“I think we need to get to this place where people feel confident that actually inclusion means that there’s not just one table. Diversity means that there’s not just one place for us to add value. There could be multiple ways in which we add value. And so, therefore, you join the table where you feel you are included. ” — Sola Osinoiki
In this episode of Stories from the Field, we sit down with business executive, author, and seasoned advisor Sola Osinoiki. Oana and Jason embrace the conversation, diving into topics around data and how we can utilize this to drive meaningful changes in the workplace, what having a seat at the table looks like, and how we as professionals can navigate the evolving landscape of business successfully. Throughout the episode we get an insight on how we can stay ahead of trends and how we can embrace others by simply letting them ‘be.’ Make sure you tune in to learn more!
Learning Highlights from this Episode:
- How organizations move from a place of data collection as a vanity metrics, to data collection as a lever for transformation
- Advice on tools and skills needed to operate as the best in class CIO team
- His insights for the future of work
- His one parting request for inclusion champions and practitioners today
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About Sola Osinoiki
Sola Osinoiki is a business executive with over 25 years of working experience in the Tech industry. Sola has spent numerous years working on global HR systems implementation and consulting with major international organizations and fast-growing Small and Medium Size businesses. At the heart of what Sola does is helping businesses understand HR IT solutions, including bespoke developments and off-the-shelf technologies. He has gained extensive experience in the HR Technology and Data arena as a client, implementer of services, and a seasoned advisor. Outside of his profession Sola has a passion and big heart for empowering nations and people. This passion led him to create the Josh Leadership Academy and a recently published book titled Managing up for Career Progression. Sola also spends a significant amount of time traveling across the world to empower churches and their leaders.
Resources & Links
Sola’s Website: https://www.solaosinoiki.com/
Oana Amaria: Hello, Sola, welcome to our episode today. Before we jump right into our questions, I’d love for you to just introduce yourself to our audience and share a little bit about your background. Obviously, we have a lot of interesting topics to cover in the context of data and what that looks like in organizations, but please kick us off with your intro.
Sola Osinoiki: Hello, nice to be here. Thanks, Oana, for having me. Really excited to be here and really excited to share with you, and talk, and just discuss. My background is I started off in civil engineering, so I started civil engineering at university. Followed love to London, even though I was originally born in London, followed love to London because my fiance moved to London, got to the UK and there were no jobs in engineering. So, I became a programmer. And so, my journey in life started with being a programmer, programming technology, and then moved into consultants. I worked for Accenture, worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers, and more recently I’ve been in the startup space.
Sola Osinoiki: So, I worked for Deliveroo, which is a food delivery company. Helped them scale across 13 countries. And then I got headhunted to work for Prosus and Naspers. And there I stayed in the human resource technology space. And currently, I work for myself as an independent consultant, helping organizations understand their HR technology landscape and making them get the best out of investment in technology. So, that’s what I do. And on the side of that, maybe just to add one more thing. I love mentoring and coaching people, so I also run Josh Leadership Academy where I do mentoring and coaching.
Oana Amaria: Oh, my gosh, that’s an [inaudible 00:01:44].
Sola Osinoiki: That’s my intro.
Oana Amaria: Well, thank you for that. I just realized as you said that, that we have a common friend at Deliveroo. I don’t know if she was there when you were there, but do you know Busi?
Sola Osinoiki: Yes, I know Busi.
Oana Amaria: Yeah, Busi is a friend, a true friend of Firefly, just a friend in this space in general. So, that’s awesome. Very cool. Well, I wanted to kick us off with what prompted us to invite you, which is originally maybe a month and a half ago, it’s really the people and culture report season, as you know. So, that’s when everyone, whether it’s emerging organizations or high impact companies, they share their vision and their DI numbers and accomplishments, and look at where we are and look at what we’re doing. And in your experience as a CIO and everything that you’ve done with your HR digital evangelism and even the stuff that we collaborated on at Prosus, what I think is the unspoken or the elephant in the room, is the fact that oftentimes those numbers aren’t reflective of reality, especially when you think about all the layoffs that have been happening.
Oana Amaria: And how hard it is to get regardless of what country you’re in, the data on diversity dimensions is hard. So, I’d love for you to really talk a little bit more about how organizations can move from this place of data collection as vanity metrics to a place where we are using it as a lover for transformation. Because right now, we’re playing the game, and how do we get away from playing the game to actually affect change? Because if not, it will never change. And this is even more critical now with everything going on in the US, with affirmative action and all the conversations around how that will impact the corporate environment. So, I know that’s very high context. So, it’s a huge lead in ramp up for this question, but I’d love to hear your perspective.
Sola Osinoiki: I think I’m going to start with a place maybe you wouldn’t expect me to start, and just say data gathering is actually good. The data collection piece is actually a good thing. It’s a good thing that we are now talking about the data, we are exposing the data and it’s creating some level of affirmative action. Some level. But the reality is that behind all that data is real people. So, it’s real people of color or people of diverse backgrounds, or inclusion that are hidden in the midst of all that data. And the reality is really when you look at boardrooms, you can see the challenge. So, the challenge doesn’t just start from anybody could have a lot of people at the bottom, very few companies have a lot of diversity at the top.
Sola Osinoiki: And in my personal story, many, many times I give examples of walking into a meeting where I’m asked, “Are you the IT guy to fix the computer?” Well, actually, it was my meeting and I was hosting some C suite people, but their immediate assumption is you are the IT guy to fix the computer. And then I looked at everybody and said, “Well, I’m not the IT guy to fix the computer, but I’m here for a meeting, so we should get the IT guy to fix the computer.” And I think that’s just the whole concept around unconscious bias and even conscious bias, where people assume your position because of the color of your skin, because that is the way organizations have painted the image. And it’s almost like depending on the color of your skin and me being a Black person, everybody thinks that you’re at the bottom of the ladder and nobody thinks that you’ve gone beyond that.
Sola Osinoiki: So, I think the real challenge is where we take the data and do affirmative action in real time. I’m not talking about just having females or people of diversity in your funnel. I’m talking about where you intentionally build bridges across it. And I think the challenge is that there’s a lot of work to be done. And depending on where you are, that job is bigger or harder respectively. And I’m going to talk purely from a human point of view as a Black man. The challenge is actually nobody expects positive action from you, because depending on which country you’re in, and I think that’s where the challenge is. So, I think companies need to really, really be honored for themselves and say to themselves, are we ready for the change that is happening around us?
Sola Osinoiki: If you look at your customer metrics, you have a diverse customer group. You don’t have one group of people buying your product. If you look at your services, it’s a diverse group of people. And so, how do you reflect that diversity? There’s enough studies done that diversity increases sales, diversity increases business, diversity increases strategy. The challenge is, how do people actually do something real to make that happen? And I think without going around in circles, because I think I’m listening to my tongue. Am I going around in circles? No. Without going around in circles, I think the most important thing is to actually start to do it. Literally start to bring people in of diverse backgrounds.
Jason Rebello: So, pulling on that thread a little bit further, what are the common misconceptions that you might’ve encountered that you’d like to debunk, that literally prevent companies from taking that step or taking that view? Because again, based on everything you said, it’s so clear, the consumers are diverse, the world is shrinking from a globalization standpoint. The ability or need to be able to properly serve the core of humanity around the world is there and there’s so much value to be gained from doing that, and yet they’re not doing it or yet it’s not a priority. So, if you had to come up with some misconceptions that you’ve encountered doing your work that you’d like to clear the air and say this is what it is, what would you like to share?
Sola Osinoiki: I think when you were saying that, the first thing that comes to my mind is the misconception that I can only trust people who look like me. And so, therefore, even when I walk into a room and I see a bunch of people, my trust level goes up for people who look like me. But actually, in the workplace, it shouldn’t be that. It should really about skills, it should be about delivery, it should be about ability. If somebody was behind the screen delivering something to you, you wouldn’t really need to ask whether it was male, female, able, disabled, blind, as long as they delivered the goods that you needed. I would say what’s happened is we’ve allowed what a person looked like to trump delivery.
Sola Osinoiki: And actually, the reason why I believe that I’ve been able to break some of those barriers on my journey is because I focused on delivery, being the delivery boy. And I have to be careful with that, because also sometimes people then get put into a box like, this person doesn’t want to do strategy, this person doesn’t want to go to the board, he just wants to be a delivery guy. But I think there is an element where we need to get rid of this concept that I can’t trust somebody who doesn’t look like me. And that’s broader than just color. That could even be gender, it could even be the way I dress. And you might say, oh, this person dresses this way, then maybe he’s an unserious person. And then I think we need to stop this generalization or judging and weighing people up just based on the way they look.
Sola Osinoiki: We need to look at, what is he saying? What is he delivering and is he adding value? And I think we have to realize that human beings are created to be… Actually the value I bring to the table is in my being with you. It’s in my engaging with you. Somebody said something the other day and I found it very interesting. It was a woman of color in America and she was writing this book and she basically said this. She said, “We need to stop trying to come to the table, being asked to come to the table, but we should actually start building our own tables.” Stop trying to say, I need to get into that circle. Now, some people will say, well, you have to get into that circle because that’s where the money is.
Sola Osinoiki: No, actually, if you build it, they will come. And I think we need to get to this place where people feel confident that actually inclusion means that there’s not just one table. Diversity means that there’s not just one place for us to add value. There could be multiple ways in which we add value. And so, therefore, you join the table where you feel you are included. And I think what’s going to happen, and it’s in line with what you’re saying about the misconceptions, what’s going to happen is people are going to vote with their feet.
Sola Osinoiki: People are going to vote with their feet, because the world we live in now, particularly with three things that have happened, COVID, globalization, and Black Lives Matter means that people are deliberately, intentionally choosing which organizations they would like to work. And then with the added theme of the great resign, people are intentionally resigning from companies where they feel like your cultural values don’t really match mine. And you’re a great company to work for, but you’re not a great company to be in because we are human beings.
Oana Amaria: Oh, my God, I feel like we could have a whole episode on just what you just shared. What’s really interesting, so a couple things that I heard you say that I want to say back to you. So, one, this idea of our biases and how we’re wired, the primitive wiring of one of these is not like the others. So, risk, risk, risk. I’m so tired of the unconscious bias conversation, I’m sure as you are and anybody else in this field, because everybody knows it. Nobody wants the unconscious bias training and blah, blah, blah, but we still do it. And oftentimes, as you know, when we were doing prototyping inclusion, I would say there’s no training for jerks. That’s a different category. Because in general, I don’t believe people wake up in the morning and want to exclude you. It’s our social contract.
Oana Amaria: It’s the world tells us that people like me or people like you have different competence. It’s this myth around race. The second thing that I heard you say that I think is powerful, and we talk about this all the time about build your own damn table. And what we try to tell leaders, and we work with a lot of high impact companies. And at one point, Jason, I’m going to remind you of our conversation when we were in LA for that big in-person meeting. And we had this conversation at dinner before this big session, so it was a bunch of VP and above leaders, 70 people in a room. And we were having this conversation and I said to Jason, “Well, why don’t you just say that? Say that in this session.” And Jason, as a Black man is like, “Yeah, you, the white woman over here telling me to go say that.”
Oana Amaria: And I was like, “But if we don’t, then what are we doing with Firefly?” And what was so powerful is basically Jason said to a room full of leaders, nobody’s going to want to be here to prove it to you. Nobody cares. So, if you don’t get with the program and if you don’t pick people for the talent, pick people for their ability to contribute to the lifeline of whatever you’re building, they’re going to go do their own thing. And that’s actually very true of the community and the culture here in the states where Black people are like, I’m done trying to prove it to you. Asian people are like, I’m done trying to get you to understand me, and so on and so forth. And so, Jay, before we go into this next piece around career and just journey, I think this is a very powerful place for you to double click on, because it’s a conversation we have all the time and it’s something that you participate in actively.
Jason Rebello: It’s actually where I am right now. So, I’m sitting in a VC office that’s hosting, so it’s Tech Chicago Week here in Chicago. And this event that I’m here is for underestimated founders. And the idea being for people that are trying to literally build their own table, but still need access to capital that doesn’t exist for them to build a table as quickly or in the ways that they would want to. So, I think my double click on that is, and I would be curious to hear from your perspective, because I even was looking through your bio and I know Angel Investor is on there as well. So, someone that actively tries to support capital raise for companies. How do we build that bridge or how do we accelerate that dynamic of both, A, helping companies and founders build the very table and the companies that embody their values, but how can we accelerate that?
Jason Rebello: Because I think that’s the thing that’s really missing, is that more and more people are trying to do it, but then you hit this wall of, all right, we need to raise money, we need to be able to hire people. So, I’m curious from those multiple hats of internal culture, but also how do we build a new table and encourage people to do so, so that people can literally walk with their feet to go to these other companies are more aligned with their values.
Sola Osinoiki: And it’s an interesting one, because it feels hard, but it’s actually easier than we think. And when I say that, I don’t say that lightly. I say that more because I think with time what’s happening is that with time, things are emergent. Let me give you an example. Nobody would ever think that out of Africa, a billion dollar market cap company would just arise out of Africa. Because we are not trained to think like that. Unicorns don’t come out of Africa, until five years ago when they started coming out and they were coming out fast and rapid. That’s true. And actually, the reality is that the world is changing because of globalization. And I say this with all due respect, if you look at the western world, people of diversity have to climb a long ladder to get to where they need to get to.
Sola Osinoiki: But if you look at the continent of Africa or the continent of Asia, the ladder is quite low. In fact, the ladder is being lowered down to people. And actually, now, an example would be Flutterwave, that is now spreading out its services across the globe. So, you go from a place where you’re begging to be called into the conversation to where you are the conversation. I mean, if anybody has had a meeting recently, there is a tool called Calendly, which is created by a Nigerian who failed in business so many times, but eventually got a break. And again, that goes back to the point of, if you build it, people will gather around you.
Sola Osinoiki: And I think the narrative is changing, because all of a sudden people like me are beginning to realize that actually if I don’t get in the game, there is no game to be played. I just need to get in the game. I’m not going to have $100,000 to put down as an angel, but I might have 25. And if I could put my 25 in the right direction, help somebody emerge and grow and build, guess what’s going to happen? The change in the shift will begin to happen. And the circles I’m in, like Impact Investing, they’re looking at how they can help women, women of color. The reality is actually that the world is moving faster than the people that think they can control it can manage, because diversity has always been there.
Sola Osinoiki: But I think with the change in the world population, with the way the younger people are coming out of Africa and growing. And you know the stats, 2040, 2050, the stats are out there. And I think it’s going to become overwhelmingly obvious that you need to get into the boat or the boat’s going to keep moving. So, I think there’s that element. Now, don’t get me wrong, Jason, when you come out of Africa and you come into Europe, it is harder. It’s harder in Belgium, it’s harder in Berlin for people of diversity. And I mean that as broad as I could go, people of a different background do find it harder to access finance. But I think the people of like minds like you, like me, like what’s happening right now, it’s beginning to build the bridge. That’s what it takes. It takes people to be willing to build a bridge maybe with smaller amounts.
Sola Osinoiki: I don’t know whether you’ve seen recently, of course, Meta launched its own version of Twitter, but then there’s a group of Black founders who just launched Spill. And the whole idea is that it’s going to keep happening because the whole seismic thing has changed. The world has changed and continues to change. I don’t think it’s going to slow down. So, actually, sooner or later people are going to be missing the bus, because they didn’t get into the diversity conversation with reality. Back to the first question, how do we go from just doing a data collection to doing actual real integration of people of color, people of different backgrounds into our organizations? And I can say this as somebody who was a very senior executive in a white dominated organization, that it is really, really hard. It’s lonely at the top, is no dismissive truth. But you’ve got to keep pushing down and believing that somehow everything you’re doing is letting the ladder down to help the next generation.
Jason Rebello: I love that. So, I love those examples. I think that the quote that I pulled out from here is the world is moving faster than the people that think they can control it can manage. And your example in Spill is a great one, because I actually know one of the founders, Alphonzo Terrell, one of the founders of Spill is a friend of mine. But even in these conversations that I’m having here when people are talking about threads and these other, again, it’s like how do we get the… I reflect on my own level of intentionality in being able to help plant the seeds of these types of ideas, concepts, these types of companies, making sure they’re at the top of my mind, so I can socialize them in the proper way or bring them to the forefront of these conversations. Like Flutterwave is another great example to be able to reflect on. So, I think you’re right, and I think the onus is equally on people that are in this space or inhabit these identities to be the advocates as much as anybody else.
Oana Amaria: So, I don’t know if I ever told you or if this ever came up in our sessions with prototyping inclusion, but my very first job was in Ghana in West Africa. Did I tell you that story?
Sola Osinoiki: No, I didn’t know that story.
Oana Amaria: And what’s so funny to me is that to your point, people think of Africa as like there’s lions roaming around. And I had never experienced people with so much wealth ever in my life. The way money is talked about, it’s like you buy things cash, all these things that happen. I mean, there’s a huge wealth gap also, so you can’t minimize that. But it’s just so funny to me this western concept of what Africa is. So, I love that you shared that. And I think we all have a lot to gain from just really creating more access points for us to understand that, or to learn more about that beyond our little bubbles. So, I shared a little bit about my journey. It’s been a long journey to get to this world and to get to this field, and we’re being so challenged in this field right now with all the culture wars.
Oana Amaria: But looking back on your career and everything that you’ve experienced, I remember you telling a story about being a security guard and all the stuff that you went through. So, when you talk about lowering the ladder, I, for example, in Europe show up more as American and talk about being Romanian, because it benefits me more to be American than Romanian, because Romanians are seen in a specific way. Romanians are your babysitters, your elderly care, your cleaners. So, it’s very interesting how we show up in different ways.
Oana Amaria: So, tell me more about looking back at your career and everything that you’ve come and overcome, let’s say, what was a critical part of your success? Obviously, you’re a delivery guy, so execution is your stuff, achievement is your stuff. You learned that. That was your coping mechanism is like, I’m going to get away from this and you can’t disprove the thing that I did. But beyond that, what would you say was your secret sauce to get you here?
Sola Osinoiki: Secret sauce? So, maybe just throw in a little bit of history. So, I studied civil engineering in Nigeria. My fiance moved to the UK, so I followed her. I got to the UK and there was no jobs in engineering, so had to get a job because I didn’t want to take government money. And so, I got a security job. It’s the first job I find. And three months into it I’m thinking to myself, there’s a perception I have about security from where I come from in Nigeria, and I just don’t know how this really works here. So, that was the first time I encountered what I call a job mentor, somebody who helps you do your job well. And Amanda was that person. She was my supervisor. But she was like, dude, security involves walking around, clocking in. There’s a lot of things that it involved in this process of security. It’s not just guarding a building.
Sola Osinoiki: And so, she really taught me what it was to be a security guard. And then after nine months, through different situations, one of which you talked about where I was told to leave a fight because of the color of my skin. She looked at me and said, you’ve learned enough to be able to go out somewhere else and get double the salary that you’re on now, so go. And so, she’s the one that pushed me out. And I would say I use that example, because from that moment on all through my career, job mentors, career mentors have been the people that really helped me navigate. So, focus on delivery, focus on output, but then really get into having job mentors maybe for the first 10 years of my career. And then I started thinking about my career and then I started having career mentors, people who could see your future, see where you should go, and they really guided you.
Sola Osinoiki: So, I think mentorship was a real essential part of my story. And I actually have a slide where I actually named all my mentors at different stages of my career, because I think they’ve been really, really helpful. And the one thing that stands out is that in all those mentors, they were male and female, but they were all of one color. And so, that’s really put a passion in me to be there for other people, literally to just really help people find out and understand what they need to do to get to the next level, because I think that’s really the big challenge. It’s like what are you able to do? And I think that’s one thing I advise my coachees or mentees to say. When you get to an organization, particularly if you’re in an organization, ask yourself very quickly, how far can I go from day one?
Sola Osinoiki: From day one, ask yourself, how far can I go? If you can’t ask HR, what’s the pay scale? Am I at the top of my pay scale? Am I in the middle? Where am I? Know what you have around you and what’s the capacity for you to grow. I think that’s what I did all through my career is always look at an opportunity that’s in front of me and say, where can I go from here? Where’s my next point? And the moment you feel that that’s being blocked, I feel that’s the time for you to tap out. I talk about this whole lay low when you know it’s time to grow and when it’s time to tap out, tap out because it’s stopping your growth. So, lay low as you grow, but tap out quickly when you know your growth is being stopped. I think I did that all through my career. I changed my career several times to really make sure I was following what was required.
Oana Amaria: I love that. I feel like you’re giving all these one-liners pretty soon. Everybody should say lay low when you grow, it’ll be next to rest invest, right?
Sola Osinoiki: Yeah. But it’s true though, because I said to people, I said, here’s my two rules for growth. Number one, do you love the company you’re working for? If you don’t love the company you’re working for, if you don’t love the product that the company is delivering, get out because you need to love the company for you to grow in the organization. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, if you know want to grow in that company, then you need to find out the pathway to growth and follow it. And that’s why I loved consulting, because in consulting you knew what the next level was and you knew how long it’s supposed for you to get to the next level.
Sola Osinoiki: And as long as you follow the program, you keep moving forward. So, if you’re not moving forward, the program isn’t broken, because people are moving forward, you are just not moving forward. So, you need to take a look and talk to your mentors and people around you and say, do you see me going forward? And if they say no, then it’s time to tap out. So, there I go again with my one-liner.
Oana Amaria: I love it. You’re saying something very similar here again, is this piece around don’t stick around to convince them. And I like that mentality. It’s like, I’m here to do the thing that I signed up to do, and if you’re not getting it, then I don’t belong here. Which again is another cautionary tale for leaders, because this is why people… The great resignation. It’s like you’re there thinking nobody’s noticing what you’re doing, even maybe you’re not even noticing, you as the leader, you as the dominant culture, which I think is really powerful.
Jason Rebello: Flipping the coin from how you were mentored and the things that were poured into you, I’m giving you a magic wand to create the best team, the best CIO team that you want. What are the tools, skills, mindsets, even, that you’re looking for to operate, best in class in the world that currently exists and the world that you’ve already articulated is coming fast?
Sola Osinoiki: I think I’m going to start answering this question with a small story. So, one of the most enjoyable times of my career, one of, there are many, was when I was working in delivery room. Let me tell you why it was so amazing. It was because I had a team of 14 people. There were about 14, 12, depending on what time of the season it is. But nobody was over 28 years old, nobody. My head of tech was under 28, she was 25. My head of admin was 23. My head of global mobility was 27, and she was on her third job. And I can’t explain to you the energy, the bus, the can-do spirit, the I’ll dare, I’ll try, I’ll give it a go. I don’t have the experience, but I know if I put my heart to it, we’ll get this done. The can-do spirit of that team was transformational.
Sola Osinoiki: And I think when I tell people what we did, and I won’t bore you in this session to tell you what we did, but what we did in 18 months would take anybody else five to six years to deliver. And we delivered that in 18 months. And that was because everybody wanted to do something. Everybody wanted to be engaged, everybody wanted to take part. Everybody felt that this was their baby. And sometimes we worked late, sometimes we went home early. It wasn’t just about work hard, work hard, work hard. It was work hard, play hard. It was like, okay, you’ve got a vacation, you go, we’ll do it for you. Literally, the CPO, the chief people officer came in one day and said, we need to get this in now. I know that person’s on vacation, that person’s on vacation, so who’s willing to stay behind and let’s get this done?
Sola Osinoiki: And it was voluntary, but people, almost all the team volunteered. And I’m saying that to say there’s something about allowing people to be their authentic self that allows you to build a team of diverse, capable people, because they’re already capable. And I know that I’m in conversations and I tell people this story and they’re like, yeah, but were they really delivering value? I was like, why would you even make that assumption? You’ve used their age to gauge their level of delivery. I’m working with a startup in Nigeria. I’m an investor in that startup. The CEO is a serial CEO at the age of 24, serial. He’s done three startups at the age of 24. He’s the CEO. He sets the direction, he sets the boundary. I’m just there as a support, an advisor, a cheerer on, and I trust his judgment.
Sola Osinoiki: I’m not going to go in and say, what are you doing today? What’s the point? He’s a serial CEO. And I think to your question, there’s something about just allowing people to be their authentic self, not trying to make them look like me, behave like me. This is the way I did it 25 years ago, so you have to do it this way. I’ll come to a meeting in Deliveroo room and I’ll talk to the team like, guys, how are we going to deliver this? In my head, I have an idea, what do you think? And then boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, brainstorm, blah, blah, blah. Boom, we have an answer, we have a solution. CEO comes over to me and says, how you getting along with that? And I mentioned, Fran did that. It wasn’t me. You empower your people.
Sola Osinoiki: So, let me try and bring it all back and answer your question. So, one, I would like a place, team where everybody feels they can come and bring their authentic selves, everybody feels that they’re valued. The leader knows that he’s not the boss, he’s just leading the team to a greater future. And it’s so fluid that actually the leader is willing to let others lead where they have capability and expertise. In those times, there was some meetings, I’ll say, yes, I’m the boss, but you don’t need me in that meeting. I don’t have the expertise. You know what needs to be done, just keep me informed.
Sola Osinoiki: That builds trust, that builds confidence, that builds capability. You make mistakes along the way and you’re willing to fail forward, because mistakes is all part of success. I don’t know whether you can feel my energy here, there’s something about just allowing people to be their authentic self, come to the table, come and play. And even if we have to build another table, I’ll come and join your table as long as we get stuff done.
Oana Amaria: I was just writing to both Jackie and Jason that I feel like you’re describing the magic of Firefly. That’s very much how we operate. And that energy that you’re describing is literally how… I don’t feel like I had the words to really tell people what it’s like. But it’s very much that our band of misfits came together and built this thing that has been incredible. And I think a lot of people ask us, what is it? And I think what it is, is what you’ve described. Everybody is really, really wanting to be there and really appreciate it. And we all work at the capacity. And to your point, we take turns. You don’t always have to be the top banana. You can be behind the scenes and just be the champion. You have to be able to shift that role that you play.
Oana Amaria: There’s so much to, we talked about when we first met, it was COVID. So, we first met live and then everything got launched and then it was COVID. And then it was everything else happening. I feel like we’re constantly in this place of crisis management mode. And I feel like a lot of even the experience I think that you’ve exited out of has been about constantly managing crisis mode and having to do whatever it takes to get to the other end of that. And I think that’s very draining. I think it’s very real as an experience. And so, when you think about what you would tell leaders, so these future founders or current CEOs or whoever you’re connecting with, what do leaders need to change or do differently now to prepare for the future of work?
Oana Amaria: And I know that’s a very trendy topic, but truly prepare. So, we never saw COVID coming and then everything had to change. Now everybody can do everything virtually magically when there was so much pushback. If you could remember, everybody wanted to do everything in person. So, what’s a version of that? If you don’t do this, you won’t survive in the next three years. You gave us a hint of that with the previous examples, but what else would you share comes up?
Sola Osinoiki: So, what if I would share and is agility, and I know agile is a word that’s been banded around all the time right now. But really honestly, if you could be willing to be agile and willing to be flexible, you would trump in the future. Let me give you a real example. So, my wife runs a music school in Nigeria. She’s been running this remotely for seven years. So, to her, remote working has always happened for her. She’s been doing this for seven years. But what she hadn’t done was to be able to teach online, because she had to have people in Lagos teaching physically. And she went when she was there. So, she did admin remotely, and then the physical thing happened, then COVID happened, of course.
Sola Osinoiki: And somebody out of Australia just reached out to all music teachers that she knew and said, “Hey, guys, you don’t have to shut down your business. This doesn’t have to be the baddest year of your life. You could actually change everything because I’ve been doing this for 20 years.” And she freely just gave all her material, methodology away. And I would say, post COVID, my wife’s business is 200% up because she was willing to be agile to say, this is the model I’ve been using up until now. Situations and circumstances have changed, but I need to research., I need to understand how I can now leverage this model. So, she’s gone from being a company that worked for people in Nigeria to now a company that can follow her students all over the world, literally.
Sola Osinoiki: If her child is a child of a diplomat that leaves Nigeria and goes to work in Lebanon, she can still teach them because she could teach them online. And I think that’s a purest example of what leaders need to begin to do, is to be not fixated on a model, on a type. Has to be more to say, let me become a citizen of the world and become observant, increase your observation level. What is happening in the world? What is happening around us? What is the direction of travel? I mean, I’m blessed to have kids. So, I look at my kids and I’m thinking, what kin of jobs will you be doing in three years from now, five years from now?
Sola Osinoiki: And just their own ability to pick and choose and say, look, I’ve been a photographer for two years. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to do something else. But then go back to it. They don’t have this, I would be like, oh, I can’t go back to security, because I did that in my past. But they’ll be like, well, if that’s what I need to do right now, I’m going to be… So, I think CEOs, executives need to realize that the world is no more in a predetermined construct anymore. The world is more agile. People are willing to, I’m going to go have a baby and I’m just going to stop working. But actually, after I have my baby, I’m not even going to go back to work until 10 years time, then I’m going to start a business.
Sola Osinoiki: People, they’re not following any molds anymore. And so, if you know the world is not following any modes, the best way for you to prepare your business is to be open, agile and saying to yourself, we don’t know what’s going to come, but we are ready to pivot because we’re ready to follow whatever is required. Take for example, if you built a business on digital marketing and you only use Twitter and you’re like, I’m stubborn, dog headed, I’m only going to use Twitter, then guess what? As the years go by, you’re not on threads, you’re not on Spill. Let’s just stick with that example throughout.
Sola Osinoiki: And guess what? You’re limiting your market because you’re not willing to look at all the alternatives that are out there in the world. So, I think if I could summarize it, be agile, be flexible, be observant, observe what’s happening around you because the world is changing very quickly. And then finally, don’t stick to a dogma. Just be flexible and learn off the people around you and you will see big change.
Jason Rebello: No, I love it. I love the energy. And we’re going to cheat and ask you to get your consultant hat on. If you had to apply those dynamics, agility, flexible, be observant, don’t get stuck in the dogma, how would you apply that same guidance to the DEI field or industry in general, people that are trying to do this work, given all the things that are happening and how much the world is changing? What would your advice to them be?
Sola Osinoiki: I think I will start with the last one, which is be observant. Be observant of how their dynamics are changing around you, because it’s almost like we think we know what’s happening. I think Oana has mentioned already, cultural weather going on and there’s all sorts of stuff with gender. There’s just badness going around. And what you want to do is to be that calm peace in the midst of the madness. So, you’re not being jolted up and down by the madness. You’re saying, here’s what we stand for and you are just going to keep that consistently agilely following as people need us. Because sooner or later, guess what’s going to happen? There’s going to be more women, there’s going to be more women in the workplace, there’s going to be more people of diversity in the workplace. Whether we want it to happen or not, it’s actually going to happen.
Sola Osinoiki: But it doesn’t stop the story. The story doesn’t stop. There is going to have to be a continuous drive to make sure that diverse voices and inclusion are being heard, no matter what the stats say. Even if the stats say to you, “Hey, there’s now 50% of Black men who are employed,” that’s not enough. Are they being hurt? Are they being listened to? Are they a staff? Are they a number? Are they really engaged? Are they adding value? Are they in the room, not just as wallpaper, but actually really shaping and changing the direction of flow?
Sola Osinoiki: And I think if people can get to that place and realize that this battle is not over when the numbers say, “Hey, you fixed it,” because that’s a point in time. We need to build continuously for an ever-changing environment. That’s the reality. The world is going to keep changing. And the stats might be against us right now, but one day they’re going to swing into our favor. But we’re not about stats. We are about true inclusion, true diversity. And as much I love data and I’m a data person, the data doesn’t lie, but sometimes the data makes you feel too comfortable.
I think circling back to what you were talking about earlier, some of the magic juice from your time at Deliveroo, was not just that you had the certain number of people that inhabited a certain identity, but they were able to be their authentic selves that was able to unlock their true potential in their respective roles. So, yeah, I love that. I love that. We’re going to double click on that as we move forward.
And maybe one more thing, just more recently, I unintentionally, and I’ll be honest, I unintentionally built a diverse team at Naspers. I had women, I had people of different backgrounds, I had different cultural settings, I had all sorts. And then there was this team, and I like the word you used earlier of misfits that just came together with one intention, to deliver, no matter what it takes. Because one of them maybe comes from a particular culture that they need to go home and make food for their husband, because that’s the culture they come from. Somebody else comes from a culture, well, I’m not going to be here the weekend. And we were able to somehow take all those different characteristics and build a team that had one focused, delivery.
And don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to leave this podcast with delivery is king, even though delivery is king. But I think more than delivery, if the coercion, the culture you build, the bond that makes you fulfill, I can be my authentic self and do what I was made to do. Do you understand? When you come to work and you almost feel like no boundaries, no limits, I can be my authentic self and add value to this organization. Not because of a paycheck at the end of the month, but even though that’s important, but it’s more because I want to go home satisfied. That when I came to this office today, I left nothing behind because I love the team I work for, I love the organization I work for, and I’m passionate about helping this organization be the best version of itself.
Sola Osinoiki: And I think if we keep that narrative, something happens. The magic. You’re talking about the magic wand area, the magic of me being authentic, it’s unparalleled. And there’s so many stories I can tell of that. But let me pause for the next question, because I’m getting excited here. Actually, let me tell you one story. Let me tell you one story before I hand back. Here’s the story of a friend of mine. He teaches entrepreneurship in a university in South Africa. And he’s teaching people who, it’s called Wits University in South Africa. And he teaches this entrepreneurship, he brings people from industry, I’ve taught there myself.
Sola Osinoiki: But the key thing he does every year is that he takes his graduate students, they’re all from industry, he takes them to Ghana, back to how we started. Takes them to Ghana. And the first question they ask, they ask the question, they say, where is the white boss for this company? Where is the white boss? And they’re like, there is no white boss. The boss is Black. I was like, how is that even possible? They spend a week just in awe in amazement that people that look like them can actually be the boss, the end boss. There’s no parent company somewhere, that this guy is the MD, the CEO. And I think that whole perception of exposing us to the reality of here’s what’s possible is so dynamic. It’s so powerful and so enriching.
Sola Osinoiki: And I think that’s just, I mean I’m talking from my cultural background, but all over the world, we need to make people realize that there is no limit, there is no boundary because of who you look like. You have unlimited capability. And if we ever needed a reminder of that, and I don’t think we can do a podcast without saying it, look at the power that ChatGPT unleashes and empowers people to do. So, I’m excited about the future. I think the future is brighter than our past. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but I do think that if we really begin to allow the work you guys do to really embed into cultures, there’ll be transformation. Now, don’t get me wrong, there will be people that oppose this with their mind, with their heart, with their feet, but it doesn’t matter, because I am absolutely sure, guaranteed that they’re going to become the minority.
Oana Amaria: Yeah, I mean that’s just pure data, back to the view of this. Can I just share it before you jump in, Jason? I can’t leave my [inaudible 00:49:46] behind. That story, they would say, [foreign language 00:49:48]. So, when you think of, again, the magic of seeing yourself, I think that’s what your friend is doing in that entrepreneurship program is like, wow, I actually could do this. Because depending on whether you’re South Africa or Chicago, or pick a place, there’s this water that we swim in that from the very beginning you are being brainwashed or socialized or whatever that it must be you. When you talked about the program is working, but I’m not working, it is like, oh, I must be the problem. Me, the woman or me, the refugee, or you, the Black man, or Jackie, the Latina. It could be all these things, but it’s not. It’s the water. So, I think that’s such a powerful example. Thank you for sharing that story.
Jason Rebello: You touched on, again, where the data is going. And you’ve said it multiple times, that the the cat’s out of the bag, the world is changing, and whether or not people and leaders realize it or not, or understand that they need to get on this boat around inclusion, equity, diversity and really helping people unlock their potential. Some people are just going to fight tooth and nail to not do it. And then there’s others that try to do it, but fail to do it. And what do you believe are some of the pitfalls or the traps that leaders fall into that prevent them from being able to pursue a diverse slate approach in the way that you’ve been discussing?
Sola Osinoiki: I think the fear of failure definitely comes to mind. If I give Charlotte a chance and he messes up, then that messes me up. So, I think that’s just one example. I think sometimes it’s the fear of failure. That’s one. I think the other pitfall is to forget that what we say all the time is still true. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I haven’t become who I am today and I can now sit down for five minutes with an executive and give them advice that changes their program. It’s come through almost 30 years of being in industry. It’s come through experience, it’s come through time. And I think the pitfall that most executives might need to look out for is forgetting where you are on that timeline. Shala has come to me, but when Shala came to me, Shala had no idea about what he was doing, but he’s grown with us and now he’s of more value.
Sola Osinoiki: And so, understanding when you are opening up your net to diversity and inclusion, understanding what you are adding into the mix and where they are on their journey, to give you a perspective of whether you are supposed to be a coach, a cheerer on, a lifter, an encourager, a challenger. So, you knowing what your role is in the life of the individual that you’re working with is as important as the work itself. And I think that’s one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve looked around the world and I’ve been privileged to travel around the world a lot, is that people forget that they’re probably not at the end of the story. They’re probably midway, they’re probably at the beginning and they treat you the person that they’ve included. And I’m putting my hands up or the diverse addition as almost as if ready to hit the ground running, you’re already made.
Sola Osinoiki: And not realizing that part of your responsibility is not just bringing them to the table, it’s also maybe sometimes serving them. It’s maybe sometimes helping them find the chair. It’s maybe sometimes showing them how to use cutlery. But you have this one thing that’s sure if you allow them to bring their authentic self to work, they’re going to add so much value. So, I think that’s probably the pitfalls I see. And I’m sure there are many more. But I do believe this whole concept of let’s not just sugarcoat this, let’s really be authentic about it. And really, if my son came to work in my company as whatever, I’m going to start him off knowing that he doesn’t know anything.
Sola Osinoiki: He’s my son. I know he’s young, he doesn’t have the experience, and I’m not expecting him to deliver a 20 page PowerPoint on day one. But what I’m going to do is I’m going to put things around him to enable him to learn, to grow, to learn, to grow, to learn, to grow. And I know that one day he’s going to come to me and say, dad, why are you even using PowerPoint? Let’s go to Canva. Because he’s going to go beyond my limitations and explore into something new. And I think that’s the beauty of the journey. And I know we’re talking about pitfall, but I just have this passion about sharing the beauty, that if we avoid these pitfalls, if we take this on and realize that actually the world is changing.
Sola Osinoiki: Let me just use that example and I’ll hand back, it used to be PowerPoint and then people said, oh, move to Canva. But now you can go to 2B, to me or something, and you just need to say, build me a presentation, blah, blah, blah. And tomb, it’s done. Literally minutes, it’s done. Then you go in and adjust it. And that’s the proof that the world is not standing still, the world is moving on. But what’s behind that is a human being. And I can’t oversimplify that point that we’re not robots, we’re human beings and we want to be in community. So, I hope I answered your question without going off too much.
Jason Rebello: No, I love it. I’m a high context person, so I love the stories. And no, I think you’re connecting a lot of dots, not just answering the questions. But even, I can be honest, just from a standpoint of encouragement, given the challenges that many of us are facing in the space, trying to, again, communicate these things to leaders that some are diametrically opposed, some are just caving to whatever pressures that they feel from society. And ways to reinvigorate them, not from a begging standpoint, but just encouraging them that you’re on the right path. This is coming, this is how we have to start operating, and to encourage them to be a part of that change. So, thank you for that. So, I guess we can close out with this last question of we ask everyone on our podcast, if you have a parting request for the inclusion champions and practitioners today, what would you ask of us as we are out in the world, meeting with companies, meeting with leaders? What’s your parting request for us?
Sola Osinoiki: My parting request is allow stories to be told. Stories are powerful. It’s funny, because my parting request and the original starting point, which is, how do we move beyond data collection, I think are well aligned, and that is let’s allow people to tell their stories. Some of the stories will be hard, some of them will be easy. But when people hear stories of people’s journeys, I think it changes the drum beat. And I think, my encouragement to you guys will be keep telling your story, but keep allowing other people’s story to be heard. And this is what you’re doing here with this podcast, is we need to, I don’t want to say normalize. Normalize is the wrong word. I think we need to create a community that makes people telling their story, the story of their journey.
Sola Osinoiki: And now I’m going to be really diverse in that sense of, I didn’t realize I had dyslexia until I was 40 something. So, I’d gone through school, I’d gone through everything, and I was maybe a little bit behind everybody else. And actually, the person that diagnosed me said, how have you survived? And the only reason why I’ve survived is what she concluded is that I built my own defense mechanism. And she said, I’m not going to mess with that right now because it’s too old to break. And so, the reality is that my story and my diagnosis don’t match, because I have gone through life authentically. Maybe a struggle, maybe a challenge, but when you look at the diagnosis and you look at my real story, she was shocked that I’d been a writer. She’d been shocked that I was at that level of the organization, because the stats, like I said, even though they’re good, sometimes don’t tell the whole truth, but my story abundantly does. And that’s like a mic drop.
Oana Amaria: Your story just goes back to this idea of looking beyond the aggregate, looking beyond that general lump sum, a lot of the stories we tell with data. That’s so powerful. I can’t tell you how moved and encouraged, and your energy just travels. Zoom, I don’t know what Zoom did, but Zoom is good at traveling energy. So, thank you for this. And just thank you for contributing to this community. We are, it’s very intentional for us. Stories from the field is really about building community. And we feel very privileged and lucky to have access to you, Sola, and to the Manjorie’s and to the Busis and to everybody else.
Oana Amaria: And so, we’re very thoughtful about how do we bring that in, because I do think that there isn’t enough and we have to find a way to get through. We got to get through it. And so, little by little, we’re get there. But I think these are the moments that leave me so inspired. And as tough as it may be, obviously DEI in the US right now is at the heart of culture wars. But to your point, let’s not get blown in the wind and be the stability in the center of the chaos, because that’s what will help us continue on. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for spending this time with us.
Sola Osinoiki: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
Oana Amaria: And we look forward to really following you. I mean, now you have to keep us posted, so you’re going to have to let us know what’s going on. But it’s been an absolute privilege and joy to have this conversation with you.
Sola Osinoiki: Thank you.
Jason Rebello: Truly, gratitude and appreciation. So, our appreciation.
Sola Osinoiki: Thank you. Thank you for having me. All right.
Jason Rebello: All right.
Sola Osinoiki: I’m glad we made it happen.