“You don’t want your brand to be something ‘that used to be cool!'” Aduke Onafowokan, founder, Inclusivitii

To gain a deeper understanding of the themes of gender, race/ethnicity, power, organisational leadership, diversity and inclusion, Aduke Onafowokan studied at Yale, INSEAD, and Oxford alongside a career in project management. Now she is an internationally recognised public speaker and consultant on organisational diversity, equity and inclusivity.

“Although I began my career in law, I soon became interested in project management. I took the relevant qualifications, joined the industry, and soon began driving tech transformation projects for organisations like the MOD and the Metropolitan Police. The world of tech is progressive, but not when it comes to gender. The development of solutions tends to be male dominated so, as a young black woman I did feel that I was facing some challenges.

My response was to set up the Sister Sister Network to help women come together from different communities and connect with each other and foster a sense of collective learning. This process helped me recognise the concept of intersectionality better and the complexities that exist even amongst women-only organisations such as age, race, ability, neurodiversity and so on.

I have been inspired by wonderful female role models in my life; my mum who is so resourceful, and showed me the power of a good network and big dreams, Fiona Lewis, my first line manager who ‘left the ladder down’ for other women including me, my two daughters who are so brave and kind, and Alaba Lawson, a Nigerian business magnate, entrepreneur and academic who has broken down many barriers and was my earliest example of ‘madam boss’.

Strong data shows that power is still very niche and like many others, I have experienced times when I felt I didn’t really have a voice or influence in certain spaces. Intrigued by how power is distributed, I decided to return to university to explore organisational power from an academic perspective.

The exposure I received from writing papers, articles and hosting round tables around inclusivity led to offers of freelance consultancy work and a new career path emerged. I remember doing a Motivational Map exercise with Uspire Group and discovering that my biggest motivator in life is freedom! so in 2019, when I realised I had enough work to go it alone, I set up my own consultancy – and I haven’t looked back since.

Business leaders are recognising that the world is more diverse so just by virtue of existing your customer base is more diverse. As a consequence, economic power is moving across different communities. That’s organic. In the UK we are tracking towards a greater awareness of inclusion; we’re on our way.

At Inclusivitii we recognise that there is a lot of passion and willingness to ‘do the right thing’ but that organisations trying to instigate culture change need a methodology. Right now, public sector organisations like the NHS and local authorities and charities seem more willing to explore DEI but we are also talking to corporates about inclusive leadership.

If you’re a business leader my advice would be to have a clear strategy because this will enable a good use of resources and the opportunity to measure progress. Secondly, make sure you have educated yourself on the business value of inclusivity. You don’t want your brand to be something ‘that used to be cool’! Lastly, be prepared to be resilient, because culture change is one of the most difficult things to do. It can be mucky and messy and although quick wins are tempting, you’ll need to be in it for the long haul.

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