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What does it mean to be a person of color in the digital audio advertising industry?

By Justine Ortiz-Benjamin, Head of Global Marketing



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May 1, 2024 | 8 min read

AdsWizz's Justine Ortiz-Benjamin sits down with diverse voices in her team to discuss what it means to be a person of color in the digital audio advertising industry - as a listener, marketer, and leader.

I like goals. You can definitely say I’m a goal-oriented person. And one of my goals is to amplify the black voices of the leaders within my team. I want to hear them, gain their insights, and understand their unique perspectives and how they play a part in their lives as audio consumers, marketers, and team leaders.

I am so fortunate to lead a team of diverse, incredibly smart, and compassionate people. I sat down with Aimi Knowling, my lead for global sales marketing, and Eric Loughridge, my lead for global digital and brand marketing, and we had an open, fun, and at times poignant conversation about what it means to be a person of color in the digital audio advertising industry.

Q: What does it mean to you to be a black woman? To be a biracial man?

Aimi: “It means everything. It's what has lit my pathway through life. It's given me my confidence, my character, my dopeness [laughs]. The long, long, long ancestral history and roots of black women not only in my family but across the diaspora. So it's everything.”

Eric: “I want to say that I identify as Eric Loughridge, but in the same breath, I am a function of our society. I get treated like a Black man. I get treated like an Asian person as well too — I definitely identify as both. So I guess you could say that I'm kind of like a chameleon in the sense that I adapt to my environment. I am a function of my environment, for sure.”

​​Q: How does that impact your day-to-day life within the workplace?

Eric: “Being half Black and half Chinese, you better believe that I’ve been exposed to my fair share of overt and passive racism in the workplace. So I’ve overcompensated by being overly competent. Folks can say and feel what they will about my people. But when it comes to me, the first thing I want to come out of their mouths is, “He’s the sh*t. He’s a rare breed. I love working with him.” Hopefully, it also changes the tenor and tone or any misconceptions of my people in the process.”

Aimi: “Visually, I'm instantly reminded of it. Typically, when I step into a room, I'm usually one of one. But that's not been unusual in my career and in my life growing up in the Midwest. And you're reminded of it, but it's not something that brings me down. It's just the continued reality. So I get excited when I see my fellow black girls out there in the room with me. It's always nice, I welcome it. It's getting better, but visually you still see it.”

Q: In what ways have your cultural roots, traditions, values, and personal history shaped your management style and your experiences under supervision?

Aimi: “I’m one of four siblings and was taught early the value and importance of community, and to work in service of others. Growing up, we could never leave a sibling behind if that meant helping with chores or sharing the big piece of cake, we shared everything, and my older sister and I (I’m number two in the lineup) were expected to guide the younger siblings. I think that the expectation to guide, support, and encourage informs my leadership style and how I function best. Ensuring that my professional community - the team I manage and the team I engage with - is functioning at its highest and its best self is just me fulfilling the lessons my parents taught me.”

Eric: “Family is everything to me. My extended family is so big that we have to rent out whole restaurants just to seat us all. Truly, a dynasty. So managing egos and group dynamics is all second nature to me. But being half Black and half Chinese also means being an outsider in almost every social context. I know all too well about what it feels like to not ‘fit in.’ To be on the outside of a group. It’s also because of that trauma that inclusivity has become a large part of my management style. You can always bet that I'm going to try to get you involved when we're working together.”

Q: Diving a little deeper into the workplace, how do you think people of color fit into the digital audio industry - whether that’s the technology or the creators?

Eric: "I think times are changing in digital audio and technology. I've been working in tech for a good long time, and I have definitely noticed how I am more well-received. I think that’s partly because when we think about technology and innovation, a lot of that comes from a place where diverse voices and minds are needed. There has been an almost tacit acknowledgment in the tech community that you need people who look and see things differently because solutions and breakthroughs come from different perspectives and different angles.

“As for content, previously, Black creators would have to jump through hoops to create mainstream content. But because of the low barriers to entry for podcasting, we've seen this space grow into a cornucopia of different colors and voices. As a distribution platform, podcasting has really revolutionized Black storytelling and access to it. But beyond accessibility, it is amplifying the volume of Black stories.”

Aimi: “I think digital audio is a medium that has been incredibly beneficial to Black creators and artists. Obviously, the origins of music that are ingrained in us - rhythm and blues, rock and roll, gospel, hip hop, you name it. The soundtrack to most of our lives was built upon all of these. So I think when it comes to streaming audio and its accessibility, it's been really fun to see how this has created more opportunity for artists that you would never hear from because they're not getting in front of major labels - they're still kind of the unseen. So I've stumbled across and you all have your own stories of finding music and finding artists, and those are the stories that touch you and make you excited to be in this kind of space.”

Further conversation

We went on to discuss our experiences as people of color being exposed to advertising within digital audio. For me and Aimi, who by most standards can be considered “successful”, we still receive ads for paycheck advance solutions or affordable dental care–a clear indication of the needs and situations that plague our ethnic community.

We also discussed representation in leadership and while there are definitely more individuals to look to today, we still think we have a ways to go. But rather than just talk about the need for growth in this area, we have all made the decision to step in and fill the gap ourselves. 

As Aimi said, “It's just the responsibility of being here [as a black woman]. It’s to show up and infuse what I can offer and hope that that will reach someone like me. Because when you know yourself, and when you know your people, you should be able to talk to each other. And I find that especially in the audio industry and in the opportunities that we get to create and build in partnership with our geniuses behind the tools. Shame on me if I don't make sure that I know how to factor that in."

A few months back, when Aimi and I were tucked away in a hotel entrance, trying to keep dry from the rain, we started discussing how I felt that being a woman of color put me at an advantage in building a great team. Because of my background, the part of town that I grew up in, and honestly, being in the tech industry - I see color as vibrancy. Yes, I hire the most qualified person for the job, but my advantage can be boiled down to comfort, I think. I am comfortable with people from all backgrounds because of my exposure, and I think that allows them to be comfortable with me. Because of this comfort, we are able to jump ahead to places where we can dive into the work and their experience on a deeper level. And any person, BIPOC or not, that can interview with me and handle the idea that I, a young(er) woman of Mexican descent, could be their boss… that person is open, worldly, and an advocate - a great teammate in my eyes.

Previously, I would have described the aforementioned advantage as being color-blind. For many reasons, that is not what it should be described as. Since that rainy day, I have called that advantage “living in technicolor”. And I think that’s something, regardless of race, we can all do. Because color is vibrancy and we all deserve to live in a vibrant world.

Special thanks to Daniel Einhorn for being one of our favorite advocates and getting this conversation started.

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