Client Services & Diversity Manager, Sarah DeSilva interviewed Dickson Abegunde about his experiences as a young black man in the media industry.
Tell me briefly about your professional journey…
Like many people within the industry, I just fell into media sales. It wasn't something that was planned, it just happened!
My first role was at Express Newspaper, selling print space. It was a high octane, target driven environment, which gave me a good understanding of what was needed to succeed in the industry. I then moved over to BBC WORLDWIDE where I worked on Top Gear magazine. I always found the print world very repetitive and rigid, so when an opportunity arose to work across BBC WW digital portfolio I did everything I could to secure it! I'm naturally competitive and hate being second best so I constantly reappraise and push myself, which helped me to progress through the ranks and I ended up as group head across Radio Times and Top Gear. Auto Trader approached me late 2013 and I was extremely impressed by the automotive giants new commercial strategy and also the calibre of digital minds that the company was recruiting. As they say the rest is history..
I understand diversity & inclusion is really important to you, as well as getting more B.M.E. youth interested in digital careers. Have you ever experienced exclusion or potential ‘unconscious bias’ at any point during your career?
When I first started in media, there wasn't a lot of BME's in the industry and especially in senior positions. I can't say that I've experienced any outright exclusions or biases during my career but as a minority and due to certain insecurities about 'fitting in' and how I'm viewed by my peers, it is something that I've definitely thought about.
Have you ever had your race actually work in your favour during in any client pitches, campaigns you have worked on or even when seeking a new role?
No, not really. I don't think the industry works like that! Your race is part of your identity but it doesn't determine your success and it certainly doesn't give you an advantage in pitches, campaigns or in securing roles. The sooner people realise that the quicker we can move away from the notion that race determines your lot in life. Race is not an advantage or disadvantage, it is what it is!
As a younger Sales Leader – do you face any challenges relating to your age – how have you overcome them?
I think the age thing is a big psychological barrier for some people. Humans have a flawed thinking that experience is directly related to age. So if you're older, you're more experienced which automatically makes you better at your job, which is complete rubbish! Experience is relative. To give you an example someone that's been in the industry for 10 years in a comfortable, non-challenging role will have less experience than someone that has only been in the industry for 5 years but has been exposed to immense challenges. The big challenge for young leaders is commanding the respect of colleagues that are much older than them. I've overcome those challenges by staying true to my values and not trying to be something that I'm not. I have a lot of confidence in my ability and it may take some time for others to get over the age barrier but eventually the results speak for itself!
As a manager of a diverse and multi-cultural team, what are the best ways to embrace diversity to maximise personal and professional performance?
Realise that everyone is different and respect those differences. What works for an individual in your team may not work for another. It's about giving your staff the support they need to grow and develop. It's also about enabling them to push boundaries, to challenge personal and external perception.
Diversity is a hot topic. Do you think the government should introduce quotas to improve diversity of firms?
Forcing people or companies to do something that they don't want to do is always going to end badly! We live in a diverse world and companies that want to be truly successful have to embrace that fact. It’s not really something that the government should push too hard, the best companies will have a diverse work force and they will be able to attract more talent, which ultimately will make them even more successful. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy!
Finally what words of advice would you give to candidates & young individuals interested in pursuing a career in digital, especially those coming from B.M.E. backgrounds?
Most important thing is focus on your strengths and what makes you unique as an individual! Don't view your age or background as a hindrance but see it as an opportunity to do things differently from others. Learn to adapt without losing focus. Digital is one of the main industries that embraces change. It rewards people that push boundaries and people that challenge the status quo. Find a company that gives you the support you need to develop but also gives you a voice within the industry. Finally be happy, there are too many miserable people in the industry so it's refreshing to find someone that looks like they enjoy what they do.
Are you interested in digital jobs from employers that will treat you fairly regardless of your race? Click here to apply for vacancies!