Black History Month 2023: The More You Learn The More You Grow – Ifeatu Adaora Soludo
- Name: Ifeatu Adaora Soludo
- Programme studied: MSc Management
- Country of Origin: Nigeria
- Current Job role: Founder and CEO of Aorah and Anambra Fashion Expo
Please could you give us a brief overview of your background and career so far, and what your role is now?
I am the Founder and CEO of Aorah and Anambra Fashion Expo, with a mission to drive the expansion of the African luxury industry, both at a local level and on the global stage. With a background as a luxury fashion and digital business entrepreneur and an MSc in Management degree from Imperial College Business School, I combine my love for fashion with a strong foundation in business and management.
My academic journey includes the completion of an MSc in Management degree from Imperial College Business School. I also obtained my undergraduate degree in Economics and Politics from the University of Reading. Building upon this educational foundation, I embarked on a career as a Digital Strategist, specializing in the planning and execution of impactful digital campaigns for small businesses and renowned global brands before making a pivot and launching my own business.
How did your experience at business school help you with the next stages of your career?
My experience at Imperial College Business School provided me with valuable knowledge, skills, and insights that have proven vital in advancing my career. Through my business school education, I gained a strong foundation in core business principles, particularly in finance, marketing, and management. I have applied this knowledge to various aspects of my career, enabling me to make informed decisions and contribute effectively to the organizations I’ve worked with.
Beyond the core modules I studied, I also had the opportunity to learn several programming languages during my time at business school with Code First Girls. This not only ignited my fascination with tech but also played a pivotal role in securing my initial post-business school role as a digital strategist.
In addition to the academic aspects, my time at business offered me opportunities for networking and collaborations with diverse groups of individuals. This experience expanded my professional connections and enriched my perspective on different industries. This network has been truly invaluable.
“Cultivating a robust support network composed of like-minded peers, knowledgeable mentors has been helpful.”Ifeatu Adaora Soludo
Can you tell us a bit about your experience as a black person in business, as well as a black student. What are the challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
I would say that my experience as a black person, especially a black woman in both business and as a student has been influenced by different experiences, however, certain challenges have been constant. One main issue I’ve encountered in my previous roles and workplaces is the persistent lack of diversity and representation. This absence often leads to feelings of isolation as I navigate biases and endeavour to find my place. Additionally, this lack of representation tends to also limit access to role models.
In response to these challenges, I’ve found that cultivating a robust support network composed of like-minded peers, knowledgeable mentors has been helpful. These individuals not only understand the unique experiences I face but also offer invaluable encouragement and guidance. Throughout my career, I’ve actively sought out student organizations, and mentors who have generously offered their insights and support. Building these connections has been instrumental in my growth as I’ve worked to overcome the obstacles and biases that can sometimes be prevalent in the business world and educational environments.
What do you think needs to be done to create a more inclusive environment for black people in business and education?
Creating a more inclusive environment for black people in business and education requires a comprehensive approach. It involves implementing diversity and inclusion training, promoting diverse representation at all levels, diversifying curricula, and reviewing admission and hiring practices to eliminate bias.
Support systems, mentorship programs, and community engagement are crucial, as is holding institutions accountable through transparent reporting. However, the initial step should involve identifying specific objectives and defining how they will be measured. Do you aim to increase the representation of Black individuals in your workforce or school? If so, have you set a target percentage? Do you seek greater representation in specific roles, such as entry-level positions or leadership roles, or in particular academic disciplines? Once these objectives are established, it becomes clearer what actions need to be taken.
Personally, if we’re talking about a lack of representation, addressing the issue of underrepresentation often begins at its source. One root cause may be that not enough Black individuals have access to the same opportunities, possibly due to disparities in education or the types of schools attended. Therefore, companies and educational institutions should explore ways to expand their talent pools by reaching out to a more diverse range of sources.
The other aspect is bias, which persists and affects Black individuals who possess the skills necessary for success but are either not adequately supported or are overlooked. Addressing this bias may require training for decision-makers and those involved in the selection process. Concurrently, mentoring programs, especially those led by individuals in positions that others aspire to attain, can be instrumental.
Many Black individuals benefit immensely from having role models who inspire them to believe in their own potential and achieving success is deeply influenced by the environments they grew up in. From my experience at school and in the working environment, the prevailing perception of success may be less relatable to Black individuals when compared to their counterparts. In this regard, representation matters greatly. Ultimately, decision-makers in both businesses and educational institutions need to commit to doing the real work that creates change for a more inclusive future.
What do you think will be an indicator that we are achieving racial equality in business?
“Ultimately, decision-makers in both businesses and educational institutions need to commit to doing the real work that creates change for a more inclusive future.”Ifeatu Adaora Soludo
The shift to achieving racial equality in business is indicated by diverse and representative leadership, equal pay and career advancement opportunities for black individuals. Based on the targets mentioned previously, it becomes easier to evaluate progress over time. Of course it’s not always a straightforward exercise and it goes beyond numbers but it’s a good starting point.
For businesses, a useful initiative could be to adopt industry level tools to help with maintaining high employee engagement to ensure all voices are heard. Additionally, ongoing education and training should be provided alongside transparency in reporting on diversity metrics such as pay gaps and representation.
From a career progression perspective, businesses could consider examining the career trajectory of Black employees compared to their counterparts who may have been hired at a similar level and at the same time. This could give insight into hidden barriers that could be hindering the career growth of black employees. If you can demonstrate black people are getting the amount of exposure and support required to soar in their roles then that’s a good thing and it should reflect in their progression over time.
These are just a few questions to think about but all in all there needs to be a committed effort. However, it is important to recognise that racial equality is a continuous journey, not a destination, and these indicators represent ongoing progress towards a more equitable and inclusive business environment.
Can you name an initiative or perhaps a person who is helping to create a more inclusive environment for black business people?
I recently discovered an organization known as Black Women Talk Tech. This organization is committed to supporting Black women founders and technologists in the tech industry. It serves as a platform for Black women entrepreneurs in the tech sector who aim to have their ideas heard, seen, and invested in. Organizations like these help to give black women a platform to grow themselves and build successful businesses.
What advice would you have for other black business people and students at the start of their careers?
My advice would be to invest in continuous learning and skill development. The more you learn, the more you grow. Also, to get a mentor, preferably outside your direct function and learn from their experiences.
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