Dionne Aiken is the CMO of Kantar’s Profiles Division, and is a trailblazer for inclusion and diversity as well as being a valued mentor. She recently won a Baton Award in the Professional Services category.
The Baton Awards celebrate the outstanding achievements and contributions of phenomenal women from diverse racial groups from the past, present, and future.
Dionne was given the award thanks to her dedication on being a fantastic role model for women from diverse backgrounds aspiring to be a C-Suite leader, and for all her hard work championing diversity, inclusion and equality both within Kantar and society.
What does the Baton Award mean to you, Dionne?
The award means so much – it was a real honour to be part of a wonderful event and amongst such excellent finalists – but it’s not really about me. It’s about passing the baton!
I’m passing the baton to my beautiful daughter Freya, my greatest source of motivation and a teacher in many ways. I’m also passing it to anyone trying to progress in their careers. Show up, be your authentic self, make a difference, use your voice, be seen and be heard.
Big thanks goes to Caroline Frankum, our awesome CEO at Kantar Profiles division. She is such an inspiration when it comes to authentic, inclusive leadership, and she has been instrumental in me receiving this award. We speak about being a ‘see it to believe it’ role model, and Caroline has been that person for me and many others. Now it’s time for me to pay that forward!
Why is being a positive role model important to you?
I’ve always felt equality was important – I firmly believe in working to create an even playing field. I will always speak up for underrepresented groups, and I am keen to empower women and help them to see their own brilliance. This became an even greater focus when I became a mother. But first I needed to walk the path to prove that if I could do it, so could they.
Throughout my career, I’ve asked myself: where are the role models? Representation matters – you can't be what you can't see. Yes, there were examples in the sports and media arenas, but not in business. But I could hear my Grandad saying, if there are no role models my dear, be one.
What advice do you have for others?
Remember that your life and your experience can be pivotal tools for change.
In the spirit of the Baton Awards: your career path may not be a straight-forward sprint, perhaps it’s more akin to a long-distance relay. As such, it’s important to stay focused, to not be deterred or distracted by the obstacles, the conditions of the track, or what’s going on in the other lanes. Focus on you, focus on what’s within your control, and keep your eye on the prize.
I’d also say it’s crucial to be authentic to yourself, even though it’s not always easy. It does require some vulnerability, and some discernment about who we feel safe being honest and open with. Luckily at Kantar I feel invited to bring my full self to work. This not only improves your output, it inspires others. To quote a wise man: keeping yourself small is a discredit to those that need to hear from you.
How does your job help you make a difference in the world?
Marketing is my passion – connecting brands with people – so I am very pleased to have reached a senior position, and be connecting with diverse groups to deliver better results. I am fortunate that Kantar gives me the opportunity to work on both my passion and purpose. Kantar is all about understanding people; we ensure some of the world’s largest organisations make better decisions based on the true voice of the customer. It’s not just data in a spreadsheet. We have relationships with our panel members across the globe and ensure we are understanding people deeply. Our work relies on real human connections to find the insights others might miss.
My purpose is connecting with people and trying to understand them; I love to help and to inspire people to reach their potential. I am grateful for the mentors and sponsors that I’ve had in my life and I’m determined to pay it forward.
How important is it to have the right people around you?
I’m honoured to be working for an organisation that has Inclusion and Diversity as a core value and to be part of such an amazing team of trailblazers who are truly making a difference.
I work with a brilliant team of marketers who are both talented and innovative; there have been many achievements despite this difficult year and I’m super proud of each and every one of them.
I also work with some amazing team members on three separate I&D groups. These are inspiring individuals who are really making a positive impact at Kantar and a difference in society. They inspire me, every day, to do more and to be more.
I am grateful for the seven mentees that I work with – five of whom I was introduced to at Kantar. I’ve gained so much through working with them. In a conversation with one mentee, he said that he often looked at leaders and just didn’t find them inspiring unless they shared some of the challenges they’d faced. That really struck me.
With another mentee recently, I shared examples of some of the hurdles that I’ve overcome, in my life and my career. It certainly wasn't my intention to make her cry and, for a split second, I questioned if I’d done the right thing. But she thanked me for my openness and said that she needed to hear what I shared and to see herself in me. This will stay with me for the rest of my life – it was another sign that I am on the right path.
So what are the setbacks you’ve overcome?
Just before sitting my A Levels, and after being selected to compete in the London Youth Games, I was on holiday in Spain with my friend and her family. I fell through a glass balcony door and it was a pretty major incident – actually, I nearly died. I had to have a blood transfusion and 152 stitches; I severed all the tendons in my right hand.
Determined to go to University, I re-sat the academic year whilst going through rehabilitation to regain the use of my writing hand. It required intense physio and plastic surgery. But I made it in the end!
It’s also been challenging trying to reach and break through the glass ceiling – working in predominantly male environments (thankfully the tech industry has changed a lot in recent years!) and often being the only Black female.
When I told my mentee about some of these challenges, she said: “You didn’t change, but became the change. You reaffirmed that it’s not impossible to push through the barriers.”
What are your goals for the future?
To drive business growth, whilst positively changing the experience of others.
This is bigger than me: I’m on a mission to even the playing field and drive equality. And pass the baton! I love to see people win, and to witness the process of them winning.
It hasn’t been easy to get here and my work is far from over – in many aspects, I feel like it has just begun.
I’ll finish by sharing a question that I heard recently, one so powerful that I can’t stop thinking about it. Would you recognise your soul in the dark?