Evaluating Organizational Change by Diversity Accountability with Azeem Ahmad

diversity accountability azeem ahmad
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What happens when a pair of podcasters passionate about the delights of digital get together in one call? 

If those two are Garrett and Azeem, well, you get an adorkable digital bromance and a lively discussion about the state of the industry. 

Azeem Ahmad is the host of the Azeem Digital Asks podcast. He’s also a regular speaker on the SEO conference circuit, is the owner of Azeem Digital, and is the Digital Marketing Manager at Staffordshire University in the UK. It’s safe to say he’s got a pretty broad view of the industry as a whole. 

If you want the delightful geekery, you’ll have to listen to the podcast. There is no capturing it in show notes.

If you just want yourself some insights, then read these! 

The highlights:

  • [1:40] If Azeem were a marketing superhero…
  • [2:57] Google in the UK.
  • [5:11] Industry networking during a pandemic.
  • [12:01] Agency life vs. in-house life.
  • [15:59] Fixing diversity in the workplace.
  • [28:46] Azeem’s cause.

If Azeem were a marketing superhero...

At the beginning of Azeem’s podcast, he always asks his guests an icebreaker question. Garrett reversed things in this episode. Garrett asked if Azeem were a marketing superhero, what his marketing superhero name and power would be.

“I would probably just stick with Azeem Digital…with the superpower that everyone craves. The unlimited budget. The bottomless wallet!”

Oh, the things you could do.

Google in the UK

Azeem took a look at Google’s market share. While he says that most marketers should continue to focus heavily on Google and that Microsoft is something you basically just check up on every now and then. He expressed some skepticism over the idea that Apple will be introducing its own search engine any time soon but said he would welcome a strong competitor for Google.

“A personal view, I think competition is great, everything that’s going on now and the monopoly Google has on the market, I do think a little bit of competition is great. The industry does need a little bit of change in that sense. Times are changing so we definitely need to crack on with that.”

Industry networking during a pandemic

Azeem bucked a trend in that he said he did not like LinkedIn for networking. 

“I’m fully aware that there are people listening who are like: well, your LinkedIn feed is curated by you, they’re people you chose to connect with and you follow. Yeah, that’s true, that’s absolutely right, but I’m not interested in what they’re saying.” 

He says that what he wants to do when he’s on social media is to learn a lot more about marketing. 

“Now Twitter is the home of networking. It’s pushed ahead of LinkedIn for me. You can get involved in conversations. There’s such a diverse range of opinions on there.”

He describes a previous account where he’d built up 3000 followers, including Barack Obama and Brittny Spears. He said he took a month-long social media break and all his followers were gone.

“So I started again. Now I’m at something like 700 or 800 followers, but I’m having more valuable conversations. I’m getting more engagement and more conversation with the people I’ve got.

Twitter is fantastic for having these conversations. Follow the right hashtags, use platforms like TweetDeck, which is fantastic. I’m absolutely not suggesting people should sit on Twitter for hours and hours on end just replying to conversations.”

He describes a strategy that has worked well for him to foster those conversations. 

“When you read something, you share it, and underneath that, you share a critical opinion on it. I thought this article was great, what does everyone else think? It just starts a conversation. And people might not agree with you, people agree with you, but the whole point of that networking piece is it’s absolutely brilliant. Schedule stuff as well.” 

He says you’ll get out of Twitter what you put in, and that he uses Twitter to have valuable conversations with thought leaders in the industry, improving knowledge. 

“You have to go into these conversations prepared to learn. If you go into these conversations hard and fast with your own view, this is my view, I will die on this hill – you usually alienate a lot of people. You come across as a jerk. 

If you come out open and honest you’ll have far more meaningful and far more valuable conversations. You do have to be a little bit vulnerable and open, but the rewards outweigh the risks, definitely.”

Agency life vs. in-house life

Azeem talks about how much he learned by starting in an agency. 

“I vividly remember because it was like my first foray into the industry. I learned so much so quickly. The best place I would advise anyone to start in this industry is an agency. You’ll pick up so much stuff.” 

He says if everything was working normally right now, you’d have X amount of clients that you’d immediately be working on. 

“Immediately you’d need to immerse yourself in those clients, in their businesses, in that sector. You need to be part of their team as well as picking up key marketing disciplines, learning all the tools and platforms, how everything works. You have to throw yourself into the deep end and just learn.”

He says that he began trying to think of new ways to do things and ultimately this made him want to leave agency life.

“Moving in-house I’m certainly exploring more. As I mentioned about being open and vulnerable…when I’ve got people who join my team, I always say to them…outside from obvious silly measures like ‘increase the budget’ or ‘turn everything off,’ there’s never a wrong answer if you have a why. 

If you ever come to me and say: I think we should do this, my question to you is why. It’s not a trick question. It’s just literally I’m keen for people certainly, people who work with me as part of the team to explore their own critical thinking.” 

He encourages his people to tell them what the return on their actions will be. 

Fixing diversity in the workplace

Azeem is passionate about bringing more diversity to the marketing industry.

“I think as an industry we’ve begun to get past the raising awareness stage. I think with everything that happened in America with George Floyd and everything that happened before and everything that’s happened since we’ve got past that part of raising awareness. I think more is being done to get actions.”

He says at Brighton SEO he did a presentation on the business benefits of having a diverse leadership team. 

“87% of the time they’ll make better business decisions, which means you make more money.”

He says having someone on board in a diversity or equality specific role is great. 

“But from what I’ve seen, much of the responsibility to change that company’s culture then falls in line with that person, who will typically be brought in external to the company.”

He says nothing gets done while this person is being forced to spend six months or longer immersing themselves in the culture of a business. 

“A lot more needs to be done.”

He talks about being aware of the gender pay gap and the diversity pay gap.

“We know women get paid less than men. Certainly over here. But what if you’re a Black woman? What if you’re an Asian woman? Immediately you’re going to be paid less than a white woman who is paid less than a man.”

He mentioned Snapchat who came out with their diversity policies.

snapchat diversity

They have done a deep dive and a comparison, a critical look at their diversity policies. 

Meanwhile, he says he’s been in businesses where he’s had to have a conversation about diversity. 

“In the nicest possible way, everyone around this table is old, you’re all white, and the people you’re talking to are young and from different backgrounds. You’re not representing your audience, and if you want them to come on board with this business and get involved with you and your products, you need to show some sort of aspirational level for them to get to.”

He says they were visibly shocked, and he thought maybe some visible change would come. Instead, they fell all over themselves telling him that their black female board member had just left, “so we did have somebody!”

Azeem stresses that having just a single person who as a Black female will not represent every Black female in that audience. 

“You need a more diverse range of voices around the table. I saw this with conferences as well.” 

He speaks of a conference that had one Black speaker, every year, the same Black speaker.

“Look, the industry needs to take a very long and hard inward look at itself, and start to push forward voices who were different and diverse and who will challenge the norms. And they might get stuff wrong. I’ve got stuff wrong before in the past. You might get stuff wrong, but don’t hold them to account over one mistake.” 

He also addresses how one can make a difference with a good job description. 

He says avoid things like: 

“We’re an equal opportunities employer. What does that mean? Nothing. It doesn’t mean anything. There was one job description I saw that was fantastic. 

It said something like: Company X. We are committed to creating a diverse environment. We will recruit, train, and promote regardless of your race, sex, disability, color, origin, veteran status, or any other status as required or protected by the laws. 

As a Person of Color who would potentially want to apply to that company I’m like: oh my god, these guys really care.”

He even gives some job interview tips who those who both want to land the job…and keep the industry thinking about diversity.

“If you’re sitting there as a Person of Color or as a member of the LGBTQ+ community when they say: do you have any questions for us? 

I hear people ask: what’s a typical day like? Good. 

On top of that: what does your senior management team look like? What does your diversity road map look like over the next five years? How diverse will you be in the next ten or fifteen years?

He says this might even help you get the job, in addition to putting your fingers on the pulse of the company’s commitment. 

“When you start asking questions like that and you add things at the end like in the next X years, you’re subconsciously telling this employer you’re interested in the job, obviously when you mentioned the length of time you’re also indicating to that employer that you’re willing to stay there for that amount of time, you’re not going to come in for a couple of months, get a rapid-fire couple of promotions and then you’re off. 

You’re seeing this as a long-term project. That’s the hiring company. They’ll be like, well we’re going to invest thousands of dollars into this person. We’re going to want a return, so if we hear someone saying five, ten, fifteen years, this person is serious.” 

What's your right now cause?

Azeem wants listeners to pay attention to mental health, specifically, a mental health organization in the UK called Mind. He says many mental health agencies have struggled with funding cuts.  

“Mind is super good at helping people with mental health issues and pointing people on the right path. I think if you check those guys out, they’re doing some really good work.”

Connect with Azeem Ahmad

Want more from Azeem? 

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Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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