“Lifelong learning is vital in today’s business world” Sadia Ahmed, Ventures CCE Lead, Deloitte
From academic researcher to Climate & Environment Lead for Deloitte Ventures, Dr Sadia Ahmed believes her curious mind and commitment to lifelong learning is the key to her success. Her advice to directors who want to encourage diversity and inclusion is that genuine good intention is at least as important as policy and procedure.
I enjoy problem solving which may be why I started my career as a scientist in academic research. I believed it would be the best way to have a positive impact on the world. I undertook ecological research at Imperial College London, and I loved it. However, recognising that helping businesses make good, evidence-based decisions could achieve impact in a different way through the commercial world, I joined Microsoft’s Computational Sciences Lab. Where I had many incredible opportunities including developing decision-support tools which revealed the trade-off between economic gain and environmental impact, engaging in outreach to encourage more women and girls into STEM subjects and working with fantastic partner organistations.
The Microsoft role was the perfect transition from an academic career to a commercial one and lead me to AB Sustain (AB Agri/Associated British Foods) where I got involved with technology & digital transformation, sustainability programmes and service development, as Head of Innovation. From there I moved to a climate-tech start up as CIO and am now at Deloitte Ventures where I focus on innovation.
Innovation is about making things better. For me this involves translating fundamental research, technology and new ideas into something a business can use, ideally to deliver a more positive impact on people and the planet. I have a curious mind and really enjoy learning which is probably why I undertook four degrees, including one in business administration. A lot of my ‘learning’ over the years has come from a simple joy of reading across varied topics and some of my biggest learning curves have certainly come from lived-experiences. Lifelong learning is vital in today’s business world; things are changing faster than at any other time in history and we need to be able to learn and adapt. We can’t just stop once we are ‘qualified’.
I’m the kind of person that likes to get involved in a variety of activities, to meet people and ‘join the dots’. I am involved in several advisory roles, partly because I want to give something back, and because I like to be part of a wider ecosystem. I decided to join the IoD after attending an event at 116 Pall Mall where Mark Carney was speaking when he was governor of the Bank of England. I really loved engaging with other business minded people and felt like this was a place where I could feel comfortable and which would present me with opportunities to engage and learn.
Although I wouldn’t single out any specific role models, my family has been a huge influence. I come from a mixed heritage family which exposed me to a variety of different world views from a young age. Education and work ethic is highly valued and there are some very strong characters – in particular, my two late grandmothers – who have probably influenced my growth mindset and determination.
I have experienced barriers through life, but this isn’t unique to me. As soon as someone sees you they are putting you into categories and forming an opinion, it’s human nature. It can take a while to break down these assumptions. The way barriers manifest seems to have changed over time; today the rhetoric is around unconscious bias and how we overcome it. I like to believe as a society we are increasingly recognising and celebrating people as individuals, and, the similarities, differences and intersectionality we all bring to the table.
I believe you can tell which companies and leaders take Equality, Diversity and Inclusion seriously. Companies that fail to do so will lose out on talent and all the benefits a diverse workforce brings. However, it’s not just about using the correct words, or implementing particular policies, it’s also about wanting to be better and acting on it. In the same way organisations approach sustainability, ED&I has to be for the right reason; because it is the ‘right’ thing to do. We can all inherently tell the difference between an organisation which is giving lip service to diversity and inclusion and the ones which mean it. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being on a journey and continually improving.