Olajide Alabi


Olajide has dropped us a think piece on his journey from being at school to working in the UK as a Black gay man, to present day where her has set up his own consultancy business aiming to make some big changes to the way the world sees Diversity and Inclusion.

In this piece he talks about dealing with adversities and turning them around. He also shines a light on his consultancy, SISU. 

Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life.

I will always remember this day forever. The day my dreams were stolen from me, the day I was made to feel like I would not amount to anything because of the colour of my skin.

A 14-year-old black British boy sitting in his biology class, asked by the teacher what I wanted to be when I leave school. My answer… “I really want to be a Doctor”. The teacher’s response was a giggle followed by “black people can’t be doctors”. Followed by more laughing. 14-year-old me did not see a problem with the statement at the time. However, it made me feel defeated and quite frankly lost, as all I ever wanted to do was to be a Doctor and get my chance to operate in theatre. So, the question flying through my head was… “what can I do? Where am I going in life?”.

The reason I start with that memory and the reason it sticks is because after that moment I realised that people will always see the colour of my skin and immediately put me into a box, a stereotype. At that point, my life course was set; first of all, to never fit into any box that has been constructed by society, and also to never allow anyone to ever dim my light. I may not be in control of the colour of my skin, where I was brought up, or where my family are from. But I am in control of my destiny. Me and me alone.

The incident at school was not the first or the last time that I would face racism, fatism or homophobia in my life. In hindsight, despite the negativity I experienced, I now see it as a positive starting point. As I believe that these injustices and these struggles are all part of the driving force behind what motivates me today.

I was brought up in a very strict African household by two loving and hard-working parents who had grown up in Nigeria and moved over to the UK. Growing up with extremely strict rules and the idea that as a young black man you must be vigilant and very aware of racism, prejudice, and stereotyping. I remember experiencing racism on the bus at school, I was harassed and called names constantly for being different to the others. This stigma followed me, continuously being put into a box created for me by society, people jumping to conclusions of what they thought I should be, because of the colour of my skin, the way I spoke or dressed. Going through my teens trying to feel comfortable in the skin given to me and find my place in society wasn’t easy. But I decided to live my true authentic self and found so much comfort coming out as Gay after University. I no longer had to hide who I was or try and fit into any box.  So as a Gay, Black, African, Man I want Inclusion to be a right, not a privilege for a select few. Not to be tolerated and seen as different, but to be accepted, and to celebrate that the world we live in is diverse and that we can learn so much from each other.

Let us take a quick journey through my work life…

I have been working within the recruitment sector for ten years, mostly in hospitality. I started my career in hospitality, an industry I was extremely passionate about and thoroughly enjoyed. My career started when I did a work placement with TGI Fridays, one of my favourite restaurant brands at that time, and as a young 15-year-old I felt encouraged to be my true self when at work. There were no questions, and no one was trying to label me. It was the first time during my adolescence where I had a sense of belonging. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to maintain that feeling and recognised that hospitality was the sector for me. I stuck with restaurants until the wonderful world of recruitment came knocking at my door. I then embarked on my ten year journey from temporary recruitment for Chefs to recruiting for one of the largest pub chains in the UK, to finally where I am today as a Recruitment Manager of an established restaurant brand with some fantastic core beliefs.

The one constant has always been my passion for working with people and that was the great thing about hospitality; getting to meet so many different people from various walks of life, but also seeing people similar to you. As a recruitment professional, you are able to influence a business through its people; you have the opportunity to shape a way a business is perceived by job seekers.

So how does this all get me to where I am today as a Co-Founder of SISU, a Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing consultancy?  Great question.

I have always known that my purpose in life is to work towards making a difference, so I guess that driving thought has always been inside of me. I believe that time, exposure, and maturity allowed me to look at the world through very different lenses. The moment you sit down with a group of people from very different backgrounds and life experiences and start to discuss the working world, you start to see disparities but also similarities in the way people are treated or under valued and unappreciated in the workplace. Couple that with a lack of knowledge and basic understanding of individual differences and what it means to be inclusive. You see a gap.

When starting any new business, you look at what else is out there, which we did, and there are a lot of Diversity and Inclusion Consultancies around. In fact, some would say the market is saturated, however from what I can tell there are a lot of HR specialists who have moved over to the Diversity and Inclusion space, which isn’t wrong, everyone is entitled to run their business how they wish. I just knew that what I thought was lacking was real people talking about Diversity & Inclusion without the HR language, making it relevant, creative, accessible, and engaging. A modern-day version that could appeal to a much wider audience.

We wanted to create a consultancy that really went into a business and did more than offer training programmes, policy reviews and audits. We want a consultancy that really gets to understand your goals as a business and gives the people in your business a better understanding of all thing’s Diversity, Inclusion and Equality. We want to ensure that these practices become embedded into daily life because you have the full understanding and picture of the value of it. We also wanted to create a platform that most importantly educated - “Change is the end result of all true learning”. Learning can never stop if real change is to be made.

Louisa is my business partner and dearest friend; she is practically family. We decided to do this venture together because we both had this passion, this fire in our bellies. We are both huge creatives at heart, with Louisa’s fashion eye and my eye for all things loud and proud. As a duo, the core of what our business was going to be showcasing is all about the power of people and doing it with creativity, everything SISU does comes from a place of passion and from the heart.

As Brene Brown said “Creativity Is the way we share our soul with the world”

SISU was born from a true desire and belief that there can never be too many people fighting for equality, educating on inclusion and celebrating wellbeing in the workplace.

So, what do I want you to take away from this?

Most importantly please make sure you show some support for SISU, this project has legs to do some amazing things with businesses, schools and with the world. But we cannot do it alone, support and awareness of who we are is a big part. So please Follow us on Instagram @Thisissisu, or follow us on LinkedIn @ SISU - Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing and on Facebook @thisissisu. You can also check out our website where you will find our SISU blogs which you can subscribe to and never miss any of our amazing bloggers that we showcase in our SISU Stars.

That’s my important business plug over with, I guess the other reason for writing this piece is from my 14 year old self being laughed at by my teacher at the idea of me wanting to be a doctor, to the bullying at school and the uncountable amounts of racism I have faced till current day. I have managed to use all that adversity and put it to good use. I think it is very easy to allow that negative energy to misshape your future and take you down a dark path, which never ends well. We must rise and we must do so with grace.

As humans we need to task ourselves to do the work, educate ourselves, learn about other marginalised groups, gain a better understanding of different cultures, religions, ways of living. The only way for the world to be better is if we all realise that we all have a part to play. To be better we must do better.

I want to leave you with this…

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou.

Don’t allow anyone to ever dim your light, we all need to find the strength within to keep on going.