A Year On with Seun Odusanya
Discussing her journey into her first graduate role and balancing her passions
When we spoke to Seun at the beginning of 2021, she was completing her final year at Lancaster University. While studying, she discovered a love for advocating for diversity and inclusion, both in the classroom and in the curriculum.
Since then, she has graduated and moved on to her first graduate role and is navigating everything that comes along with it.
We chatted with her to see how things are going!
Jemma: Starting off, I was just wondering what your initial thoughts were when you looked at the report from last year and some of the stats?
Seun: Well number one, I thought everything was really well put together. But what's really alarming and what we shouldn't shy away from is these figures are still way over 50%. And I think the fact that people don't feel they can be their true, authentic selves in the workplace is quite sad. Because when you compare that to others who very much can bring their full self to work, it makes you think you could bring more to the table.
Also another thing, and this was really prevalent for me when I started working, was the statistic of 52% don't feel comfortable with their natural hair in job interviews. So typically a lot of Black women do braids because the protective style is easiest. So before moving to Aberdeen for my job, I remember getting my hair done and thinking a few days after whether I should have gotten a weave instead of braids. And I remember genuinely struggling with that and just thinking it shouldn't be like this. But at the same time, I wanted to be viewed as professional. And I guess it links to the previous blog I did. Because when writing my dissertation, I explored how Black women subscribe to idealised, Eurocentric, beauty standards in order to look professional. And two years later, that's still a dilemma and something I face today in the workplace.
Jemma: I can imagine for your grad role, it's the last thing that you should be focusing on is appearance.
So when you said you like disagreed with some stuff, what specifically stood out to you?
Seun: Well, the one thing that really stood out and that I thought was interesting, is the idea of 61% of Black Gen Z preferring to apply for roles targeted at Black candidates. I think it links to positive discrimination. And I never know what the answer is for this, because it's good if organizations can get jobs that enable Black people to have that upper hand.
It's a twofold thing. I think there are obviously definitely advantages in having it because it creates equal opportunity, a level playing field. But I think we shouldn't abuse it too much. And I would be wary of an organization that selected me purely because of my race. I would almost rather you just didn't take that into consideration. I want to be selected because I am genuinely the best candidate for the role. But I do think it’s subject to circumstances and I think it's one of those things where there's no right or wrong answer.
Jemma: It is a difficult one. I’d like to talk about what we’re doing this year. One of the things that we wanted to build on from last year was to adopt a more intersectional lens of the Black experience. So looking also at sexuality, gender, ethnicity, etc. and how that affects Black Gen Z’s experience. What are your thoughts on that?
Seun: Intersectionality in the workplace is something I completely recognise. I mean just take gender - International Women's Day was recent and I think there's a prevalent focus on getting women to those senior positions in companies and looking at how they can empower women. But then there's always the flip side to it, what if we add the dynamic of race? How does that change it? And I think it’s something I don't think organizations are treating in the same respect. I don't think it’s highly regarded in the same way as when we focus on gender alone.
And even in the office right now, I look around and yes, there are women who are getting more senior roles. But I don't see women that look like me. Of course, I also have to put the caveat here to say that the lack of women in the organization is reflective of the industry, which is oil and gas. Typically that is ‘male’s world.’ So I do recognize that, but I still do struggle with the fact that there are no women that look like me at the top.
Jemma: Of course. Having someone that looks like you in leadership is having someone that can have a better chance of understanding the nuances of your experience and therefore do things in your best interest. I think it's also just having different voices is so important with leadership we need those different perspectives.
Seun: Of course. And sometimes with Black women in particular, I think we're kind of missed with diversity initiatives. Because there will be a focus on women. And then they'll look at men and be like, okay, we need more diverse men. But then I do feel Black women kind of fall through the cracks. And I don't think the same amount of attention or buzz is capitalized on them.
Jemma: Now I know in university, you were the BAME representative for the Politics Department. So obviously, diversity was something that you advocated for. Now that you're in a junior role, has there been a way or a route for you to transfer that passion into the workplace?
Seun: I was actually thinking about this the other day, not specifically that, but more broadly about how can I translate my passion and my interest into the workplace. This is something I struggle with because progress is measured by your day-to-day job. And senior people have said to me, at the end of the day doing all these extracurriculars isn't going to help you get your next role. And I guess as a result of that, I've kind of had to pause with my passion a little bit.
So there is still a committee in my company that supports Diversity and Inclusion. It used to be called BAME, but they've now changed the name to Mosaic. However, it's still encompassing Black and Asian individuals together. And I think the issue with that is our struggles are entirely different.
I do think it is important to note that I am based in the Aberdeen office. And by default, it's less diverse than somewhere like London. But I did have the opportunity to go to London for a work trip. And even just being there, they have network groups that cater for specific ethnic groups, for example, Black and Afro-Caribbean. So I don't think my experience is fully reflective of the organization in the UK.
But even in the Aberdeen office, they do put a lot of effort into celebrating cultural observances. For example, they celebrate Chinese New Year, but for Black History Month, it did just feel like they were ticking boxes.
And I think there's also this interesting dynamic that I also face. For instance, we had Nigerian Independence Day and the company did a nice event and all the senior leaders came.
My only slight issue with it is the fact that Shell doesn't have the best track record when you look at a lot of the things that they've done in a lot of African countries. And I'm really passionate about developing countries and I hope to one day work in an NGO. So I sometimes have that conflict in my head, and maybe we need to have those uncomfortable conversations and really understand, that was the past, but what are we doing now? And most importantly, showcase that openly and transparently with the employees themselves as well.
Jemma: Yeah, it's a really interesting discussion about that line between positive action and just performative action. And I think sometimes it comes to intention, but at the same time, impact is just as important.
Seun: But then even with intention, it’s too hard to tell what is performative and what is genuine, and I think that’s tricky. But I do think looking at the time of Black Lives Matter as a benchmark is a good way to measure an organisation’s progress? I think it’s always a good way to understand to what extent have organizations changed?
I’d also say, using Black History Month as an example, I think that more needs to be done. I think an educational piece is really important in creating awareness even from the top. I think it's no good if it's just the network groups that are leading on it because essentially, they consist of people like me. It requires it to be kind of filtered into the whole organization straight from the top with the senior leaders to the bottom, and then really getting it from a genuine understanding and recognition.
Jemma: And just to end off, what's been the biggest change for you in the past year? How does it feel being in the world of work? Do you miss studying?
Seun: At some point, I will go back to university to do my Master's.
I think it's hard. No one fully prepares you for navigating adult life and the corporate world. And I don't want to lose sight of my actual passion and unfortunately, I think that has occurred.
So I think after the graduate program, I'm hoping to move into an area of business that aligns more with my interests, and then maybe a few years after that do a Master's. But I think for me, my ultimate goal has not changed, which is that I want to work in an organization that is actively helping African women, particularly in developing communities as well.
For me, I want to work in a job that is making a positive difference in the world. And that's always been my driving factor. And I hope that whatever I go into next will do that.
To keep up with Seun and what she is doing, follow her on her socials!