#CareerConversations: “I am determined to play my part in teaching BAME professionals how to navigate corporate organisations, to inspire them not to give up” – Bukola Adisa, Founder Career Masterclass, and Convener STRETCH Conference.

Bukola Adisa is the founder/CEO of Career Masterclass, a platform dedicated to enabling the progression of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) professionals in the workplace. Through webinars, live events and the annual STRETCH conference. Bukola teaches practical career tips to a varied BAME audience which has resulted in tangible career progress for the participants.

She is also a Senior Governance, Risk and Controls expert who 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 & 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. Get ready to take notes as you scroll down to read through our interview with the amazing Bukola Adisa.

In your own words, how would you describe Bukola Adisa? Tell us something that we won’t find via Google or LinkedIn? 

That’s a tough one. I would like to think of myself as an empathetic, kind, generous and determined woman. I love to see others succeed and I think that is my life’s greatest honour- to play a part in someone’s success story.

You’re one of the Leading Ladies in the global corporate space — having worked for some of the biggest brands — was this trajectory always clear to you?

Definitely not. 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 always 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 more challenging times. 

At the LLA Webinar we had with you a few months ago, 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?

In the main, everyone needs to be thinking about how to futureproof their career mainly because the combination of technology advancements and the COVID crisis has significantly disrupted the world of work. In doing this, professionals will need to lean on their experience, expertise, knowledge and professional network and 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 so the future looks positive that women will not be disproportionately penalized by the shift that is happening.

So let’s talk about Career Masterclass and it’s amazing baby, the Stretch Conference — what was the idea behind both?

Career Masterclass was born out of a pure need to give back. I was at the top table on the 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 Masterclass as a way of letting the under served community know that they can absolutely take a seat at the table and showing them the way to do that. 

STRETCH conference 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 organizational structures and 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, to motivate them to reach for more and that is why STRETCH conference is the amazing platform it is. The empathy, generosity and energy come through and people leave refreshed and determined to push on and it works!

Right. In a world of #BLM #MeToo and other global movements, how would you say black women and women of color specifically can hold their own spaces in corporate environments?

This is our time. 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 favor.

Share with us a failure experience of yours and what you learned from it?

I have openly shared before about a time early in my career when I was preparing for a promotion panel. I did all the preps, spoke to mentors and colleagues only for me to find out that I wasn’t being considered. As much as that experience hurt, I learnt a valuable lesson in making your ask known, often and repeatedly. I had erroneously assumed I was being considered on the basis of one conversation 6 months earlier with no follow ups. Now I make my ask known clearly, in writing and I follow up periodically. 

There are even more conversations now about the importance of Mentors and Champions — especially at work — what are your thoughts?

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 #remotework and #WFH are here to stay permanently? And 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.

I know you’re in the thick of planning the Stretch conference, but I’m curious – what do you do for fun and how do you unwind?

Err fun what is that? Seriously I love to read which I find harder to do these days, but 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.

Last words 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

 

The Leading Ladies Africa Career Conversation series focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.

Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to lead@leadingladiesafrica.org and we just might feature her.

 

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