Inclusion: Lekan Olawoye

Diversity comes in many different forms, types, ideas, and experiences

Lekan Olawoye
Lekan Olawoye

Lekan Olawoye is the CEO and founder of Talent X and he spoke at TD presents The Walrus Talks Inclusion in Whistler, B.C. on Oct. 2, 2019.

You can watch all The Walrus Talks speakers from this event here: The Walrus Talks Inclusion on YouTube

Good morning. My name is Lekan Olawoye. I’m the CEO and founder of TALENT X, and also Black Professionals in Tech Network. When we talk about safety, and we talk about wellbeing, it’s important to detangle. It’s important to ensure that we take away the disconnect, the blind spots that we as leaders may have, and make it super tangible. So at TALENT X we wanted to understand a few things. We wanted to understand what causes insecurity for talent in the workplace. We wanted to understand why people feel isolated in the workplace. We also want to understand what causes talent not to bring their whole self or their best self to the workplace.

We realize that psychological safety, the feeling of displacement, and also masking oneself, actually has something to do with this notion of DIBs, diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We call it DIBs because of a leader at LinkedIn coined that term. But it really speaks to these particular issues, so we did a report. MaRS Discovery District, the largest innovation hub in Canada, and TALENT X at that time, did a report called Tech for All. We found a few things. DIBs, we found out some real definitions from people. We understood diversity to be many different forms, types, ideas, experiences, contained within a particular group.

It is the makeup. Inclusion is an act that is actually from the company’s perspective, that creates an environment where individuals and groups feel welcome, supported, respected, heard, valued and fully able to participate. Belonging is a feeling. It’s the feeling created when someone feels that they can bring their best selves to work, and they feel fully valued. So a company that fosters belonging, increases safety, increases engagement, increases innovation, and increases a sense of wellbeing. As you can see, talking diversity is no longer enough.

We have to talk about inclusion, we have to talk about belonging, if we want to connect that directly to safety. We asked a few questions within that survey that we sent out. For the sake of this talk I’m going to speak specifically to inclusion and belonging. When we spoke about inclusion, we asked a few questions, and we asked them to rate it from a scale of one to five. Number one, “I am part of decision-making process at work.” Number two, “When tasks that no one is responsible for needs to get done, like taking notes or cleaning up, right, I see that it’s fairly divided.” Number three, “My company enables me to balance my personal and professional life.” Those are some of the questions.

On the questions around belonging. We asked other ones. We said, “I feel comfortable being my best and authentic self at work. I’m comfortable to voice my opinions even when they’re different from the group. I am encouraged to be innovative even when my boss may not agree. When things fail, when things don’t go as planned, right, I still feel like I belong, so I have room to make mistakes.”

The findings were interesting. What we found is that women have lower levels of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We found that when it comes to creating tasks or doing tasks like taking notes, women do more of it. Those things actually are negative to their ability to move up in their careers because they’re doing more work that actually does not help you move up in your career.

In the focus group, women spoke about a boys club, spoke about a glass ceiling. The other thing that we found out was around people of color. The sample size allowed us to really dig in and look at some critical things in there. We looked at the difference between white, black, Asian, and other racialized groups. On the surface level it looked like people of color, actually there was no statistical significance. But when we dug deeper, we found some really interesting things. We found that black employees reported low levels of diversity overall. In particular, their scores were significantly lower on statements relating to equal opportunity to thrive, being part of decision making, right, fair compensation, and feeling like they belong when negative things happen. Meaning there was no room for error within the black community in tech.

The focus group of black employees highlighted a few things. They felt like they were treated like market employees. You hire a few, you put them on your website, but then really when it’s time to talk about something, they don’t feel like they’re engaged. What does this mean? We founded something called the BPTN, Black Professionals in Tech Network. It is now the largest network of black professionals in tech in Canada, over 4,000 folks. That community, when events are happening … We’re doing an event October 25th in Toronto. It’s going to be a thousand black professionals in tech. They say, “I feel engaged. I never knew there was so many of me. For the first time I feel like I can take off my mask. I can bring my whole self. I can bring my full self.” What does that mean?

We found out that after they come to our events, their productivity shoots through the roof. We found out that they’re actually more likely to stay when they see their company supporting these events because the company and the thing that matters to them becomes one. Inclusion increases. So what we find is that, you know what, let’s talk about beyond what is the right thing to do. Right? What is the socially responsible thing to do? Let’s talk about it from a practical sense.

If companies create a space where someone can bring their full self and a whole self to work, a company wins. Your productivity increases. Data’s clear. You are more profitable. Data’s clear.

The time to hire goes down because more people of color, and more people from underrepresented communities want to be part of your organization. If you dare to actually look at inclusion, and diversity, and belonging in the same way we look at wellbeing, and we know that those things are intrinsically connected, we can start changing the historical ways that we work, and we live, and we play. Here in Canada we have a unique opportunity. We have the world here, so we can win globally. We can win in the workplace. We can win as it relates to the global market, and this is our opportunity. Our moment is now. I challenge you to stand up for inclusion, and stand up for belonging, because when we belong, when we feel like we belong, we thrive.

Thank you.

Lekan Olawoye