After years of working in different financial firms and institutions, Deji reckons that there are two things that you need to succeed in industries like law and finance:
Opportunities and knowledge.
But access to these two essentials often depends on the space you find yourself in.
Most kids that go to private school have connections in industries they could ask advice from, like family or friends of their family. They are offered greater resources and knowledge of their different options and how to achieve them. If someone has grown up on a council estate, they don’t always have access to those same options. Often, that is the difference between a student finding their way into an industry like finance or getting left behind and lost in that knowledge gap. If someone is giving you directions and a roadmap, it's far easier to find your destination.
Deji reckons that he succeeded because he naturally had a thirst for knowledge of finance, and the industry. Though his parents were professionals, they did not work in the world of finance. His dad worked in real estate and his mother worked as a consultant for charities. Without guidance from within his family, Deji found his way by seeking out and soaking up knowledge wherever he could find it from a young age. Even before he entered University, Deji was listening to economic podcasts, following finance social media pages and watching finance and business YouTube videos. When he got into university, he joined an investment society on campus, and met friends that helped to guide him. Through these connections, he was also able to find internships and Spring Weeks. “I didn’t do this because I felt that I had to, or because I was trying to get a certain job or anything. I just did it because I was really interested in it.” This thirst for knowledge allowed him to develop a commercial awareness, which helped him in interviews. He was also able to find opportunities through the people he spoke to, and the networks that he created by attending society events in university. “Joining subject and cultural themed societies can help those left behind, even if it is just about creating a space where connections can be made. Many large corporations for example use the ACS society platform to target recruitment marketing efforts towards BAME groups” He has used his knowledge and passion for the subject to try and help bridge that gap himself, by starting the Opinionated Analysis podcast at university, which aimed to bring economic news to students.
That being said, how did he find the diversity and inclusion at most of the big finance firms he has worked at? While he never personally felt excluded, he did admit that most of the UK firms that he worked in were not diverse (particularly in client-facing roles) - but he sees this as a problem within the finance industry in the UK as a whole. While one part is in the recruitment, the larger problem is with retention, partly due to the culture that has been built. When an investment or banking firm has been built around white culture, he notes that “it can often be hard for black gen Z just leaving University to assimilate to that culture if they haven’t had some sort of experience with it. It can be isolating - and when your job is two-thirds of your life, that feeling of not belonging can easily drive you out. Especially when that isolation can affect how well you can relate to your superiors.” Quality of work is not the only thing taken into account when it comes to promotion, it’s also how well you get along with others. Sticking out from the company culture can often mean you’re passed over in promotions in favour of those who do, despite how qualified you may be.
Although this is not something Deji has struggled with himself, it is something that he has noted. He also commented on the lack of diversity in the management of most financial firms and companies. “The management will be completely white, with all the diversity among the juniors.” Deji comments that this immediately prompts the question of why it hasn’t filtered through to the top. “It’s hard to aspire to something when there are no role models to look up to.” He thinks that one way to solve this can be more intentionality on the side of the company.
So, what would Deji’s advice be to younger black students keen to find their way into finance? Soak up all the information that they can get their hands on and find spaces that aid you in doing that. He suggests that “even if you don’t get into one of the best Universities, the ones that big firms tend to pull from, you can attend financial events at those universities if they are close to you.” Find societies and spaces where you can surround yourself with ambitious people that have the same interests. Constantly seek out new opportunities and embed yourself in financial knowledge in order to increase your commercial awareness. There are even BAME and Social Mobility focused career organisations that provide opportunities and help BAME and working-class students to get into these spaces. Organisations like SEO London, 10,000 black Interns, UpReach and Rare help to bridge the knowledge gap for low income and BAME students, as well as putting diverse students in front of large corporations when recruiting.
Seek out knowledge and create opportunities for yourself - that is Deji’s secret to success.