you to make a self-referral, so do that.
Shomi Williams: There are charities that can support you as well. Even like Lafiya Health as well, I do workshops to, I guess, get you kick-started. And I know it’s not always helpful because I know it’s not the most accessible, but if you can try low-cost therapies, there’s counseling directories that are available and people that have different prices as well.
Shomi Williams: Some people really benefit from books. So there’s actually therapeutic books and it’s a cheaper alternative. You can buy a book for 15 pounds and that has given you a lot of therapeutic advice and tools and tips and workbooks. If you’re someone that operates in that way that’s a very cheap way to access therapy.
Shomi Williams: Yeah, I would say IAPT service, speaking to people, trying to reintegrate yourself into activities that you enjoy, possibly using a self-help book or a therapeutic book. And then there was something else that I … And private therapy or low-cost therapy are alternatives to contacting your GP.
Azeem Ahmad: Absolutely brilliant. Thank you very much for sharing that. I should have mentioned much earlier on that this entire project, this podcast, was something that I started to protect my mental health last year during the lockdown because I could have quite easily … I think I’ve even put it on my website, I could have quite easily just watched nonsense on YouTube over and over again and not actually doing anything. There was one point where I felt like I was burning out and doing this every single week. So I stopped and I started reading, so a plus one for books. Absolutely brilliant.
Azeem Ahmad: Got a couple more that I haven’t prepared you for.
Shomi Williams: No problem, go for it.
Azeem Ahmad: It’s always fun. This one is interesting, because I’ve spoken to people who are in this similar situation. So hypothetical situation, I work in an agency and I’m concerned about one of my colleagues who are throwing themselves into work. I think they’re overworked and I think they’re burning out. I don’t think that they recognize it.
Azeem Ahmad: How can I approach the situation? How do I get them to see what me and other colleagues are seeing?
Shomi Williams: I think that honesty is always the best policy. Say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve been really, really in work mode lately. Is everything okay? How are you feeling?” Just a check-in, let them know that you care.
Shomi Williams: I think what’s really important when it comes to checking in on people when you’re concerned about their mental health, is having your concern, understanding where your concern is coming from, communicating it to them. But at the same time, you still need to let go. And they’re going to do with that what they’re going to do. Some people will take it in and maybe reflect and maybe dial it back, and some people won’t.
Shomi Williams: So know that because you’ve noticed it and you are bringing it to their attention, it doesn’t mean that you have to then save them. You can’t save somebody that doesn’t want to be saved. Sometimes for some people it just takes a little check-in and that’s enough for them to reflect and dial back. Some people, they do need to crash and burn before they reflect.
Shomi Williams: Either way, continue showing that you care and that you’re concerned. Mention it once and then if they continue down that path, maybe bring it up a week or two weeks after. But just gently, continuously let them know that your presence is there and that you care. That you’re available if they do want support, or that if they do … Not even necessarily support, you don’t have to make it so formal. You might say, “Do you want to head out for lunch one day?” Or just to let them know that you’re there essentially, that’s the most that you can do.
Azeem Ahmad: Fantastic. Thank you very much for sharing it. I promise, this is the last one that I’m going to throw your way.
Shomi Williams: No problem.
Azeem Ahmad: When it comes to having therapy or seeking a professional’s help, for me, it’s very binary. And you may disagree, but for me, people either come out and say, “I’m having therapy.” Or the complete opposite, they’ll have therapy in silence and get on with their lives.
Azeem Ahmad: What do you think specifically about the former, where people come out and say, “I’m feeling a bit low and I’m having therapy, and I feel great for it.” I’ve seen people jump into each other’s mentions quite rudely and say, “Oh, I thought you were stronger than that.” Where it’s an admission of you might be seen as being weak publicly.
Azeem Ahmad: But the question I want to get around to, is what you thought some people who are open about having help professionally with their mental health and wellbeing.
Shomi Williams: I think sometimes, when it comes to taking care of your mental health, because it’s not a new concept. Or because it’s newly popular I guess, some people they find it almost like joining a new religion. They’re so excited about it. There’s this new discovery of their inner world, and they’re making all of this progress and they want to share it.
Shomi Williams: And I think there’s nothing wrong with that, but obviously it’s unfortunate that there are people in the world that are going to interpret it really poorly or might make you feel down about it. If you feel like you want to share it regardless and you can withstand that, go for it. If you feel like it’s quite sensitive for you but you still want to share it, I’d say share it with people that you care about. Share it with your friends, with your family members, maybe not somewhere so public that it’s easy to attack if you’re in a space that you’re quite sensitive.
Shomi Williams: But ultimately there’s nothing wrong with sharing it. If you’re happy about something, celebrate yourself, celebrate it. But just be careful the way in which you’re doing it, and just be aware that it may possibly rub people the wrong way. How prepared are you for that if they retaliate? If you’re able to withstand that, go for it, put it on all the social media and to the world. If that’s something that you’re a bit worried about, just keep it with the family and friends and the people that you care about.
Shomi Williams: But there’s no reason to … If you don’t want to share it, absolutely don’t, it’s up to you. It can be as private as you want. You’re in control. That’s the most important thing, do what you want, but just be aware of what may happen.
Azeem Ahmad: Absolute gold. Honestly, this has been brilliant. I could genuinely talk to you for hours. Thank you very much for sharing this.
Azeem Ahmad: Before I let you go, I would love for you to share how people can contact you, follow you on social media or connect with you.
Shomi Williams: Okay. So the main social medias that I’m most active on would be Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter, I’m Lafiya Health. I’m also Shomicita, but I’m less therapeutic on Shomicita and more talking about TV shows.
Shomi Williams: And Instagram, that’s Shomicita. So S-H-O-M-I-C-I-T-A. And there’s Lafiya Health as well. Lafiya spelt L-A-F-I-Y-A. Yeah, that’s how it’s spelt.
Azeem Ahmad: I love how you had to double-check that. Shomi, thanks for being a fantastic guest. Before I hit Stop Recording, literally the final word on this episode goes to you, so you can say whatever you want within reason. But once you’re done I’m going to hit Stop Recording. So no pressure, you get to end the episode however you want.
Shomi Williams: Okay. I think my takeaway word would be for everyone to just be kind to themself. To give themself a bit of grace, because I think naturally we’re a bit inclined to be a bit harsh, be super-critical, expect ourself to be further than we are. And just beat ourself up for whatever we’re doing or whatever we’re not doing.
Shomi Williams: It’s really important to just let yourself be … Let yourself make mistakes, let yourself explore what works for you, what doesn’t work for you. Be honest with yourself, be honest with those around you, and just accepting of whatever it is, let it be. Because at the moment, there’s just a lot of pressure on everyone to do whatever for this person or for themself, or whatever expectations are on them. And at the moment, especially in this time where things are particularly difficult and very different, the pressures getting to a lot of people.
Shomi Williams: So yeah, my takeaway is just to be kind to yourself. That’s the most therapeutic thing you could do.
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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)
Sean is a non-traditional Recruiter who works in the tech space. He was born and raised in Washington, DC in the United States. His passion is all things recruiting, people ops, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) – which we touch upon in the episode in relation to recruitment.
In the episode we discuss:
Where the recruitment process is broken for marketing companies.
What differences he’s noticed when working with POC talent and non POC candidates.
His response to the comment “we don’t need more POC at this company, we need more talented people?”
Why he thinks companies are so reluctant to change their processes.
What changes does he think the industry needs to make to be better.
Thoughts on interview processes that are several stages long.
Advice for companies considering changing their processes.
…and so much more!
As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!
Azeem Ahmad: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Azeem Digital Asks podcast, the all-around digital marketing podcast where I touch on the usual stuff: Facebook, Instagram, SEO, all that normal stuff. And then topics like today, which I am really excited about. Today’s topic is all about how marketing companies can improve their recruitment processes to ensure more POC talent comes through. And nobody better to discuss this and my brilliant guest today, Sean Page. So I’m going to steal his Twitter bio and then let him give himself a proper introduction. So Sean is a talent brand manager for diversity equity, inclusion and belonging DEIB specialist. This is what I show up loud. Sean, welcome to the show.
Sean Page: Yeah, no, thank you so much for having me, Azeem. I’m really excited to be on today just for your audience. And just so you can kind of learn a little bit more about myself. My name is Sean Page. I’m a non-traditional recruiter who works in the tech space. Currently I work for a company called Webflow and right now just a little bit more about my background. I was born and raised in Washington, DC in United States. And then prior to switching to tech, I actually worked in the nonprofit and government sectors. So I did a lot of cool work where I was like a communications professional for union. I also worked as a project manager for NGO that worked for the centers of disease control and prevention.
Sean Page: And then also I worked for my first startup role, which was at a resume writing company called Let’s Eat, Grandma. I started off at that company and I worked my way up to becoming their first HR director. And so that’s just a little bit about my career history and then just overall myself. I’m very passionate when it comes to all things, recruitment, people ops and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, which I tweet about often.
Azeem Ahmad: Love that, perfect introduction. And as I said, no better person to discuss this very, very important topic. So really looking forward to learning more from you. So let’s dive straight into it. Where do you think the recruitment process is broken for companies?
Sean Page: Yeah, I think that’s a really heavy question. I think there are just so many areas in which recruitment processes are kind of broken today, but I think it really just fundamentally starts with leadership. So, a lot of times leadership looks at recruitment as transactional at a lot of organizations. And I’m sure the people who are listening who are candidates, I’m sure you feel that way a lot when you’re in hiring processes. And so, you have a lot of CEOs who will say that recruitment’s are number one priority, but then when you look at their glass doors, you go on fishbowl, you go on all these like whisper channels, people were saying otherwise. And so there’s this disconnect between leaderships and the actual on the ground recruiters who are going through and doing these processes every day with hiring managers.
Sean Page: And I think a lot of that fundamentally comes down to the fact that many recruitment processes don’t censor their primary customer, what should be the candidate. And so there’s a lot of times people who are going through recruitment processes often times, they don’t feel as though they’re being listened to. They don’t feel like they’re being treated properly as a candidate. And then on the hiring side of things, a lot of times companies are really leaning into their systematic biases, and wonder looking at candidates. And so there’s just a lot of disconnect between how people are identifying talent or how people are calling talent in their pipelines.
Sean Page: And so at the bottom line, I think a lot of the problem stands for the fact that companies really focus too heavily, I think on their own timeline and bottom line and their hiring manager needs and their interviewer’s time, instead of also factor in candidate experience, understanding what candidates want, understanding what their drivers are. And so when you de-center candidates, this just causes a lot of bias to be the primary driver of decisions when it comes to hiring. And so who’s the loser in that situation? Candidates. And so I think that is just really the heart and the center of why these processes are really broken today.
Azeem Ahmad: That answer right there really solidifies the reason why I reached out to you and wanted to get you on the show. I’m quite happy to end the episode now. Thanks very much for calling. I’m joking. Look, there’s so much to unpack. Thank you very much for sharing that. One of the things I want you to unpack a little further is where you were talking about talent and separating talent. So I’d love to learn from you soon. What differences have you noticed when you’ve worked with POC talent and non POC talent?
Sean Page: Yeah, so I would just say from my personal experience, I find that POC talent tends to have a better understanding of their own experiences, their biases and abilities. Because, POC talent are constantly in homogenized spaces or white spaces in which they don’t see a lot of themselves. They tend to be more self-aware and they understand how to navigate difficult situations and personalities better, because they are the other in that situation. But also too, another thing that I wanted to mention I think, also there’s other identities that kind of ties into that self-awareness as well. Because, when we talk about diversity, I think POC is just one dimension of that diversity. So, POC talent that also come from other underserved backgrounds, like gender sexual orientation, disabilities, social economic classes, they also exhibit even higher instances of self-awareness as employees in my experience in periods to their counterparts.
Sean Page: And so inter sexuality just plays an important role in understanding that difference between those different PO groups experiences. But I would say overall from my experience, POC talent tends to be more self-aware and tends to be more collaborative in their approaches because they understand the otherness factor that they’re bringing into the organizations that traditionally are homogenous marginalized.
Azeem Ahmad: Brilliant. Thank you very much for sharing that. And yeah. Plus one, completely agreed. There are so many different facets of diversity, which I’m trying to learn and educate myself about some of which I will definitely get out of this episode. So again, a huge thank you. Thanks you twice. Now I’m going to stop and thank you. So sticking with POC, and this is a question that I’ve asked a previous guest on the podcast. And I’m always keen to hear different perspectives on this. It’s a common saying over here, certainly I’ve heard this from colleagues in previous employment as well. When we talk about getting POC in terms of higher levels into the company, a common pushback is, we don’t need more POC at this company. What we need is more talented people. How do you respond to a comment like that?
Sean Page: Yeah, I mean, I think as someone who identifies POC, that really is a contentious comment to make, right? And I think from my perspective, the way that I kind of enter these conversations, because I’ve also heard this numerous times in my own experience as a recruiter. And a lot of times I tell those people to really pause and reflect. When we make statements like this, we make these absolute statements. They often don’t hold water because in actuality, when you’re talking about people, we’re talking about a diverse range of experiences. And so when I hear someone say that, always ask them, why are you decoupling POC people from talented people, right? What is the bias behind why you’re doing that? Because, oftentimes the people who are making those statements don’t recognize their own individual personal bias in making that statement.
Sean Page: And I tend to, from my experience, the people who are making those statements to typically talk about meritocracy. They usually talk about the fact that like, “I got here because of my own merits and I had pulled myself up from the bootstraps”. but let’s be for real, merit is often bought. It’s not given, right? And so people of color often have to fight to get the same amount of merit and the same amount of recognition as their white counterparts. So we also have to acknowledge that. And also too, at the end of the day, there are many several talented people who are POC that are just not given the opportunity to be able to shine and to have access to that merit. So again, I think a lot of times this question is very rooted in that person’s individual biases and in their mind they don’t think we’re ever going to be talented, right?
Sean Page: They’re already making an absolute statement, thinking that no person of color that they’re going to interact with is going to meet their standard of talent. And so when you’re dealing with someone like that, that can be really insidious because, that person often is someone in power. And so how do you change and morph that person’s mindset when they’re in a position of power, they have control over other people’s lives and they’re making a statement like this. And then we wonder why a lot of companies are in this situation where they’re at today, where they’re desperate to find diversity. Because you’re hiring people who are making these statements who make uncomfortable environments for people like us on this podcast. And then you’re asking the people on this podcast to then be comfortable with those people. How can we, if they’re being contentious by making statements like that?
Azeem Ahmad: Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. Thank you very much for sharing. Definitely things that I will come back and listen to when I edit this back and just nod furiously. Let’s move on and let’s talk processes. So I gave you a heads up before the recording, and here is the first opportunity I’m going to put you on the spot, which I haven’t prepared you for. Tell me about your thoughts on recruitment processes that are several stages long. I’m talking 4, 5, 6 stages long. What do you think about those?
Sean Page: Yeah, I think a lot of times, when we’re seeing multiple stages of that lane, a lot of times hiring managers or hiring teams are looking for particular signals that, for some whatever reason, they weren’t able to find that at first three sets of interviews. And so from my perspective, a lot of times that’s an indication of a poor hiring process because it’s not like your questions weren’t intentional enough that you didn’t capture enough signals. So now you’re wasting more of your candidates time to identify those signals. And I find that, obviously there is exceptions, right? There’s other factors in this seniority, in other things as well. And so, if you’re saying for instance, someone who’s a entry-level role and they’re going through five interview process, really that’s five different people’s time that you’re incorporating into that process.
Sean Page: You have to break that down into their actual salary. And once you start to really think and start to add things up, does that five step process really makes sense for that entry-level role? Probably not. And so I think a lot of it comes in sense from the fact, and especially I’m going to speak on startup environments, that people are allergic to structure environments. They purposely don’t want to be in a structure environment, because they want to be flexible in their own time. But the reality is you have to also be flexible in the candidates time, right?
Sean Page: The candidate is talking to multiple other companies that are also going through a very different types of interview process. And so, your interview process also talks about your brand. It also shares your culture. So when I’m in a process where entry-level role and they’re making me go through five stages, that makes me think, “Okay, internally do I have to go through five different people to get something done?” That is also indication of that. And so I think there’s a lot of lack of attention that’s going on in those hiring process that a lot of people need to stop and reflect on.
Azeem Ahmad: You’ve just led me very nicely then to my next question. When you talking about companies stopping and reflecting, why do you think companies are so reluctant to change their processes?
Sean Page: Yeah, that’s a really great question. So, I think it really just sends from a place of fear, like when we’re going to go into psychology, right? You have in-groups groups and you have out-groups. So in-groups are typically the group that’s creating the culture. And then you have people outgroup kind of, interacting with that culture. And a lot of times they’re coming into and interacting with that in-group, right? And so that’s kind of the way that companies have set themselves up where the in-group are white people, right? White people are all in these environments and then people of color are the out-group, they’re on the outside. And so there’s all this contention, this confliction going on from this root of fear of this out-group is going to come in and change the culture that we set as an in-group.
Sean Page: And it’s just a classic psychology example where a lot of people don’t understand that by being reluctant to change, you’re actually leaning into your biases by being reluctant. And so, because of that I think a lot of companies say they are open to change. But in reality, it’s always often changed that’s on their terms, right? So, anyone who is seen as an outsider that also has an idea around change, a lot of times leadership will then retack or retaliate or make it so that that person doesn’t continue to be outspoken about that change. And so, because that happens often, I think a lot of leaders see people who challenge the processes as troublemakers rather than what they actually are, which are innovators, right? People who are willing to innovate and approve your process are gift to your company, right?
Sean Page: They are people who actually care and are passionate about the longevity of your company, about the people that you’re bringing in. And so I think a lot of the issue between short-term gains and long-term change. I think a lot of times companies lanes too heavily into short term goals, instead of really thinking about that long-term and that longevity of. You’re building up a brand, you’re building up a system for people to be sustainably, hopefully to be at your business for 20, 30, 40, 50 years. And so I think there’s just a lack of foresight there.
Azeem Ahmad: Absolutely. Give me 10 of those types of people who want to make change of a one quiet person who just follows the crowd any day. Brilliant answer. Thank you very much for sharing. Let’s continue on with the topic of change before we bring the episode to a close. Specifically, what changes do you think the industry needs to make to be better moving forward?
Sean Page: Yeah, I mean, I’m going to be straight up honest. I think it starts at the top. We often try to lean into grassroots movement. We often companies believe that their ICS or their individual contributors should be the ones to really be driving these changes. But in reality, those folks don’t have power, right? They can create programs, they can be creative, they can be innovative, but without power you can’t create sustainability. And so it really has to start at the top and leaders have to take the charge and the rains to do better, right? And to be better. And so I think it starts in the exec teams. It starts in the board or director meetings. And, I think they really just need to start by looking at their own boards and their own teams and seeing the lack of diversity, right?
Sean Page: How are you championed diversity for the entire company when your whole team isn’t diverse, right? Like you have no people of color. You have no other marginalized identities. There is all white men. And maybe, if you’re lucky there might be some white women, right? And so I think because it’s so monochrome, it explains why the culture then trickles down to everyone else. And then it creates this message to everyone that, we actually don’t care about diversity. We’ll say we care about it because we know it’s great for marketing, we know it’s great for our product. We know that these are things that fundamentally we’ve been told in our business classes and what other of our CEO colleagues say. But at the end of the day, we’re not willing to bend or to be comfortable with change in order to create these more sustainable environments.
Sean Page: And so I think it really just starts at the top. And, I think a lot of leaders need to remind themselves that you can’t say that workers matter, or you can’t say statements like we believe workers should be able to come as their full selves when you don’t knowledge their full selves, right? You don’t actually like, you listen to their voice quote, but you actually put no actions behind what they’re asking for. And so, I think it really just starts with a lot of reflection on the leadership team. A lot of just hard work. And honestly, I think a lot of leadership teams need to invest in leadership training to really better themselves and to validate their knowledge and invest in having a VP of DNI on their board as well, to help cultivate those ideas and to really help them get to that next level when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion.
Azeem Ahmad: I love that the answer so much purely because, a few of the things you’ve mentioned now, I’ve said it in the past. And I feel like that, me saying it over and over again, dilutes the message, but hearing it from somebody like yourself, people will definitely have their ears prick up and think right. We actually need to do something about this, which leads me very nicely to my last question for you. So I, the person in charge of making changes for my company and I was listening to this podcast, it seems daunting. There’s so much to change and using your own words of short term gains and long-term change. What advice would you give to somebody like that who are considering changing their processes? Where do they start? There’s so much to do. Where would they begin? What advice would you give?
Sean Page: Yeah, so I always tell people like, shiny objects are always the most interesting, but they often are the ones that get dropped first, because once they stopped being shiny, people lose interest, right? And so I think a lot of times it starts with people, right? It’s really like doing a roadmap for a product. It’s the way that I always like describing people. Like your company culture is actually very similar to how you run a product, right? And it’s like, when you’re doing a product, yes, you have all these inputs, but do you do and run sprints on every single input every single time? No. You prioritize, you figure out what areas are the first focus, other product before you move on. And I think a lot of times and why organizations end up being burnt out.
Sean Page: And I can also speak about this from my own experience of why I’ve been burnt out by organizations is the fact that a lot of times it’s like, we have 20 different shiny objects that we all wanted to complete within this short period of time, because we want to make people satisfied. But in actuality, what people are looking for is slow, sustainable change. And so you really need to address it by really identifying where are the top three priorities that we can accomplish this year that we know is going to make our employees happier, that’s going to give us the survey results that we’re looking for. But while at the same time, isn’t going to burn out or add extra burden to certain people’s plates so that their other duties aren’t being overshadowed by this work. And so I think it’s like finding that healthy balance and really understanding again, what are you working towards?
Sean Page: A lot of times people say that really diversity, equity inclusion is important. But when I ask them to dive a little bit deeper, what do you mean by that? What does that look like to you? Because D and I looks very different to every single company. A lot of times I get blank stares, right? Because they actually haven’t thought about it. They know it’s important. They hear the catch word, but they have no idea. And they have not done a personal reflection to figure out why does this matter to me? And why should this matter to our company values? Why should this matter to our bottom line? And if you haven’t done that soul searching to really figure it out, then you’re already setting yourself up for failure. So you need to really start from the beginning, start from within, really understand what you want first, then prioritize, figure out the top three things that you can do in the next year or so.
Sean Page: And then from there forecast, it’s just like recruitment. When you first start hiring at a company, right? You don’t have a hiring plan, you’re kind of ad hoc and doing stuff. And then eventually you get enough funding, sustainable funding, where you can then hire a certain amount of people. So then you create a hiring plan. So then you have a hiring plan for maybe six months, maybe a year, and then you get really good about it after a few cycles. And then you end up being able to have a hiring plan that you can forecast in five years, right? So it’s like working up to your goals so you can continuously build on that muscle. So by the time you’re able to see yourself in five years, you can reflect back and say, “Wow, we actually did a lot of change around DNI”. And it wasn’t performative because this stuff is actually sustainable. And people today are still using these same programs.
Azeem Ahmad: Wow. Literally. Wow. Fantastic way to answer that question and definitely food for thought. I am positive that when the audience listens to this, they’ll come back, make some notes and come back to it again, and then again, and then again. So brilliant. Thank you very much. What a fantastic way to close out the show. Before I let you go, I have to ask if anybody’s listening to this and they want to get in touch with you, follow you on social media, or just generally connect with you, how can we do that?
Sean Page: Yeah, sure. So you can definitely follow me on Twitter. I’m very active. My Twitter handle is at Sean, S E A N, capital talent, so T A L E N T and then capital W for Webflow. So, that’s my handle. So at SeanTALENTW. You can also follow me on LinkedIn. My name is Sean Page. You should be able to find me. I have my credentials afterwards, so my CAPM and my PHR. So it should come up. But, yeah. Thank you just so much for having me on the show today. I really appreciate this conversation and yeah, I’m just looking forward to listen to it.
Azeem Ahmad: Now, from me to you a massive, massive thank you for giving up some of your time, sharing your knowledge and expertise. I’m very, very glad that I researched you. So thank you for being a fantastic guest.
Sean Page: Yeah, no problem. Thank you for having me.
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Janet is a social media marketing strategist, trainer, and founder of Africa Tweet Chat. She boasts over 100k followers on her social media with high levels of engagement on her posts, and was also recently listed amongst the top 200 of the most influent African women on Twitter. When it comes to social media, she really knows her stuff. It was only right for me to pick her brains and learn from her about how she does it.
In the episode we discuss:
– Defining a social media strategy. – The benefits of having a social media strategy in place. – Where she see’s most people making mistakes with this. – Advice she would give to someone who is creating a strategy for the first time.
…and so much more!
As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!
Azeem Ahmad: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Azeem Digital Asks Podcast. I have got a brilliant guest with me today, Janet Machuka, and we’re talking all about creating a great social media strategy. Now, for those who shamefully do not know who Janet is, firstly, an absolute legend. Secondly, she described herself on her Twitter bio, the social media marketing strategist and trainer. She’s the founder of Africa Tweet Chats, tutor at Platzi, and she’s been featured pretty much everywhere. But I will let her introduce herself properly, because that was probably terrible. Janet, welcome to the show.
Janet Machuka: Thanks you for giving me this opportunity. It’s a pleasure, thank you.
Azeem Ahmad: No, you are more than welcome. Right, so that was probably a bad introduction, so let the listeners know who you are, what you do and what your expertise is all about.
Janet Machuka: Hi, everyone. I hope you’re listening from your car, from your home and whatever you’re doing. My name is Janet Machuka and I’m so glad to be part of this podcast. Actually, we’ve been planning quite some time with Azeem on how we are going to engage with you, give you something that is so amazing to you. But before we get there, my name is Janet Machuka, as I said, and I am a digital marketing strategist. I’ve been actually doing a lot of social media, not just being a strategist.
Janet Machuka: And, what I love about social media is the community in it, how it can be able to engage with people, share with them tips and teach them on what I’ve learned through my journey and through working with different brands. So, you’ll have to learn about me as we talk through with Azeem, at the same time, I can’t wait to see you on my social media so that you could know more about me. Yes.
Azeem Ahmad: Brilliant, thank you very much. So, it’s well versed that you know a lot about community. But, I wanted to pick your brain specifically about social media strategy, because you seem to have a fantastic one which I would love to learn more about, or I think the listeners would as well. Before we get into it, I would love to hear from you directly, how would you define a social media strategy?
Janet Machuka: Well, when it comes to social media strategy, I don’t want you to think about just applying as most of these articles telling you about. I want you to look at what are you doing on your social media, what activities are you doing. What efforts are you putting into these social media accounts in order to make yourself be seen more, be interacted with more and of course engaged, because that is why we are on social media the first place. At the same time, creating now that impact.
Janet Machuka: So most of the time, I don’t just pick social media strategy as a plan, but those activities, the how-to, how am I engaging with my people? How am I giving them the best? How am I gaining from them at the same time? But ultimately, what kind of relationships am I creating from the kind activities that I’m doing, the way I’m engaging with them? Can it give me some referrals? The way I am sharing, creating my content? Does it excite them? Can they learn from it? At the same time, can they be able to share their opinions or more knowledge that I didn’t know about?
Janet Machuka: So the essence of the plan is not just you putting it down, and putting aside but is the how to get from point A to point B. And this is where we bring in the KPIs, the deliverables and even the goals that you want to achieve at the end of the day. So, I just define it as those activities efforts. And at the same time, the kind of work that you’re putting into your social media every single day in order to make yourself be see grow, at the same time be able to help other people.
Azeem Ahmad: Love that, brilliant answer. Thank you very much for sharing, so I would love to learn from you. What do you see as the benefits of having a social media strategy in place?
Janet Machuka: Well, when it comes to social media, if you’re very keen from how I described it or rather how I defined it from the way I usually do it, I talked about you being seen more. When you say you’re being seen more, at the end of the day you just don’t want to create for those two followers. You want people to be able to engage by even sharing, by even talking about it or by even adding more information about it. That shows that you are seen. So the essence of our strategy is to make you seen, is to make you be interacted with, be engaged with.
Janet Machuka: At the end of the day, who wants to post a photo on Instagram and then after two days, three days no like, no comment. It’s worrying, because the essence of this social media is that aspect that can people see that I’m posting this? Can people comment on it? Why else do we have the buttons? Why do we have the likes? Why do we have the comments? Why do we have to check on our impact in terms of the analysis, in terms of what is happening with our accounts? So, how are you creating the content? That’s another way that it’s going to help you. Like I’m going to create this today, and this is how am I going to post this and this is the way or the manner in which I expect it to excite my audience, at the same time give them a reason to engage with me.
Janet Machuka: One thing that I usually tell, not only the corporate brands but personal brands, you need to stay focused. And, by being focused and staying focused you need to have a plan. You need to have a strategy. You don’t have just wake up in the morning and they’re like, “Oh, today I have no idea what I’m going to write about. I have no idea what I’m going to talk about.” And sometimes you find people that are like, “Okay, yesterday I said I am a finance expert, but today I don’t have anything to talk about the finance sector or the industry.” But, what about the client? What if you planned? Maybe you will have already done a deeper research about that niche, that topic so that it can help you know exactly what you’re going to post.
Janet Machuka: For me as a social media trainer, I’ve been able to at least create flexible strategies for myself of which I have to look at what is happening today, or what is new on social media? At the same time, how can I add or rather involve what I do into the strategy? At the same time, am I focused? Can people identify me from my content? What I’m posting, can they tell that I am a social media trainer, or I love content, I love marketing? Can it talk about me? So, the essence of this strategy is to make you stay focused. But for most of the brands, especially the corporates we talk about, you knowing being what kind of budget are you going to use. Who are you going to work with? Who is going to do A, B, C, D in terms of the content creation? Who is going to focus on community management? Who is going to do the different activities that we’ll like to put together?
Janet Machuka: At the same time, looking at the aspect of this corporate brand, we also want to know which kind of tools are we going to use from the auditing to even the managing the content through and through writing, creating it and sharing it on social media to the point of analyzing it. Because, these are some of the things at the end of the day we want to do. We want to see, does this strategy that we created that we have now executed made an impact? Has it given us the kind of deliverables that we wanted? Have we attained our objectives? Have we met our goals? Those things that we usually put it then you’re like, “Okay, I want to create awareness for this brand. I want to like create a lot of engagements around the content. At the same time, I want the leads, I want the customers to come in. I want to see a lot of reach, you know?” So, those are some of the things that you need to look into.
Janet Machuka: And if you have a strategy today, trust me, every week you’re going to do your reviews. Every month you’re going to check, you’re going to realize that whatever that you are putting into, it’s also giving you a community and audience that is targeted, that is engaging with your content because they understand it. There’s relevance in it. At the same time, they’re becoming your fans and also they’re becoming your customers. And so you’re growing a community that is healthy, that’s trusts you and you also growing your authenticity as a brand in the long run. Yes.
Azeem Ahmad: Love that, fantastic answer. Thank you very much for sharing, so I would love to learn from you, where do you see most people making mistakes with this?
Janet Machuka: Exactly, now when it comes to social media strategy, most of the people feel like it’s not necessary. Especially in the world of social media where things happen, like whatever happen today might not happen tomorrow. Everything is coming in a different way, news is being shared all the time. You talk about the features of social media are changing all the time and people feel like, okay, let me just go with the flow. Let me just go with the way the day happened, or breaks and then to the end. But that should not be the case, why? Especially with your social media as a brand, sometimes there are days you feel like you don’t have anything to post. You don’t have ideas to talk about, you actually sometimes feel fatigued because you don’t feel like going to social media. You just want to have a break. And, you want at least to make sure that your audience is seeing you, whatever you’re doing or the constantly and actively engaging with their context.
Janet Machuka: Some of the mistakes we should actually avoid when developing these strategies is creating rigid strategies. And by rigid, I mean, you could have a strategy today and you want it to be used three months down the line. You’ve never changed it, you have never thought about adding something new. You haven’t even checked what kind of features have changed or how is the algorithm working. If it’s Twitter, if it’s Facebook, if it’s Instagram, how has it changed? How far are people? Are you updated with the current happenings around you?
Janet Machuka: And that is why I usually say, “Look at Twitter, when you start tweeting, it asks you what’s happening?” Not what happened yesterday, or what is happening two months down the lane, you know? You have to state what is happening at that time. So, your strategy should also be like that, what is happening? If you meant to post something or you have planned to post something today that you planned last week, and you realize that something has changed and you need to adapt it to the current situation, please be flexible as you can. Another thing I have realized is people don’t actually think or don’t know, or rather feel like when I’m creating a strategy and I have putting it in place, I have to follow each and every single thing that I’ve written.
Janet Machuka: Who say so? Who told you? Nobody. That is just a calendar of ways of your contents and how you want them to appear. But, it doesn’t mean that you have to write exactly the same way or the way you have put them. Sometimes words change, and that’s why I sometimes jokingly tell people, “You know what? As much as I have a strategy, I usually like being there to type something at that moment.” Yes, I wrote an idea about it but if I write to the complete tweet today that I’m going to post two weeks down the line, I don’t think people will have that. I will connect my feelings right there, I will add the emotional right there and they will create that connection better. So, it should give you an idea of how are you going to add more into the human connection into building relationship, and even into the engagement.
Janet Machuka: And remember engagements are not just the likes, the comment, it goes farther. You have to trigger the psychology of a person to the point that you’re making them comment, follow, retweet and all that. So, you don’t have to follow it to the latter. If it doesn’t hold water, and if it doesn’t have the connection, please put it aside a bit and create something fresh. So be flexible, okay. And something else, I will actually remind some people who are still creating and who are thinking of creating strategies. Remember, you are creating the strategy for people not for yourself.
Janet Machuka: I am a personal brand, I create content for people in social media. As much as I’m talking about what I love doing, as much as I’m talking about myself and what I’ve been able to achieve, remember I’m drawing people into my community. So I’m not creating for me to consume it, no. Then why should they post it anyway? So I have to think about the people, how can I involve them? How can I make them feel part and parcel of my brand, of this content, of this strategy that I’m laying out every single day?
Janet Machuka: And then something else is, of course, there are people who think strategy is all about just the budget, the content, and even the tools that you’re using or the audience that you’re talking to. What about the unnecessary, unnecessary things? Can you single out the unnecessary stuff, so that you can focus on the necessary things? Sometimes people say, “Oh, you know what? I can’t create up a strategy for my brand, because I don’t have a budget. So, I can’t pay for a graphic designer, I can’t pay for ads. I can’t give somebody ideas to create for me the content for my social media. I don’t have time to post on social media.”
Janet Machuka: But, what about the tools? What about the content creation tools? What about the content management or social media management tools? What about listening tools? What about the tools that help you be able to analyze it? Sometimes you can do it alone. You don’t need a team for you to create a social media strategy. If you’re a small brand, actually, the better. And even a personal brand, the better because there are so many free tools that you can make good use of. So don’t give excuse that, you know what? I don’t have the budget to employ this and this person, so I’m not going to achieve this strategy. Go ahead and create it.
Janet Machuka: Something else is do your research. Most of the time we ignore this part, you know? What the kind of audience you’re talking to? How are the people in the same industries doing the same thing, offering the same products, the same services as you doing it? How are people creating a lot of impact, a lot of engagement on social media without that strategy or with that strategy? So, that you can be able to create a better strategy at the end of the day. You don’t want just to create a strategy for the sake of creating one, because at the end of the day you want to show the impact. You want to gain something out of it, so do your research.
Janet Machuka: Lastly, people forget this all the time. Before you do any strategy, before you think about even starting from what’s my audience, or what’s my budget, or what kind of content am I going to create? Can you audit your social media profiles? Check the kind of engagements you have, check the kind of content that people are interacting with the most. Go ahead and find out if you posted videos, how did people engage with them? If you post content about your brand or you bought your itself, which days do they engage with your content most? And this is why sometimes I usually say, “As much as on social media we have statistics that can tell us, you know what? From this time to this time, that’s when people go on social media and engaging with content. Also, you should go ahead and check on that.”
Janet Machuka: What if you monitor, you audit your own social media platforms every single time? Not only before you create the strategy, but also in the process of executing it. Find out when are your audiences on this basis? How can you know that this particular time, that’s when my audience is online. Don’t just go with the crowd because they said, “You know what? At 2:00 AM or 2:00 PM, that’s when most of the people are on social media.” But, have you found out from your profits? Yeah, so that’s the bit I can give in terms of the mistakes I realized so many people do make, especially the personal brands.
Azeem Ahmad: Wow, that is amazing. Thank you very much for sharing. I can’t believe the time is literally flown by so quick. So much knowledge you’ve shared there. Before we part ways and we have to end the episode, I want to make sure as many people who have listened to this, have the opportunity to find you on social media and to follow you. So, where can people go to learn more about you? Where can they follow you?
Janet Machuka: Well, I’m on all social media platforms, but not all. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Well, I’m not on TikTok because I don’t know how to dance yet. That was a joke. So, I’m more active on Twitter because I find it easier for me to coordinate with people, at the same time being an ambassador of communities. I find Twitter easy to find people, you know with those hashtags.
Janet Machuka: And for me, I usually say, “Twitter algorithm is the best.” It helps you search, it helps you find better content. It helps you follow topics, it helps you create lists and everything there. I can talk about Twitter from now until tomorrow, but I won’t to finish. So, on Twitter you can find me @Janetmachuka, and I believe I’m the only Janet Machuka on Twitter. On Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn the same, but I interact more with people on the LinkedIn and Twitter. For you to find me easy, kindly Google me. I can be seen from somewhere.
Azeem Ahmad: Amazing, thank you very much. The last thing for me to say is thank you very much for taking the time out to share your knowledge, your learnings, your wisdom. Really, really appreciate it. I know this is an episode that is going to go down well with the listeners. So for me, the last thing I’ll say is the boring part, which is please like, right, share and subscribe to this podcast. The most important part is one more time, Janet, thank you so much for giving me some of your time today and some of your knowledge. And I’m sure the listeners will love this episode, so thanks very much for that.
This has to be one of the most thought provoking and powerful episodes I’ve recorded to date. What a way to start Season 2 of the Azeem Digital Asks podcast. Joining me is the incredible Derek Walker, someone that I have looked up to for a long time.
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Derek describes himself as the chief instigator, janitor, secretary and mailroom person for Brown and Browner advertising, and has over 30(!) years experience in the industry as a Black agency founder – as well as being passionate about Diversity and Inclusion.
In this episode, we discuss:
– Defining White privilege
– What (if any) progress he’s seen throughout the industry when it comes to being more diverse and inclusive
– Why he thinks companies are hesitant to address this
– His response to the critique of “we dont need more black and asian people in the boardroom, we simply need more talented people”
– Where companies can start to address this issue
– What white people can do to better understand their POC colleagues
…and so much more!
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Azeem Ahmad: Hello, and welcome back to season two of the Azeem Digital Asks, the all-round digital marketing podcast. I’m very excited to bring you this episode and to bring you my guests today. But very quickly I will start as I always start by saying, please like, subscribe rate, share the podcast, tell a friend to tell a friend, and then tell that friend to tell 12 more friends. Right. That’s done. Today we are talking all about understanding white privilege and diversifying the boardroom with the incredible human being, Derek Walker, who the best way to describe him, is I’m literally going to steal his Twitter bio chief instigator, janitor secretary and mailroom person for Brown and Browner Advertising. And full disclosure, when I reached out to Derek… He doesn’t know this, I don’t think. But when I reached out to him, I had massive imposter syndrome because this is somebody who’s probably forgotten more than I’ll ever learn when it comes to this particular topic and diversity and inclusion in general. Somebody I massively look up to. Now I will shut up Derek, welcome to the show.
Derek Walker: Wow, I don’t recognize that person. Okay. Now I feel like I got to step my game up, man. I got to come with the A game. Hold on. I was going to do a B plus, but we’ll do A now. Good morning. How are you? That was some very kind words, thank you. But because we, people of color suffer with imposter syndrome at a different level, I got to stop you right here and say this, I’m repaying a debt. I was raised by a generation that knew that they would never be well where I am. So they made sure they cleared the road for me. And all I’m doing is repaying that debt by trying to clear the road for folks like you. So there is no imposter syndrome.
Derek Walker: What I see in you guys is just freaking amazing. I couldn’t do a podcast. My generation struggles with it because we’re wired to work. And I say that a different way. We’re wired to work for somebody. And you guys are striking out doing podcast and doing this, bring you A game. Congratulations and accept your flowers too. I’m happy to be here. It’s my honor. And my privilege. Thank you.
Azeem Ahmad: That means a lot. Thank you. Thank you very, very much. Let’s get right into it. This is a heavy topic, rightfully so. And I definitely wanted to start this season with because I think it needs to be addressed. Before we get into it though, for anybody who shamefully does not know who you are, firstly, in another window, open up social media and follow this man because you will learn heaps. But for those who don’t know who you are, before they follow you. Would you mind giving a short introduction to yourself, Derek?
Derek Walker: The basics are I’m a copywriter, who happens to own a tiny agency called Brown and Browner. There is no website. That’s a different story for a different time. I don’t believe in putting up a shit website. And I have a vision for what an agency website should be and it’s humongous so there’s no website. I’ve worked in advertising for 30 years now. Dear God, I’m old. On a little bit of everything, last count, I’m above 300 accounts. So and I’m talking Nissan, Subaru, Case Construction, Master Lock, Sub-Zero refrigerators, Radio Shack, the army, the Marines, Popeye’s Chicken, Church’s Chicken, I don’t know how I ended up with so much chicken. McDonald’s, Morningstar. Here’s the coolest part. I worked on Morningstar Farms, which is vegetarian food while being on the McDonald’s account. So both of them had burgers.
Derek Walker: So I have done everything. And if I haven’t done it, shoot, I’ve done pharma. So yeah, I’ve done a little bit everything. Worked for general market agencies, what we call general market agencies, white agencies my entire career. I’ve come up with a new saying. I was black raised the white trained. So it makes me even more dangerous. And then that means I have a foot in two worlds. But that’s me. I opened Brown and Browner at the best time any human being can ever open an ad agency during the financial crisis of 2008 2009. So this shows you, anybody listening to this, oh this guy’s a genius. Yes, let’s go out and right where the market crashes, and let’s open an agency. But anyway, we’ve been around.
Azeem Ahmad: I love that. I’m really looking forward to this episode. So we’re literally going to deconstruct understand white privilege and how we can diversify the boardroom. There’s no better place to start. I would love to hear it from you and learn from you, as I will throughout this episode. What is white privilege?
Derek Walker: Okay. Quite simply, it’s an unnatural advantage. And I’ll say that because it’s built into the system. Doesn’t mean that all white people won’t be poor. Or all white people don’t struggle. It means you struggle differently. I don’t know if you… I’m trying to remember the comedian. Chris Rock. In one of his concerts was talking about being rich, not wealthy, rich. He says, “I’m rich. But I’m black rich.” He’s talking about his house and everything, he goes, “And my neighbor’s a white dentist.” So what in that joke is this insight that Chris Rock making all this money, lives next door to a white dentist. And think about how much money Chris had to make to move in there. And we know no dentist is pulling enough teeth to make Chris Rock money.
Derek Walker: So when we talk about white privilege, it’s that the systems and the governance is designed to provide an advantage. If I say, tell you a story about the CEO. And you’re thinking about we’re talking about the interaction between them and then I told the CEO, “No,” you should have seen the look on his face. No, I’m sorry, you should have seen the look on the CEOs face. What does the CEO look like in your head? 99.9% of us instantly go to a white male. The privilege is that, that is the default image for that position. For leader, white guy, old white guy. Privilege isn’t… People think it’s something overt, but it’s really covert.
Derek Walker: When you get pulled over by the police, how does the officer talk to you? When you go into bank, to open up a loan or bank account, there in lies, it’s the little subtle things. I live in Columbia, South Carolina. And me of four or five other black business owners have this little joke about banking while black. Advertising just happens to see where you get nice checks from your clients to deposit into your account to do conduct their business. I’ve had the police called on me for depositing the check. And I turned to my white counterparts and go, “When’s the last time you had to answer to the sheriff about putting a check in the bank? Not withdrawing the money.” Because that’s the thing about privilege. Privilege gives you a little foot up, a little extra.
Derek Walker: And in dismantling or addressing it, we have to acknowledge that it doesn’t, and the insidious thing about privileges it tells poor white people that they can be rich white people. And very few people can become Jeff Bezos, but they’re holding on to that. And it pits poor white people against poor people of color. And when in actuality it should be both of those groups against the rich. But instead is like, so that in itself kills it. Sorry about that, the phone just rang. I hope you didn’t hear it.
Azeem Ahmad: It’s all good. You’re a busy man, a man in demand.
Derek Walker: Oh, no. But that’s what privileges. It’s hard to describe because it’s like it’s a concept and in different situations it arises. It’s as simple as a bag of potato chips. I was raised in the south. If I go into a store, and I buy a little single bag of potato chips, I can’t open that bag in the store and start eating. But that seems like a no brainer to every black person I know, every person of color. My white art director partner will open a bag in the store and start eating them. I’m going to pay for him at the register. And I’m looking at him going, “I can’t do that.” So you see, it’s not intentional. It’s built into the system. I’m sorry for the long winded crap.
Azeem Ahmad: No, no, it’s not crap. And it’s definitely something that will help educate the listeners. Thank you very much for sharing. I wanted to then ask you, it’s an excellent way to set up the rest of the episode. And you mentioned earlier on, you’ve got a vast and varied career in the industry. So I’d love to learn a bit more from you. So during on your own experiences, what progress if any, have you seen throughout the industry, when it comes to being more diverse and more inclusive?
Derek Walker: We may be more diverse, I don’t think we’re more inclusive. I think we’re less. And I love advertising. So I’m sort of a historian, I know the history of advertising. I won’t say I’m a historian because I can’t rattle off names and dates. But in the ’70s, we had more black and brown senior people of talent at agencies white agencies. Now this went on from the late ’60s, until probably about the mid ’80s. And then something happened in the late ’80s, early ’90s. And those people went away, they open their own agencies, whatever. What we’re seeing now is we have more people of color at the lower levels. And that’s diversity. And I said, it’s part of diversity. Diversity is allowing everyone the opportunity to come in, inclusion is allowing them to grow.
Derek Walker: So I can’t name, there may be two black CEOs at agencies, one or two of Indian descent, and I’m saying East Indian, India, one Hispanic. So have we really seen in our boards… Oh, dear God our boards. Our boards, our C suite levels, they are devoid of color. So I’ve seen as high and we do the same mistake over and over again, we pretend the problem is that people of color do not know about advertising. But if you really watch TV, or look back at TV, it’s sort of funny, how many shows are about advertising agencies. Even back before you’re young, so you don’t know about Bewitched. But from my generation Bewitched, Darrin the husband was an advertising professional, 30 something come up into the… You just go through this. We even had Mad Men, but we act like only white people watch Mad Men. So what we do is we go entry level.
Derek Walker: The real problem is in the senior and in the executive level. And that’s what we don’t… Dark secret is I left an agency because on my evaluation they said as long… Well, they didn’t say it on my evaluation. They told my boss who was trying to get me promoted to creative director and they told him as long as I was black, I couldn’t be good creative director. Now what happens with that is think about it, that hinders anyone ever seeing me because I don’t have the title. So we don’t see black creative directors, we don’t see Hispanic group creative directors. We don’t see Asian or women… Well, I’m sorry. I take Asian back. Asians are different. They’re slightly different than this model, unfortunately, but we are no better. We’re talking about it, but we’re not doing that’s the answer.
Azeem Ahmad: Love that. Thank you very much for sharing it. So I’m going to sidestep temporarily and ask you this question just off the cuff because it’s something that’s quite prevalent over here, largely driven by my own belief. So I truly believe that of the agencies over here in the UK, that predominantly led by white men, I believe they are solely driven by the bottom line, making profit making money. In a conference talk I did recently, I highlighted that there is 24 billion pounds on the table to be made simply by being more diverse and having a more diverse team. That is one way that I think companies could approach this. But I want to just take a step back and ask you why do you think that companies are so hesitant to address this issue?
Derek Walker: Because they aren’t driven by money. They’re driven by power. Power does not cede power. Harvard told everyone more diverse companies performed better. The Harvard Business Review said that. And let’s be clear, I’m going to show you a prime example. Rihanna opened Fenty. And I may not be pronouncing it right, don’t come at me and hate me later. Not because the cosmetic industry for the last 30 years hasn’t been told that women have brown and black skin colors, buy more cosmetic products than white women ever will. Now, all her competitors knew this, but didn’t offer the shades. Fast forward, in just a year and a half, she’s a 30 or $40 billion company.
Derek Walker: Now all of a sudden, all the other companies are offering shades. Maybelline has been in business longer than this child was on the planet. I know that they’ve heard this from black people. I’ve heard they’ve heard this from Hispanic people. If it was all about the bottom line, how could you leave $30 billion on the floor, not even on the table. Understanding that diversity is good for business is a great argument for those people who are open to change. Because it gives them a business. It really does. But first for group of us, and I say us as business people, there are a group of us as business people who can’t get by our biases and our prejudice.
Derek Walker: So I applaud you pushing that because that’s the business one. The Board of Directors should be listening and going, “Okay. Holy crap. If we’re not talking to black and brown communities, how much money are we losing?” I don’t think it’s ever brought to them that way. But let’s not pretend that business people become less human. If you have a bias, and you don’t like people, it shows in your actions. You can call yourself the best person in the world. But if you have a monolithic, all white team, only willing to speak to only white customers, with advertising that uses only white creatives and white production, folks and everything, nothing you can tell me can say you’re a good person. It’s not strictly business to them.
Derek Walker: I wish it was. But I think we have to have this argument because boards are driven by that. And boards are different than the people, the CMO and the CEO, they answer to the board. So I think it’s and I’m not just trying to disprove it. What I’m saying is fight smarter then. Some you’re going to change and some you’re not. You can’t convert everyone. You just can’t.
Azeem Ahmad: Yeah. I appreciate that, and thank you very much for sharing your knowledge over so many years, and the experiences that you’ve seen. It’s definitely a different approach to what I mentioned. One of the reasons why I love this podcast, I love this topic of episodes because I’m convinced the listeners are going to learn, but right now sitting here, talking to you, listening to you, I’m learning myself. So I love it. So thank you very much.
Derek Walker: Well, I’m learning because see, the UK is a different creature for us. You guys abolish slavery before us. The United Kingdom was included, the Caribbean, and Indian included territories that it brought in an infusion of folks. So there’s for us, this misstep. See, I can’t speak to the UK advertising market because it moves to behave differently from the US. And oddly, so I’m learning. It’s interesting to talk to someone about diversity across this realm. But it’s the same problem. You guys are… It’s just interesting. I’m learning something too because I’m like, “Okay, cool. I got to keep remembering I’m not just talking about US. I’m not just talking about the US.”
Azeem Ahmad: Yeah. I appreciate that. Thank you. And this definitely won’t be the last time we have a discussion. It’s just this discussion is going to get recorded and put out to the masses. Oh, yeah.
Azeem Ahmad: So let’s move on, then. We’ve talked in depth about the money on the table. We’ve talked in depth about white privilege. Let’s talk about that elusive boardroom, which you’ve touched on. I mentioned this before we started recording. And I definitely want to get this from you on recording. A popular critique over here is that we don’t need more people of color. We don’t need more black and Asian people in the boardroom. What we need is more talented people. How would you respond to that critique?
Derek Walker: Bullshit. Okay. First, you can’t get different thought with the same group. It’s harder. You can do it but you got to be open to it. And let’s be totally honest, voyage moves so slowly and so conservatively sometimes. Go back to that quote for me for a second, I’m going to dissect it for you. What was that quote? You don’t need more both black people, more people of color on the boards, right?
Azeem Ahmad: We simply need more talented people.
Derek Walker: Okay. Dear white people, let me talk to you for a second. When you break out people of color from talented or qualified, the implication you’re policing on this is that we are not talented or qualified. And that in itself is the misnomer, the lie you have to tell yourself. See, that comment right there is… My first thing would have been, “Wait a minute, how come you’re separating talent from people of color?” If I show up in a room, I’m talented, I know my shit. And the fact that I have survived in advertising for 30 years means I really know my shit. So when somebody says, “Well, we just need qualified people.” That’s a lie because I have been the best qualified in the room several times. And you’re not interested in me. What is it? Is it my hairstyle? Is it the way I dress? It can’t be. So that is a lame behind I’m trying to quit cursing. That’s a lame ass excuse for deflecting. It’s always this argument.
Derek Walker: First of all, show me that you are qualified to be on the board. Beyond your title, show me that you are as talented as your resume says. And you haven’t been by the thinking if the board is not performing excellent. If the direction of the company is not growing leaps and bounds, then the board is average. And a bunch of average people with titles think that they are superior. The problem is they’ve never had to compete on a level playing field. So they assume that their position, so when we say stuff and this… I’m sorry, but it pisses me off. When people say, “Well, we don’t need more people of color, we need more qualified or talented people.” No, you need more people of color because we see things differently from your week. I am not attend black, I’m not attend white American.
Derek Walker: I am a black man in America, you have no idea. My experiences are slightly different, but they’re different enough that I can show you what you’re missing. And for us not to, and I say us again, business leaders, for us not to embrace that diversity it’s almost fiscal irresponsibility. And I’ll pick on them and they can come after me. Miracle Whip is a salad dressing here. Understanding the taste palates of different people, it is a staple. For a long time, it has been a staple in the black community over mayonnaise. When you look at their numbers, when you do the research on the numbers, what drives their business is the black community. Potato salad, tuna fish, chicken salad, all the dishes we make with Miracle Whip. We don’t buy as much mayonnaise as we buy Miracle Whip we hold this bread.
Derek Walker: And I told one of the people at the company, it drives me crazy that the only commercials you produce are with white people. When they’re not the ones buying your stuff. Now they’re starting to talk to black people because guess what came out, Aioli. And Aioli is taking business from mayonnaise and Miracle Whip. Now all of a sudden, you’re desperate. Well, shit, you should have been desperate years ago. So when I hear these sayings, “Well, we don’t need more people of color, we need more qualified,” No, you’re making the assumption that we are not qualified and we’re not talented. When in fact, what it is, is you set up a system where you can’t discover our talent or our qualifications fairly.
Derek Walker: The boards have to be diverse for simple reason. The customers are diverse, the communities are diverse. And I’m not saying this for feel good. If you want to make more money, and you’ve made all the money you can make out of white folks, guess what? People of color have wallets. It’s good business. So I hate that. I hate that people say that. But what it really is, is it’s an attempt to defuse the argument. And unfortunately, for me, no one says that to me because I hit hard. I’ve just been totally honest people are worried, but that’s a…
Derek Walker: Listen, if the best qualified was to get the job, the person saying that we should only hire the best qualified wouldn’t have a job. Because the best qualified is probably a woman or a minority. Dear God, women get more higher education degrees than any group. Minorities because they are minorities that they get to a certain level have to struggle and work harder. They know more, they have to know more just to get less. So no, that’s all crappy. I’m going to be mumbling to myself all day. Thank you Azeem. I really needed that.
Azeem Ahmad: Good. Good. I’m glad. And thank you for sharing this. I appreciate it. And you touched on a comment that we spoke about earlier on before the recording. So in that same survey, an anonymous person of color literally said verbatim that people of color. There’s an old term of here, BAME, which has sort of been retired, black, Asian, minority ethnic, now it’s being referred to as person of color. But they said that BAME people have to work twice as hard to get the same recognition. And you’ve just proven that, that’s an absolute fact, 100%.
Derek Walker: You can have years and years of stereotyping and denigrating and then think that those lessons aren’t instilled. The sad part is it’s instilled in all of us. It’s why, you see, as soon as people get money, they move out of the communities they’ve grown up in, to go into communities of others. There’s instilled in us this idea that we are less. And when you are less, you have to work harder. If you want to tackle diversity and inclusion, look at not only how you hire, who you hire, but how you hire. Job descriptions. And I’m just going to walk through this real quick because it answers what you’re saying. Asking, when you hire somebody, are you hiring them on the qualifications on the resume? Do they have to have every qualification on their resume? Are you hiring them on their potential to grow to the position, you need them at? That is different between people of color, and whites.
Derek Walker: Whites are hired on potential, we can grow them to this position. People of color have to have everything on the resume on the job description. That’s one thing. Now fold them into the workforce. Say you hired a person of color, how do you assign work to them? Are you giving them challenging work? Are you allowing them to grow? Can they make mistakes? Once again, this is inclusion now. It’s gone from diversity to inclusion. So inside the organization, if you’re not giving them the opportunity to grow faster, make mistakes, and everyone makes a mistake. So please don’t tell me that crap and mistakes should be fired. No, everyone makes a mistake.
Derek Walker: And they should be able to learn from it and grow. Unless it’s really just egregious. Then look at how you evaluate those employees for raises and promotions. Their employee evaluations. We place on people of color that they almost have to be supermen and women. And then we… Oh, and by the way, are you paying that well qualified person of color the same, you’re paying that so, so qualified white guy for this exact same position? See, all of these are the layers inside the company that we are the organization that we don’t talk about. The evaluations are real important. I am six feet tall. I’m really fat. And I’m 220 30 pounds, I’m obese. I can’t lean on a table in the discussion. I can’t get animated.
Derek Walker: I can’t raise my voice. That’s not seen as passionate or confidence. That’s seen as angry or aggressive. When we ascribe these words to an individual, women get it all the time. She’s not professional. She’s not passionate. She’s the B word. You hear arrogant with people of color. You hear confrontational, you don’t hear the good words. People of color are never passionate about their job. They’re never professionals. I’ve sat in a meeting where white creative threw a chair in front of the client, threw a chair. And I’m looking at my boss, and I don’t say anything to my boss in the meeting. I wait till we go sit down. He threw a chair. Hey, you didn’t fire him on the spot. The next time I put my hands on the table or I lean forward I don’t want to get a talk from you about being aggressive.
Derek Walker: I do not. Oh, he’s just passionate. So what am I if I’m not passionate? People tell me smile in your pictures, so you look more friendly. Looking at my white counterparts. Half of them don’t have to smile in the picture to be friendly. We have got to understand all of these things are… People of color say they have to work twice as hard. No. I got to be Superman. I have to feel no emotions. I have to be able to not express myself fully. I got to be restrained at all time. And then I have to work harder. I’m 57. I thought this would have been gone. That our young people wouldn’t have to do this. But then I get people going… Well, I’ve taught at a couple of universities here in the States. And I’m like, ” Who’s your best student?” Inadvertently, it’s always a white student.
Derek Walker: And it was just mind boggling. The University of South Carolina School of Journalism, had this young lady, she was like in the top 3% for neurobiology. But she was as creative as all get out. So she wants to be a brain surgeon, but at the same time she’s taking journalism classes to write. And she’s of East Indian descent. And I’m like, “Well, why isn’t she your favorite?” And they’re like, “Oh, she’s good.” I’m like, “No, she’s not good. She’s amazing.” Lily Sally over here is good. Your favorite is good. That child is freaking amazing. And we, as a faculty were having this discussion, and they’re like, “What are you implying?” I’m not implying shit. What I’m saying is, that child is over there getting a degree to be a brain surgeon. And she’s taking our journalism classes and whooping these kids ass and you call her good. Then they get all offended, “Oh, we don’t see color.” Apparently you did.
Derek Walker: The young lady that’s your favorite is barely making her advertising, getting her advertising work done. We have got to front. And it’s about changing minds. So when we talk about this, I guess it’s why I love that you talk about paying into profit, or revenue. But part of it is also we’ve got to address how people think about us, how we think about ourselves. Do you feel bad if you work only 38 hours in a week as a person of color? It’s like, can you take vacation, and time off and feel good about yourself? You should be able to. But in the back of your mind, you’re thinking about something about work. We’ve created a cage for us. And we let society create more. We’ve got to let us out of part of that cage. I’m not a fan of imposter syndrome. I understand it. But I think it’s part of that why we have to work twice as hard. And it’s killing us. We never talk about mental health. Dear God, our people of color in advertising or anything need mental health services. Take care of yourself.
Azeem Ahmad: 100% couldn’t agree more. I am actually trying to get somebody to come on to the show who is a black mental health therapist because it’s a massive, massive subject, which I think is incredibly, incredibly important. You’ve just shed even more wisdom there. Thank you very much.
Derek Walker: Sorry about the rumble.
Azeem Ahmad: No, no rumble away. I think is incredibly educational. And I’ve always said, I’ve probably even said it on a recording. I don’t care if only one person is listen to this episode, or 100 people listen to this episode. I’m getting immense value from this. And the added bonus is that other people get to as proxy of this because I’ll release it for other people to listen. That aside. I would love to hear from you in terms of we’ve touched on a huge amount of topics there. We call the episode understanding white privilege and diversifying the boardroom. If there are people listening to this predominantly white people, leading agencies leading company in those positions of power, where can these companies start to address this issue?
Derek Walker: I think they have to expand their board in their C suite. And please for the love of god don’t tell me you can’t. I’ve seen boards add people simply because somebody was interesting. Now they may add two so they keep an odd number, but they add people. And they add them and create new roles. The C suite has been expanding for the last two decades. When I first got in there into business, the C suite was only four or five positions. How many C suite positions are there now? So what we say is, “Well, we don’t have any open positions on the board or the C suite.” Fucking make it. You run it, make a damn position, but make it a position with power. The next C suite position that I really don’t want, but we need is a DE and I position. But understand, I’m talking about it being full blown C suite.
Derek Walker: That means that person has hiring and firing power. That person has a budget and a team under them. They have a set of goals and objectives that they have to meet and obtain. I may just be another pretty brown face. But I understand how C suite works. So we’ve hired DE and I people who can’t hire and fire, can’t set goals and objectives for the departments, have no budget, and no team. But they’re supposed to save the organization from itself. Watch what happens if you do this. If the CEO who’s over operations says, “Everyone will turn in timesheets every Friday. And those of you who have a department with a rate of less than 85% on timesheets being turned in on Friday, will have an issue.” Now they go for five weeks. And this one department has 20%, can the CEO fire that manager? Yes.
Derek Walker: That’s the power. It falls in their privvy. It falls under. A DE and I person needs that kind of power to turn to the creative department and go, “You will become more diverse.” Here’s the plan, you have a year. So when the executive creative director goes, “I don’t want to do that.” Then guess what? The DEI person doesn’t have to talk to anybody. They should, but they have the power to affect this person’s employment status. Now I get there’s power behind that position as a true C suite position. I’ve gotten on the elevator with the CEO of Radio Shack when I worked for Radio Shack. And we’re riding up and he goes, “Some of that stuff you did that was pretty cool. Can you do so and so and so for me?” Yes. I am not going to say no. Can he fire me in that elevator? Yes, he can.
Derek Walker: The DE and I person needs to be able to have that kind of power to affect change. So what you can start with is add to the board, add positions. See what everyone says is we’ve got to wait for an open board position. No, you don’t, create one. We got to wait for an open seat C suite position. No, you don’t, make one. We got chief intellectual officer. What is that? Come on. You just go to some of these C suites and look so the first part is to start. And no young person is going to come into an organization that doesn’t have people in leadership that looks like them, and honestly believe that they can ever advance. There’s no one there that understands, nobody there to shepherd them along, nobody there that they can get advice and that understands their journey. So why should they be loyal to a company?
Derek Walker: This starts at the top it works down. Stop hiring entry level, hire senior and an executive level and work your way down. I think the president, the CEO or the chairman of the board, all three actually have to own the DE and I. And if any of them ever says we will be more diverse, and it doesn’t have to be a quota. It’s not a quota. It’s the idea that we’re going to change our behavior. And an employee says, “I don’t believe in this and I’m not going to do it.” That employee is fired. He is not going coach and counseling and write up some, they’ll fire them. Send a statement, either you’re serious about this or not. When policies, I think did, Marcel, their AI, the holding company did the AI. The CEO of the holding company said, we will no longer enter award shows. Not one agency said, “Yes, we will.” Everybody stopped.
Derek Walker: You have to have leadership say we will be more diverse and mean it. Again, pulling this off on a new hire. You guys built a company for five six 20 years, I don’t know how long in a culture and you’re going to bring somebody from the outside to fix it, with no power? No. Starts at the top. I’m hard on leaders because I think leaders are the ultimate servants. And they’re not there to be worshiped, they’re there to serve. Most leaders don’t even make a damn product or provide service. It’s their job to make our jobs easier. So damn it, lead. Start there. Look, you’re talking about people make six. High six and high seven figures and some eight, nine figures, you’re not smart enough to realize that you got to take the lead on this. That’s a bullshit. Oh, come on.
Azeem Ahmad: Yeah.
Derek Walker: I’m sorry.
Azeem Ahmad: Completely agree. You don’t have to apologize. I think you’re absolutely right. In fact, you literally mentioned a couple of things that I shared in a conference talk recently. And I think you put it far better than I did. I’m completely on board with having somebody DEI person in the boardroom, but with the right responsibility. One of the things that I said was that every single person in that room, every leadership bonus is linked to those initiatives because as you mentioned earlier on, I’ve mentioned it in the past, we’ve talked about it a lot. We know that people of color, and women or women who are of color are not being paid fairly. If they’re not being paid fairly, then neither should the leadership.
Derek Walker: Yeah.
Azeem Ahmad: The second thing I’ll say is that you mentioned rightly shouldn’t be a quota. I think companies need to. Some companies do this. I think companies need to once a year release detailed yearly diversity data because that’s where the accountability comes in. Some companies just brush the surface saying 4% of our employees are from minority backgrounds. Some companies really break it down at every level. And that’s where you see the difficulty come in. The only last thing I’ll say on that-
Derek Walker: No, no, no. We got to go back to what you did because this is very important. You broke women of color out from women.
Azeem Ahmad: Yes, literally, that is exactly what I was about to say. So once a year here in the UK, it trends towards the end of the year that this is the day that women effectively start working for free. And it’s all over social media, there are probably PR campaigns to death. This is the day that women work for free because they’re paid less than men. So let’s put that on one side. On the other side, we know that people of color are paid less than their white counterparts. Nobody ever talks about if you’re a black woman because you’re already paid less than your white counterparts, but as a woman, you’re already paid less than your male counterparts. But nobody ever talks about that. So that 100% needs to be addressed. But I’m positive you’ll put that in a far better way than me.
Derek Walker: It’s a little thing I’ve been playing with called the hierarchy of diversity. White men are first. See, I get so upset because women of color thought that when the me too movement came it included them. Well, if you look at advertising, it didn’t include them. They did the work. But the white women get the jobs. So when we talk about diversity, and white, blacker, everybody’s included in diversity. That’s the first misnomer. And so here’s the hierarchy real quick, and this is the preference of hiring white men, white women, Asian men, Asian women. Now, here’s where something interesting happens. We go black women, Hispanic women, Hispanic men, black men. See what happens is, and when you start now… And I’m talking about advertising. Advertising is a different creature than other industries.
Derek Walker: So forgive me, but I know advertising. What ends up happening here is we go counter to how the pay works breaks down because pay breaks down here in the United States like almost the exact same. Actually goes white men, Asian men, white women, Asian women, black men, black women, Hispanic women, Hispanic men, Hispanic women. So when we start talking about pay inequities, what we do is we talk about it as a whole. But we’re really talking about white women. We don’t understand that if a white man is making $1, in a white woman is making 76 cents, then a black man is making 69 cents, and a black woman is making 63. And Hispanic man is making 60, probably 60. I’m making these up. But you see what happens it’s all the hierarchy. So by the time you get down to some of us, we’re not breaking even.
Derek Walker: So we have to your point, we have to talk about it. But we have talked about it in relationships to different groups because different groups are valued differently. So that’s why it tickled me when you broke out women of color because women of color should be women, but they’re not, just like men. But it’s so funny when, not funny, but it’s interesting. The young lady Zoe, did you see Zoe’s essay on all the other women that were harassed and everything?
Azeem Ahmad: Yeah. Painful.
Derek Walker: And the whole conversation. Everyone’s saying, “Men should do this. And men should do that. And men do this and that.” And I’m sitting there going, I want to raise my hand. I’m like, I can’t even look at a white woman sideways, and not be fired. And that’s not to say, we haven’t had bad actors of color, we have. But they get punished quick, fast and in a hurry. So when we talk about men, we talk about men as one monolithic group, but we’re really talking, sadly, this comes back to white privilege. We’re talking about white man’s behavior. And the dynamics of this is just horrible. I have been treated badly at our agency. And I’ve seen white women treated badly at the same agency. But those same white women treated me badly. So I don’t even know what call it except it’s almost like we’ve set each group against each other. And I don’t know. Have you ever seen Blazing Saddles? The movie?
Azeem Ahmad: I have not, unfortunately. No.
Derek Walker: Let me call your parents. Mel Brooks is a genius. There’s a scene in Blazing Saddles, where they tried to get all the poor people to come together to fight the rich money there. And they’re like… And it is offensive. So it’s like, “We’ll take the Asians we’ll take the blacks, we’ll take it, but we’re not taking the Irish.” And it’s that moment where it’s sort of like looks even among the poor, they fight amongst themselves. We, build turns out like men and I’m sitting here feeling bad, but I’m like I have never had the power at the agency to do any of these things. And when I’m being abused, white women are going on having their lunch and doing their thing. We have to understand that we can’t talk about this and just simply… Even people of colors sort of different because Asians never… I have to break it. Once again, break it out.
Derek Walker: The Asians on the Pacific Asians have never considered themselves along with it, folks from India and Pakistan. I don’t even understand it, but there’s an air. If you come from China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, we’re not the western Asians. We’re the eastern Asians. And think about how that plays out. We bring in talent from India, it paid them pennies on the dollar. We’ll go to Japan or China, and make somebody rich. It’s just crazy that it’s so much. But once again, if falls to the leaders. You can’t tell me that you should never have two people working at the same job where the difference is more than 10 or 15%. I just don’t believe that. And what you said about paying is so true. If you’re paying one person 30, 40 50% more than you’re paying the other person to do the exact same job, you got a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Derek Walker: That’s not good business. See, people thinking, “Oh, you talk about diversity and inclusion because you want to feel good.” No, I’m talking about it from a business standpoint. If I can discover more avenues for my client to make money, then maybe the agency client relationship last long. Maybe they’ll pay my compensation without arguing. Maybe I don’t have to open my books to Procter and Gamble, so they can determine how much profit I should make. Because I think that’s an abomination. But all of those things are a result of us not delivering on our product. Diversity and Inclusion help us deliver a better product to our client. If that’s not a business proposition, then what is?
Azeem Ahmad: Absolutely. Absolutely. This is and will continue to be such an insightful episode. I’m very pleased and proud that you’ve agreed to join. We are sadly coming to the end. But I would love to ask you one more question.
Derek Walker: Sure.
Azeem Ahmad: And that question is quite simply, white people listen to us. What can we do to better understand their colleagues who are people of color?
Derek Walker: Get to know them. You can’t understand somebody at a distance. And we claim to be friends, we may go to the pub at a bar. But do we invite folks over to our house when it’s not a big function? Look at our social media pages. Dear God, look at our Facebook. I go to people’s Facebook pages and look at the pictures and their vacations. Black people’s vacations, all black people, Indian people, all Indian, white people, all white. And we don’t have to be friends, but we got to get to know each other. The other part to it is understand that it’s not about punishing you. It’s not your fault you were born white. Being white isn’t a problem. And folks think, “Well, you think white people…” No, I think the system that we put in place is the problem. Now if you’re not used to being uncomfortable, get used to being uncomfortable.
Derek Walker: Fuck it. Ask the hard questions. Ask the easy questions, get to know folks. But also be willing to listen. I have told people something we talked about earlier. I said, “I can’t fail.” And my white counterparts are like, “I don’t understand, I can’t fail.” I get one shot at leader. I get one shot at trying something. Nobody’s going to let me… It’s odd. I came from the client side. So I came from Pizza Hut into advertising, and Pizza Hut, I could fail. In advertising, I realized the weight of that. And so understand that your counterparts or people of color that you’re working with are under a burden that is unseen. Anyway, that should help. I think we have to have understanding.
Azeem Ahmad: 100%, completely agree. Look for me to your very brief thank you. Thank you properly shortly before we part ways, I would love for you to share where people can go to connect with you to follow you on social media. How can people get in touch with you if they wanted to learn more?
Derek Walker: I’m on LinkedIn. As I’m going to link them right now look to see who I am.
Azeem Ahmad: When you share a link with me afterwards, I’ll share it.
Derek Walker: Sure. I’ll give you a link. And I’m on Twitter. I’m easy to get in touch with on social media. Facebook is for friends and family. I don’t talk business on Facebook. I don’t do Instagram because Instagram is the devil. I am never doing TikTok. I will watch, you will not find Derek Walker on TikTok. No tiky toky. I don’t even know what I would do on TikTok. But LinkedIn and Twitter, I’m there all the time. But if you really just ping me on one of those, and well, Azeem will tell you, I’m not that hard to get in touch with. I’m hard to schedule. I’m just not hard to. I’ll take that one. But that’s the easiest. I will come back to you because we’re doing the Creative Combate. And I want to talk about that with you one day. We’re doing the Creative Combate is a competition designed to be fair. So we have to talk about that one.
Azeem Ahmad: Yeah. Definitely, we can make that happen. But for now, massive, massive thank you for taking out an hour of your time with me. Everybody else who is going to listen to the show, I could not think of a better way to open the second season of this podcast on a year of doing this. So a huge, huge, huge, huge thank you. And if you have any questions for Derek, if you want to learn more, definitely reach out to him. Or if you want to get in touch me, I’ll pass you, I’ll put you in contact with him. Literally this one hour episode. I think I’ll probably put a tweet out on Twitter. I think every white person in this industry needs to sit down in a meeting room, nothing else on, and just listen to this episode. So for me to you Derek, a massive, massive, massive thank you very much.
Derek Walker: You’re very welcome. Thank you. Thank you so much.
It’s the Season 1 FINALE! What better guest to join me than a podcasting pro – Christine Zirnheld (aka Shep), one of the hosts of the awesome Marketing O Clock podcast. We discuss all things podcasting, and the benefits of the medium.
Listen now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:
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For those who don’t know who this awesome human being is, she describes herself as the “Real Housewife of Digital Marketing”, she’s a 2020 PPC Hero “Rising Star” in PPC, contributes to Search Engine Journal, she’s got a book, and works for Cypress North.
In the episode, we discuss:
– Her dream line up for a podcast show. – The benefits of podcasting. – What she would change if she started over again. – Tips and advice for anyone wanting to start their own podcast. – Mistakes she’s made, and has seen being made. – Where you can go to learn more about podcasting. – How to explain the benefits of podcasting to someone who doesn’t quite understand the medium. – Cool things she’s done while podcasting.
…and so much more!
As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!