Black History Month 2023: The Power Of Mentors – Dr. Ifedapo Francis Awolowo
- Name: Dr. Ifedapo Francis Awolowo
- Programme(s) studied at Sheffield Business School/Sheffield Hallam University: MSc Forensic Accounting, MPhil Business, PhD Forensic Accounting, Post Graduate Diploma, Higher Education Practice, Higher Degree Apprenticeship, Academic Practice, MA Education. Also studied BSc Accounting at Ahmadu Bello University.
- Country of Origin: Nigeria
- Job role: Senior Lecturer in Financial and Management Accounting, Sheffield Business School
Please could you give us a brief overview of your background and career so far, and what your role is now?
I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Financial and Management Accounting at Sheffield Business School, Sheffield Hallam University. In addition to my teaching role, I serve as the Principal Investigator and Institution Lead for the Accomplished Study Programme in Research Excellence (ASPIRE).
ASPIRE is an innovative initiative funded by OFS/UKRI, which is a collaborative effort involving Sheffield Hallam University, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Advance HE. The programme is designed to enhance access and participation of Black students at the doctoral level through personalised mentorship.
My career journey has encompassed both academia and industry. Before entering the higher education sector, I gained valuable experience in various industry roles, including finance, accounting, marketing, and retail. In parallel with my academic responsibilities, I also work as a consultant for start-up businesses and continue to manage private enterprises.
My educational background includes seven degrees, culminating in a PhD in Forensic Accounting. I hold professional certifications as a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and a Certified Practicing Accountant (CPA). I have achieved the Fellow of the Association of International Accountants (FAIA) status. I am recognised as a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) and a Certified Management and Business Educator (CMBE).
“In the words of David Oyedepo, “Nothing of value is free, stars are made by a life of sacrifice.” I was resolute in my willingness to pay the price for success, both in the business world and as a student.”Dr. Ifedapo Francis Awolowo
I am sought after as a speaker on topics such as occupational fraud and abuse and issues related to race and ethnicity. I actively participate in global conferences and maintain an ongoing research focus on areas including forensic accounting, audit quality, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and race and ethnicity.
How did your experience at business school help you with the next stages of your career?
My journey at Sheffield Business School has truly been remarkable. Aligned with the university’s vision of transforming lives, I can confidently say that my time here has profoundly transformed my career. I owe a debt of gratitude to the exceptional leaders who have supported me, such as Professor Rob Wilson, whose unwavering guidance has been instrumental in my professional growth. Equally important are my mentors, Professor Nigel Garrow, Dr. Murray Clark, and Dr. Dora Chan, who have all played pivotal roles in shaping my career and guiding it along its current trajectory.
My overwhelmingly positive experience at Sheffield Business School has empowered me to pay it forward and support my students. As the saying goes, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I aspire to reciprocate the invaluable investment I’ve had the privilege of receiving at Sheffield Business School by positively impacting the lives of my students.
My experience at Sheffield Business School is playing a pivotal role in shaping the next stage of my career. This influence manifests in multiple ways, including developing my knowledge and skills, particularly in understanding the university’s inner workings. Furthermore, the ample networking opportunities and the growth I’ve experienced through various leadership roles held at Sheffield Business School have been instrumental in shaping my career path.
In addition to these benefits, my confidence to take on new challenges has greatly increased during my time at Sheffield Business School. The university has also afforded me a platform to bolster my credibility, extending my reach and impact beyond the confines of the higher education sector.
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?
My journey as a Black individual in business has been immensely fulfilling. Several of my prosperous entrepreneurial endeavours have stemmed from my commitment to self-improvement through reading and a valuable dose of hands-on trial and error. It’s worth noting that I was fortunate to glean essential business skills from my mother during my upbringing. In fact, I learned about profit margins and markups from her before delving into cost accounting in a formal educational setting.
Although I’ve encountered a few business setbacks along the way, I’ve never allowed them to deter me. Each misstep has served as a valuable lesson, fortifying my resilience and expanding my knowledge. These experiences have empowered me to offer consultancy services to budding start-ups, drawing from the wealth of wisdom I’ve amassed over the years.
My experience as a Black student has been truly rewarding. I recognise that my journey as a Black student differs from that of the average Black student in a university environment dominated by a predominantly White student body and staff. I’ve had the privilege of receiving guidance from a select few individuals who recognised my potential and extended a helping hand, propelling me to where I stand today.
“I recognise that my journey as a Black student differs from that of the average Black student in a university environment dominated by a predominantly White student body and staff. I’ve had the privilege of receiving guidance from a select few individuals who recognised my potential and extended a helping hand, propelling me to where I stand today.”Dr. Ifedapo Francis Awolowo
The invaluable support I received at Sheffield Hallam University paved the way for me to earn six degrees from this beloved institution. However, a significant challenge I faced as a Black individual in business and academia was the scarcity of Black mentors. Mentorship is critical to success in these realms, but there is a notable dearth of successful Black figures in business and academia. Unfortunately, those who have achieved this success are often inundated with commitments and, regrettably, are unable to respond to mentorship requests from aspiring Black business people and students.
As a Black student, one of the primary challenges I encountered was financial constraints. My pursuit of a PhD was self-funded, as I narrowly missed out on a scholarship opportunity. Despite these hurdles, my unwavering determination propelled me forward. In the words of David Oyedepo, “Nothing of value is free, stars are made by a life of sacrifice.” I was resolute in my willingness to pay the price for success, both in the business world and as a student. This determination ultimately bore fruit, and I am now proud of the achievements I have earned.
What do you think needs to be done to create a more inclusive environment for Black people in business and education?
In my opinion, several crucial steps can be taken to foster a more inclusive environment for Black individuals in both the realms of business and education.
First and foremost, targeted interventions geared towards encouraging Black participation in these fields are essential. It’s imperative that these interventions are spearheaded by Black leaders and influencers. One issue I’ve observed is the tendency for well-intentioned interventions to be primarily led by White individuals, which often results in a lack of engagement from the very communities they aim to serve. This misalignment has been evident in both the business and academic sectors.
Secondly, successful Black figures in business and academia should allocate time to mentor and guide aspiring Black individuals. Personalised mentorship is a critical component for the success of Black individuals in these domains. A notable example of such a program is the “Accomplished Study Programme in Research Excellence (ASPIRE),” an initiative created by Black academics for Black students. This program, funded by OFS/UKRI, is a collaborative effort led by Sheffield Hallam University in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and Advance HE. I serve as the Principal Investigator for this project, which centres on enhancing the accessibility and participation of Black students at the doctoral level through personalised mentorship.
Furthermore, we must streamline access to financial resources to establish a more inclusive environment for Black individuals in business and education. While we’ve seen the emergence of ring-fenced scholarships for Black students recently, we also need to institute dedicated start-up funds to support aspiring Black entrepreneurs in their endeavours.
Lastly, dismantling racism and actively embracing an anti-racist agenda is paramount for creating a more inclusive environment for Black people in business and education. Shifting from a non-racist approach to an anti-racist one is necessary to address systemic inequalities.
This transformation can begin by fostering a conscious awareness of the various forms in which racism persists. It is imperative to promote anti-racism education and training at all societal levels. Equally vital is advocating for policy reforms that actively confront racism and bias. The foundation of a fairer society lies in emphasising the creation of equitable opportunities, not merely equal ones.
Furthermore, it is crucial to engage the business community in meaningful dialogues about racism and its far-reaching impact. These conversations should be characterised by open dialogue and a genuine willingness to listen to the experiences of Black individuals and their allies. Such dialogues have the power to enlighten and serve as catalysts for the essential changes needed in our society.
In essence, the goal is to create a society that actively opposes racism rather than simply avoiding it. It requires a collective effort, continuous self-reflection, and a commitment to dismantling systemic inequalities and creating a truly inclusive environment for all.
What do you think will be an indicator that we are achieving racial equality in business?
Attaining racial equality within the realm of business is an attainable goal. While we have not yet reached this destination, several key markers can signify progress in this endeavour.
First and foremost, ensuring equitable representation at all levels within an organisation is a pivotal indicator. A conspicuous absence of Black individuals is often observed at senior management levels, contrasting with their presence at entry-level positions. Addressing this disparity is imperative in the pursuit of racial equality.
“Greatness resides within you; all it takes to unlock it is unwavering determination and resilience. Remember that your potential for accomplishment knows no bounds as long as you can envision it.”Dr. Ifedapo Francis Awolowo
Moreover, the persistence of the ethnic pay gap across many organisations underscores the significance of Pay Equity as another crucial metric. Rectifying this gap is essential to achieving equality in the business sphere.
Additionally, diversity at the board level serves as a vital indicator of our progress toward racial equality in business. Many FTSE 250 companies continue to be predominantly led by White males. Encouraging diversity at this level is pivotal in advancing us closer to racial equality.
Furthermore, active involvement in community engagement initiatives to diminish racial disparities and champion social justice is another important metric. Participation in and support of such initiatives demonstrate a commitment to broader racial equality.
Lastly, cultivating a corporate culture that champions the value of diversity and provides anti-racist training to its workforce is a fundamental marker on the path to achieving racial equality in the business world.
Can you name an initiative or perhaps a person who is helping to create a more inclusive environment for Black business people?
I don’t have information about any tailored interventions designed specifically for Black business people. Nevertheless, there are noteworthy efforts, like the initiatives undertaken by “100 Black Men of London.” In the academy, there are various interventions targeted at Black students. One such initiative I’m actively involved in is the “Accomplished Study Programme in Research Excellence (ASPIRE),” which fosters access and participation for Black and Mixed-Black heritage scholars at the doctoral level. This initiative emphasises personalised mentorship and a compassionate pedagogical approach.
Moreover, other initiatives are worth mentioning, such as the “10,000 Black Interns” program and the “Stormzy Scholarship” designed to support Black students in the UK.
What advice would you have for other Black business people and students at the start of their careers?
Greatness resides within you; all it takes to unlock it is unwavering determination and resilience. Remember that your potential for accomplishment knows no bounds as long as you can envision it.
In the words of Albert Einstein, “Imagination is everything.” Maintain your perseverance, uphold your faith, and I eagerly anticipate the tales of your remarkable successes. As people, we must uphold discipline and adhere to the utmost standards of integrity. Once you possess something valuable to offer, rest assured that people will be eager to pay for it. I look forward to meeting you at the summit of success.
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