In episode 16, season two of Inside your Brand, host – and founder of Get-Optimal – Daniel Fellows was joined by executive recruiter and Diversity & Inclusion activist Chikere Igbokwe.
As people across the world followed "stay at home" orders and began baking banana bread, Chikere used lockdown to launch Allyship – a community for Allies to understand the discrimination faced by Black and minority people – and Inclucive, a DEI Consultancy to help organisations build inclusion into their foundations.
In the middle of a global pandemic it may sound a little crazy to start not one but two businesses – “Who does that?!” she laughed – but it transpired that 2020 “was when a lot of things changed” for Chikere.
She explained: “2020 was a defining year for me. I remember binge listening to the news and being really scared about everything. Covid was killing people while George Floyd had been murdered – his death ripped my heart from my body.
“I was just distraught about the injustices and, having two black teenage sons in London, I could see what they were going through. They had gone from being seen as cute to being viewed as a threat.”
Chikere continued: “People were reaching out to me to ask ‘what can I do? I want to do more. So I founded Allyship – a community for allies to come together because, for me, it wasn’t just about race. It was talking about all injustices in the world – be it because of your gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.
“Off the back of Allyship, I realised that a lot of businesses needed education. It’s all about education, awareness, and action. DE&I is such a hot topic that I’ve had organisations reaching out to me saying ‘can you do an anti-racism workshop?’ and INCLUCIVE just grew from there.”
Born in Southampton to a Nigerian father and a Trinidadian mother, Chikere revealed during the 20-minute episode that despite “growing up in an area where I was a minority, I don’t remember any discrimination.
“I had a loving and idyllic lifestyle whereby the colour of my skin wasn’t an issue at all. It was only as an adult, coming to London and falling into recruitment, that it became quite obvious.
“I recruited in London – one of the most diverse cities in the world – but very rarely did I see people who looked like me in positions of power and influence. I always wondered why that was? London has a ready-made pool of diverse talent, so I used to make sure representation was rife across all strands – race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc.
Host Dan was keen to know what DE&I insights Chikere has been dishing out to organisations and the challenges she has faced in doing so? Chikere revealed: “Covid and George Floyd have definitely put race centre stage but not many people are comfortable talking about race. However, in order for change to happen, we need to have these different conversations.
“I let businesses know that they are in a safe space to have an open and honest conversation but that it’s not going to be an easy conversation. I tell them not to feel afraid of making a mistake. We’re humans.
“Don’t let the fear of making a mistake prevent you from starting your [DE&I] journey. Be brave and bold enough to have these conversations.
As to the strategies to employ, the key is to “strip back and start at the beginning,” said Chikere. “We’re lucky Dan – we live in southeast London in a diverse area. Our kids will always mix with everyone. What about if you don’t live in a diverse area and don’t mix with lots of people. What then? Strip it back.
“I did a session recently and I started at the beginning with bias, privilege, and microaggressions and then went onto allyship. It was almost like a workshop course – understand the terminology and then we can move on from there.
“I gave a list of resources – books, podcasts, exercises, and workshops. [Achieving DE&I] takes time. You can’t just magic up 30 black CEOs. If an organisation is just full of one kind of person, it’s not going to change that overnight.”
The episode ended with Dan curious to know the reasons some companies give for delaying embarking on their DE&I journey. “People think it’s a fad and that DE&I will come to pass. I get that a lot,” shared Chikere. “But you know something? DE&I is here to stay.”
Catch episode 16 of season two of Inside your Brand over on Get-Optimal’s YouTube channel.