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‘Women of colour now need to ensure they are visible’


Bukola Adisa is the founder and CEO of Career Master Class, a platform dedicated to enabling the progression of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) professionals in the workplace. She is also the Convener of STRETCH Conference where she teaches practical career tips through webinars and live events to a varied BAME audience, which has resulted in tangible career progress for the participants. A Senior Governance, Risk and Controls expert, she has held leadership roles in global financial services organisations such as Barclays, HSBC, RBS, JP Morgan and Deloitte, in a variety of roles spanning Audit, Compliance, Financial Crime, Risk and Controls.

She was listed in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 PowerList, the 2017 Empower Financial Times List, and the Financial Times HERoes list of executives who have made a substantial difference to women’s careers. In this interview with MARIA DIAMOND, she spoke about the challenges of BAME, the need for women of colour to strive for the top.

You’re one of the leading ladies in the global corporate space, how does this trajectory feel?
My life has been one long series of faith-based decisions. I always knew I wanted to be successful and work in the corporate space, but the dots didn’t connect early on. They connected as I moved forward in the journey experiencing the highs and lows and everything in between.

What were some of the intentional choices you made earlier on in your career that you believe led you to where you are now?
I believe the biggest choice I made very early in my career was not to let the environment define me and to believe in myself. This mindset continues to serve me even 15 years on, and has seen me through some of my most challenging times.

At the Leading Ladies Africa (LLA) webinar recently, you talked extensively about how people could ‘future proof’ their careers. Do you think those strategies are the same for men and women or there should be different approaches?
Everyone, men and women, need to consistently strategise how to future proof their career, mainly because the combination of technology advancement and the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted the world of work. In doing this, professionals will now need to lean on their experience, expertise, knowledge and professional network; it is well known that women don’t always benefit from strong networks and connections in the way men do. However, there are many support organisations out there dedicated to the advancement of women’s careers such that women will not be disproportionately penalised by the shift that is happening.

Tell us about Career Master-class and its amazing baby, the STRETCH Conference, what was the idea behind both?
Career Master-class was born out of a pure need to give back. I was at the top tables on a very fast lane, and I looked around me and saw very few people who looked like me sitting at these tables. I have never been one to admire the problem, so I started Career Master-class as a way of letting the underserved community know that they can absolutely take a seat at the table and showing them the way to do that.

For the STRETCH conference, it started very much on the same ethos; many conferences I attended had few people of colour in attendance or as speakers or panelists. So, I thought if it didn’t exist, I would create it and here we are today.

The STRETCH Conference is a career development conference for BAMEs, what was the objective behind specifying this target audience?
BAME people are routinely overlooked, underemployed, and found at the very lowest tiers in organisational structures. But I also know that we are the most educated and qualified group, so this anomaly bothered me. I was determined to play my part in teaching these professionals how to navigate the corporate organisations, to inspire them not to give up and to motivate them to reach for more. This is why STRETCH conference is the amazing platform. The empathy, generosity and energy come through, and people leave refreshed and determined to push on and it works.

In a world of #BLM, #MeToo and other global movements, how would you say black women and women of color can specifically hold their own spaces in corporate environments?
I truly believe that we are watching history being written in our lifetime and it is a beautiful thing to behold. Women of colour now need to ensure they are visible- fortune favours the brave and visible woman. This is our time to come out of the shadows, to push forward and to pursue our goals as we have reached an inflection point in history where the tides are slowly turning in our favour.

There are more conversations now about the importance of mentors and sponsors in chosen careers, what’s your take on this?
Mentors and champions (sponsors) are invaluable. We need them to advise, encourage and advocate for us when we are not privy to discussions about us. Anybody serious about their career has to seek out mentors and sponsors.

Do you think that remote work (#remotework) and Working From Home (#WFH) are here to stay permanently? What would you say is the impact on the global workforce?
I do believe that remote working and WFH are now more of a permanent feature. The ongoing pandemic has proven that people can be as productive working remotely as in the office. The advent of tech tools has also made collaboration easier, so my hope is that employers are now able to measure their employee’s success by their outputs and not time spent in the office. However, some people genuinely work better in office environments and such people should have the option to continue to do so.

Amidst your busy schedules and workloads, what do you do for fun and how do you unwind?
I have two amazing boys and a lovely husband who I spend time with. I also love to cook and I have a group of friends who I hang out with when time permits. However, I really love to read but unfortunately it’s getting harder to do so these days.

What’s your advice for those starting out and navigating their futures in the workplace?
Be bold, have confidence in your abilities and stay committed to your dreams, aspirations and goals, as they are very valid.

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