Adeola Onasanwo, Founder of Pink Dynasty: Companies should become more proactive and less reactive, it is imperative that they do their best to dismantle discriminatory systems

In order to show support for movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, businesses need to first show their solidarity internally – among their BAME employees, says Adeola Onasanwo, social entrepreneur. Studies have shown that sadly, BAME employees often get overlooked for promotions and lack upward mobility.

To that end, she founded Pink Dynasty, a Community Interest Company helping young undergraduate women from underprivileged backgrounds kickstart their careers. In this exclusive interview, Adeola talks about the challenges of setting up Pink Dynasty, the company’s successes, and how COVID-19 is affecting young people coming from difficult backgrounds. Find insights about leadership, the changes in recruitment post-pandemic, and equality, diversity and inclusion.

What motivated you to start Pink Dynasty?

Adeola Onasanwo: Pink Dynasty was based on the notion that career prospects are determined not only by a solid educational pedigree but by having valuable contacts and skills. Back in 2014, I established Pink Dynasty as a pilot scheme to support female undergraduates who come from low-income families and have an interest in Banking, Finance or Law, wanting to help them achieve their goals. I wanted to use the PD mentoring scheme to build connections by pairing gifted and talented women from less privileged families with top professionals. In collaboration with volunteers, the programme helps members by:

  • setting realistic career goals
  • improving their employability skills
  • accessing a network of successful male and female professionals within the city of London
  • securing 2 weeks work experience (including work benefits of £20 per day) at Standard Chartered Bank – my former employer and corporate partner
  • gaining a mentor for at least a year

What were some of the challenges of establishing the organisation and how did you overcome these?

Adeola Onasanwo: The key challenge I’ve faced is maintaining the organisation as a Community Interest Company (CIC) and not a Charity. As you can imagine, it is rather difficult to secure funding or grants, even though the work Pink Dynasty does is all voluntary and not for profit. Many HNWI’s and FTSE 100 companies are often reluctant to support us given that we don’t have a “charitable” status. In order to overcome this, I have personally invested my money into the organisation and asked non-members to pay a small fee to access our workshops/events/training materials. Although we are becoming more self-sufficient, our operational expenses continue to rise as we grow and expand our outreach. Accordingly, we have set-up a crowdfunding page via Justgiving. Without the generosity of our donors and passionate volunteers, we would not be able to deliver our award-winning mentoring programme.

As a side note, looking young is sometimes a challenge too. Many people often mistake me for a Pink Dynasty member until they hear me speak and learn that I have an MBA and over 10 years of corporate experience. Never judge a book by its cover!

What have you learnt from your role as the leader of an organisation?

Adeola Onasanwo: I have learnt that collaborative leadership gets the best results, especially when leading a team that is not paid to support you. It is important to empower my management team and trust that they are capable of delivering results with or without my input. I work with an awesome, committed and passionate team who give Pink Dynasty 100% and that’s a blessing I’ll never take for granted.

What have been some of the most notable successes of Pink Dynasty? Do you have any stories you could share?

Adeola Onasanwo: There are so many, however, the most notable successes are when alumni come back and apply to be a mentor without being asked.

I love that these talented women completed the programme, are flourishing in their respective careers, and yet still remember our ethos to Lift as You Climb. It demonstrates that they are truly invested in Pink Dynasty’s brand values, and want to pay it forward at every stage. Seeing this makes me so proud!

Mentorship is at the heart of Pink Dynasty’s social mobility programme. What are the characteristics of a good mentor?

Adeola Onasanwo: Pink Dynasty’s mentoring scheme is founded on empathy. All our mentors are great at what they do because they have an innate ability to listen, understand, and support their assigned mentee with their unique challenges; especially when these young women come from difficult backgrounds.

In addition to empathy, we require our mentors to be:

  • committed to supporting young women professionally and personally for 1 year
  • able to demonstrate leadership qualities through action and words
  • passionate about women’s empowerment, diversity and inclusion
  • a good listener
  • sensitive to the challenges young women from disadvantaged backgrounds experience
  • approachable and humble
  • excellent at networking
  • enthusiastic team players
  • willing to share contacts, knowledge and experiences with other PD members
  • able to facilitate (or support facilitators) with PD workshops and social events

What can corporations do to establish long-term impact partnerships with organisations such as Pink Dynasty?

Adeola Onasanwo: Corporations should take the time to develop a relationship with grassroots organisations like Pink Dynasty, to learn about our goals/mission, and, if our brand values resonate with them, they can proceed to enter into a partnership that is mutually beneficial. Pink Dynasty partners like Experian and Standard Chartered are great as they are:

  • committed to improving social mobility
  • advocates for gender parity, racial equality, and diversity and inclusion

What can corporations do to create more inclusive workplaces for BAME applicants?

Adeola Onasanwo: Corporations should become more proactive and less reactive. The resurgence of anti-racism and BLM protests has encouraged many corporations to reflect and do the work to challenge the status quo, thus introducing sustainable measures that create a more inclusive and diverse workforce. I hope the momentum continues, and that businesses supporting #BlackLivesMatter show their solidarity internally – among their BAME employees, who often get overlooked for promotions and lack upward mobility- and not with lip service alone.

It is imperative that corporations do their best to dismantle the discriminatory systems that oppress BAME applicants and employees.

How has COVID-19 affected recruitment? Has the pandemic accentuated the invisible barriers to jobs? What can be done to ensure that this doesn’t happen?

Adeola Onasanwo: Although we are working hard to ensure that we continue to support our most vulnerable members with their transition from higher education into employment, it is understandably difficult to do so effectively while operating under the current social distancing measures. In order to meet the needs of our members safely, we have transitioned our mentoring programme online; i.e. all meetings and workshops are delivered remotely. However, without access to reliable and affordable online tools, we are struggling to cope, so we need donations – no amount is too small. Similarly, due to the pandemic, we will be holding our Information Session and running the Rising Star Programme online for our 2021 cohort for the foreseeable future.

Lastly, we have taken this time to adapt and refine our programme offering so that is accessible to our members anytime and anywhere, introducing many online collaborative tools to enable us to support our members just as well as we would have done in-person. Pink Dynasty has embraced digital and we are going to do our very best to make it work!

What will the workplace post-COVID-19 look like? What will be some of the opportunities for young people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and what will be some of the challenges?

Adeola Onasanwo: The social distancing and self-isolation measures introduced by Western governments fail to recognise that the vast majority of people who come from low-income backgrounds do not have the luxury of living in homes with multiple bedrooms and 2+ bathrooms, backyards/gardens, access to the internet, or money to buy fresh healthy food that can potentially strengthen their immune system.

The sad truth is, millions of people live in overcrowded flats in council estates, with no private outdoor space, surrounded by cheap unhealthy takeaway restaurants. They can’t work remotely, therefore they must go out everyday, putting their health (and their family’s) at risk so we can enjoy the services and products required to survive this pandemic. Unfortunately, more people from poor communities will be exposed to Covid-19 because the social distancing and self-isolation measures that have been imposed are unfeasible.

How can young people start preparing for the post-pandemic workplace and its challenges?

Adeola Onasanwo: I would recommend that young people start developing skills in data analytics, project management and user experience because they can lead to high-growth and high-paying careers post-pandemic. Furthermore, this is a perfect time to start thinking outside the box; and consider non-traditional professions, learn a trade or set up a side business. Young people should diversify their income and remember to save – only purchasing things that they actually need, not want! Money management skills are essential, especially when 18-25-year-olds are at higher risk of receiving reduced earnings and unemployment.

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