Fisayo Adeleke, a Laidlaw Scholar at Saïd Business School, on her mission to increase women's access to opportunities, and dealing with uncertainty.
I am Fisayo Adeleke from Lagos, Nigeria. I currently work as a Tax and Transfer Pricing Consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers. I am an avid advocate for women's development and have worked in various capacities to help increase women's access to opportunities over the past 5 years. I engage in varied interests ranging from solo travelling, attending the famous Nigerian parties (owambe), watching stage plays, and swimming (which I just picked up under the influence of the recently concluded Olympics.) Every other weekend, you'll find me checking out a new restaurant in my city.
In 2015, I applied to SEO Africa - an organisation that trains and creates opportunities for underrepresented students. 5 students were selected for the fellowship: 4 women and 1 man. It was the first time in my then 19 years of life that women had ever been in the majority. I remember very clearly the feeling it gave me. That was the official birth of my concerted efforts to increase women's access to education and opportunities.
I applied for the Laidlaw Scholarship at Saïd Business School because the Laidlaw Foundation’s aim of investing in the education of the underrepresented resonated so deeply with me, and it’s an honor to have been selected as a Laidlaw Scholar…this is what dreams are made of!
What is the biggest life challenge you overcame, and what did you learn from it?
Dealing with uncertainty.
In 2017, I got a full-time offer to join Goldman Sachs in their London office. This was a huge deal for me as a fresh graduate with a Nigerian university education. Unfortunately, after 4 attempts, the company could not secure a work visa for me and my employment offer had to be withdrawn. It was such a heartbreaking period for me as I had attached so much of my sense of self-worth and validation to the opportunity.
I learnt several life lessons from this experience:
- You are more than the sum of your achievements - being so deeply attached to achievement indicators, such as career progress and wealth, is setting yourself up for depression. These things can be quite fickle (look at how COVID-19 affected lives last year). While it is nice to have and plan for these, also think of yourself as whole and complete even without them.
- Enjoy and live every moment - while I was waiting for my work authorisation, I engaged in other things - preparing for my ACCA exams, volunteering to speak at information sessions for SEO Africa, travelling, seeing plays. Essentially, I kept doing everything I loved instead of moping around. Life will not turn out exactly the way you want it, so you have to find joy in the little things you do daily.
- Family and Community are everything - we live in an increasingly individualistic society; however, I cannot overemphasise the importance of having a family and a supportive community. When all else fails, people are all that matter.
To everyone, especially to the high achievers: disappointments and failures will come. Do not become so attached to your achievements that you are devastated if anything happens to them. You are worthy all by yourself, regardless of your achievements or lack of them.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
It sounds so simple, but yet, it’s so hard. This means figuring out who you wanted to be before society, family, peers, their expectations, and even social media told you you are meant to be.
Practise a lot of self-reflection and constantly ask the 'why' behind your decisions. Learn to listen to yourself, grow, develop, and choose yourself before external expectations.
What is the worst piece of advice you have ever been given?
To reduce my ambition, so I don’t scare away potential suitors.
As weird as this may sound, it is quite normal in the African community. Marriage is seen as the ultimate prize and achievement for women. I want to applaud all the organisations and people that are working tirelessly to change this narrative.
I believe women can have it all. You only have to decide what ‘all’ means to you, as it is such a unique combination of variables, almost like DNA.
Define what means impact and purpose for you and, by all means, pursue it with all vim!
Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader
I believe there are three things that are vital in becoming a good leader:
- Empathy - it is very important to be able to see things from the perspective of others.
- Delegation - you cannot do everything yourself, and you need to trust and train others to support you.
- Love - without love, all else fails. Let your actions always be for the utmost good.
Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?
There are a lot of leaders who inspire me. But I will pick Sheryl Sandberg.
She has taught and consistently shown the power of embracing and showcasing all of your strengths as a woman. But, equally, being kind to yourself, allowing yourself to redefine priorities and interests and redefine yourself at any point necessary.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
I applied for the Saïd MBA because of its emphasis on leadership and entrepreneurship development, which are crucial for my next steps. Post-MBA, I plan to scale up the work I have been doing to help increase women’s access to opportunities and work with like-minded development organisations. Without the Laidlaw Scholarship, I wouldn't have been able to take up my admission offer because access to finance was particularly difficult for me.
The Laidlaw Scholarship is even more special to me because it gives me access to a group of extraordinary leaders who are doing great work in areas that resonate deeply with me - creating access for women and innovation.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
A future where when announcements are made, I no longer see headlines like "JP Morgan’s first black CEO has been appointed" or "Nigeria’s female president goes on a world tour". I envision a future where people are not promoted or given opportunities because of their gender or race or to fill diversity quotas.
I want a future in which opportunities are given purely on merit. This will only happen when we expand the playing field and build the pipeline for merit-based leadership. Only then will such news headlines be abnormal and a thing of the past. I have made it my life mission to make this possible for myself and the generations to come.
📺 Currently binging: Downton Abbey. I love period dramas so much, and this is the King of them all.
🎵 My quarantine anthem: God I Look To You - Bethel Music. It always reminds me that with God, life makes sense.
📚 My top book recommendation: Untamed - Glennon Doyle. A great guide to learning to listen to yourself.
🎧 Podcast obsession: I Said What I Said. To keep in touch with the current happenings in young Nigerian lives.
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: The arrival of a friend’s baby.
❤️ A cause I care about: I believe so much in the power of communities, even more, the ones I belong to. I have been helped and offered help in these 3 communities - SEO Africa, GetIn Edu, the UpWomen and CCI.
Fisayo is a Laidlaw Scholar at Oxford University's Saïd Business School. The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school.
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