Championing Black voices

With podcaster and staff member Bosede Ogunleye

Bosede doing a podcast interview

Bosede Ogunleye and Nate Macabuag (Founder, Koalaa Soft Prosthetics) recording an episode of  the Black & Found podcast at Fabulr Studios, Scale Space White City. (Picture taken by Studio Director, Panji Kaonga)

Bosede Ogunleye and Nate Macabuag (Founder, Koalaa Soft Prosthetics) recording an episode of  the Black & Found podcast at Fabulr Studios, Scale Space White City. (Picture taken by Studio Director, Panji Kaonga)

Bosede Ogunleye is Head of Student Community at Imperial College Business School. She is also the founder of Black & Found, an Imperial podcast that features voices and experiences from Black and Black-mixed heritage entrepreneurs.

In this article, Bosede shares her thoughts and experiences on recruitment and retention of Black staff and how she’s helped to provide outlets for important discussions and conversations around representation in the business world. 

What is Imperial doing well to create a welcoming place for students and staff of Black heritage?  

I think it's great that there's a scholarship available for students of Black heritage. It's important that we show we care about this issue and acknowledge there's a problem that needs to be addressed. Representation is key. If students can't see someone like themselves at university, they're going to think it's not for them.  

When I started working at Imperial nearly six years ago, I was surprised by the lack of diversity. We're in a central London university and I was struck by the lack of Black students. Having spoken to some Black students, they agree that it was a surprise to them as well.  

Diversity and inclusion among staff is an issue many universities face, so I don’t think it’s something unique to Imperial. It’s important to have schemes and campaigns that support and uplift members of our Black community. It is good that Imperial As One, a network for staff and postgraduate students exists. At the Business School, we now have a Black in Business Club. There’s an understanding that things need to get better and these networks are a step in the right direction.  


Bosede Ogunleye

Bosede Ogunleye

What could Imperial be doing better to address the lack of Black staff?  

I've recently joined a committee that is looking at the development and fulfilment of staff. One issue that has arisen is about where Imperial posts its job adverts. Are we posting on websites that are accessible to as many communities as possible? Are they word of mouth jobs?  

There are a lot of jobs in what's called the ‘hidden job market’. This can be a problem because it’s pretty homogeneous, and people who network with similar people tend to miss out on some great Black talent.  

Like a lot of institutions, Imperial uses recruitment agencies and I’ve noticed that it tends to use the same agencies, in the same regions. This can result in similar types of people being employed and a workforce that isn’t very diverse. One way that Imperial could try to tackle this would be by making links with recruitment agencies who do that work of looking for top Black talent within different areas.

I think many of our Black staff don’t see their careers at Imperial for the long term as they see barriers when it comes to progressing to more senior positions. This is likely reflected in the retention rates of black heritage staff, where anecdotally, I can see several staff leaving. It would be great if Imperial could acknowledge this. Schemes such as the IMPACT Development Programme, which has been developed for ethnic minority staff, are great. But more should be done to support the career development of Black staff.  

As a Black staff member, do you feel responsible for championing the needs of the Black community? 

When you're a minority staff member you can't help but be a trailblazer, whether you want to or not. I’ve helped create a few initiatives almost by accident, just because I felt the need to.  

In 2019, whilst working in the Business School’s Employer Relations team, I noticed there weren’t many Black students in our community. When I spoke to these few Black students, I noticed a real lack of confidence in them. They didn’t seem to be getting the same job offers and struggled with networking more than their peers of other ethnicities.  

I organised a panel discussion called ‘Being Black in the Corporate World.’ This was before the murder of George Floyd and at the time, the idea of hosting a discussion on this topic was met with some resistance. But I knew it was important to have a conversation about this specific issue.  

The event was successful and well attended, particularly by external people. Among the Black students in the audience, there was one who stood out. She shared her experiences of feeling isolated at Imperial and feeling ‘othered’ by her peers. She wondered if that was what her working life was going to be like and she didn't know who to discuss these issues with. Her words seemed to really resonate with the people in the room. For me, that was a real, “OK, there's work to do in this place” moment.  

I think the Business School has responded more positively to other initiatives since that event. The EDI strategy has been developed and I'm pleased to see there’s now an IB Black in Business Careers Club. If the student at the 2019 panel discussion was studying here now, that club could have helped her connect with students going through a similar experience.   

Tell us about your experience of doing outreach work for Imperial. What are the challenges you see for Black students in the UK? What more can Imperial do to help?  

I have supported the Imperial’s STEM Futures programme, which involves working with Year 10 and 11 school students. Whilst working at the Imperial Enterprise Lab, I launched a podcast called Black & Found. For this podcast, I interviewed various Imperial alumni or people associated with the institution who are successful entrepreneurs of Black heritage.  

Outside of work, I've been a youth worker for many years. I think the Imperial Outreach team are doing some great things – reaching into local schools and trying to tap into some of those minority communities to give them exposure to an institution like Imperial.  

For a lot of Black Africans and West Africans, such as myself, our parents are very keen for us to be educated well. There are quite a lot of Black students who do well in their GCSEs and A-levels and many of them choose to study business-related subjects at university. 

Unfortunately, many Black British students feel there is a glass ceiling in terms of where they can apply, and many of them don’t see the top Russell Group universities as a place for them. At Imperial we have a lot of Black international students and I think the perception is that we’re doing well in terms of representation from Black communities. But then I think: “What about UK Black students?” I think there is a lower percentage of them. 

Another limitation is that some students won’t have family members who have gone to university or to top institutions. I'm a second-generation immigrant and my parents didn't go to university until much later on. If you don't know anyone you can talk to about the application process to places such as Imperial or Oxbridge, you might not apply to these places.  

I was speaking to a young Black student recently who was very bright and could apply to the best universities, but she was scared to visit them. I remember feeling that way myself when I went to university.  

Panel event

Bosede Ogunleye and the panelists of the Being Black in the Corporate World panel at Imperial College Business School in 2019

Bosede Ogunleye and the panelists of the Being Black in the Corporate World panel at Imperial College Business School in 2019

What are you most proud of when it comes to the work you’ve done to support Black staff and students? 

Probably the Black & Found podcast that I launched. I really enjoyed doing it and value the excellent work of the Imperial Enterprise Lab. They understand the need for innovative, creative ideas and they gave me the space to do that. I don't think I could have done that if I wasn't working there. I like the fact that I was able to launch the podcast and that I was able to speak to different people of Black heritage and from different backgrounds. They were all from different industries and had achieved great things. It was fascinating listening to their stories.  

The theme of Black History Month 2023 is ‘Celebrating our Sisters’ – which women have inspired you in your life so far? 

Number one has to be my mum, who passed away fairly recently. She was an immigrant from Nigeria who came to the UK in the ‘70s and did not have an easy journey. Being Black in the UK back then was a real struggle, but she worked really hard and she was just incredible! 

There are two women of Black heritage at Imperial that I'd love to highlight – Leah Olima and Kellianne Bartley. Leah works in the Careers team at the Business School and did the first iteration of what's called ‘Imperial BE’, a programme that championed entrepreneurship and innovation for Black heritage students.  

Kellianne works in the Alumni Relations team and she’s excellent at championing Black students and Black staff and for delivering various initiatives. She works so hard at this and has developed several successful initiatives.  

What would you like the Imperial community to take away from this year’s Black History Month events?  

The theme is interesting – ‘Celebrating Our Sisters’. It's important for the Imperial community to know that Black women have had a lot of struggles both now and in the past, but we are resilient!

And there are some fantastic Black women working at Imperial. There are some Black female academics who have done excellent things. I want them to know that we are not a monolith.  

We are talented. We achieve different things. We are from different backgrounds. And we deserve to be here.