DiversityQ and sister publication ESG Clarity have partnered with the reboot. campaign to spotlight the journeys of successful ethnic minority professionals who have risen to senior positions in the corporate world.
The series aims to support positive dialogue on race in the workplace and engage senior leadership across large organisations to help tackle conscious and unconscious biases, as well as create a truly inclusive workplace, by showcasing the ‘SuperBAMEs‘.
Oluchi Ikechi’s story
What do Stella McCartney, Martha Lane and Oluchi Ikechi have in common?
Well, for a start they’ve all been in ‘35 under 35’ lists of young women business talent. But for Ikechi, Head of business restructuring and innovation, capital markets UK at Accenture, this is just one milestone of many.
However, there are assumptions and behaviours that impede people, simply based on what they may look like.
Ikechi said: “It’s normal to see someone at the top who does not look like me. So when you do see someone like me up there, people may think ‘how did they get there? Did someone give them a leg up?’ Whereas, you’d like people to recognise that you’re there on merit.”
Such subliminal assumptions are reflected in the way corporates measure the success of deals, she continued: “In consultancy, we tend to focus on metrics like profitability, revenue, and strategic opportunity.
“It’s normal to not measure a deal’s success based on levels of diversity, inclusion, or belonging – but we could be doing a lot more here.”
For Ikechi, many of these normalised assumptions – these glass barriers – are based on subtle and inherent systemic racism. Sometimes they’re overt but more commonly they’re expressed through micro aggressions.
Her parents knew all about this. They arrived from Nigeria in grey and bleak 70s Britain and later settled with their young family in the monochrome surroundings of Wimbledon.
It wasn’t a diverse environment – and Ikechi recalls the tears she shed over the harsh reality of work experience, as a teenager, away from her homely bubble.
Reflecting on that experience brings real admiration for her parents. They knew the value of hard work – of Black people having to work harder to get the same results – so they made their five restless kiddigrant (the child of a first-generation immigrant) children sit in front of a white board and do extra school lessons in the evenings.
Research shows there is a considerable pay gap between minorities and their white peers. So how can we address these persistent issues? Ikechi has four answers and some advice:
“The first is workforce education. People need to really see the challenges and the struggles that exist in this community and understand the real experiences of others. Corporates need to encourage and facilitate more speaking and listening opportunities and also explore the option and opportunity of virtual reality training, which could be very useful.
“The second is advocacy. Some firms have given strong messages of support for ethnic minority communities, but this must ratchet up to show that bad behaviour and racism are not OK. Equally, speaking up for others and using your platform is a simple but extremely impactful way of supporting others.”
The third is investment. Her employer Accenture is a good example. Its ‘accelerator’ programme helps mid-level managers get to senior leadership positions – and they’ve also pledged to boost the number of MDs in the UK and globally.
Last is evaluation. Ensuring there are metrics to hold yourself to account is critical to seeing real change.
And her advice to the next generation? It’s one word: mindset.
“I don’t mind being the only young Black female in the room. It doesn’t faze me because I’ve trained myself not to mind. And I think the more people believe they can break through those glass barriers – the more they’ll do it. Actually believing you can change the world is the first step to changing it.”
The full video interview with Accenture tech imagineer Abidemi Ogunbowale-Thomas is below:
Summary by Chris Wilson, reboot member and communications lead, Coutts.