Continuing with HerStories – Black History Month Presents Leading Civil Engineer, Ayo Sokale

 

Ayo Sokale. ‘A good engineer doesn’t have to be male or female, a particular sex or gender or social construct.’

Ayo Sokale is a leading figure in civil engineering, sustainability, and equality. Ayo shows an unwavering commitment to social change and has a wealth of accolades to her name, including being named, the Diversity & Inclusion Speakers Agency’s Top 15 Diversity and Inclusion Speakers in 2021

In this special interview for Black History Month, Ayo reveals the role diversity plays in corporate success and her experience in a male-dominated industry.

What drives you?

I’m really driven by the need to have a life that matters and make a difference in the world. 

We all impact the world, be it through our carbon footprint or how kind we are to our neighbours. I was always looking for the most effective way to live my life, to have the most positive impact. That has been a driving factor since day one. 

I chose my career in civil engineering at the age of nine because I knew it was going to be an amazing tool to make a positive impact in the world. Everything I do, from politics to community activism, is grounded in the foundation of how I can add most value? How can I make the world a better place?

As a Civil Engineer, what was it like breaking into a male-dominated industry? What is your advice to others wanting to do the same? 

I’m a civil engineer. I work in what many see as a male dominated industry. However, that’s changing. A good engineer doesn’t have to be male or female, a particular sex or gender or social construct. All you need is the curiosity to solve problems. And boy, do we have some problems!

From climate change, flooding to huge social issues, civil engineers help make a difference. This industry needs bright, challenging minds who are here to solve problems. 

I think things are changing with the rise in huge, high profile civil engineers. For example, the current President of the Institution of Civil Engineers is female. I think people are recognising that leadership talent isn’t limited to one gender. 

With this realisation, people are allowed to bring their authentic selves and unique perspectives to work. Civil engineers have to solve so many problems, so the more diverse minds we have, the better.

As a young leader, why is it important to have diverse leadership? 

In my industry, I fully acknowledge the need for diversity in leadership. It’s so crucial and the world is starting to recognise this. 

We are starting to acknowledge that having different perspectives, being empathetic and approaching leadership with different styles  can have huge benefits. It also allows you to engage with communities more effectively. Our communities look so different than they did before, we live in a  global melting pot. And therefore leadership should also reflect that diverse melting pot. 

It means you better understand the issues that are important to diverse groups of people. You can actually lead in a way that really serves all the people that live in our communities today.

What are the negative effects of lack of diversity in a corporate team? 

The negative effects can be huge. They can cost big. It can lead to cultural blindness, a lack of awareness of key dates that are important to certain communities, their faith practices or even how to engage in diverse communities appropriately.

For example, corporate branding totally missing the mark. Do we all recall the [Pepsi] advert with Kendall Jenner? It caused huge ramifications and pushback in certain communities because they felt unrepresented and not understood.

In this corporate world, when we’re trying to reach global communities, we have to understand them and diversity in our corporate team helps achieve this.

If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the start of your career, what would it be?

Number one, to ask all the questions! Don’t worry about what people think. Everyone wants you to learn, no one is going to judge you. It may seem embarrassing, and you may want to stop, but just keep asking questions. 

The second piece of advice would be to enjoy the journey. We all focus on goals and they are are important. However, we spend more time on the journey than we do achieving these pivotal moments, when we get qualifications, pass exams or get promotions. 

They are very, very short moments in our lives, so try and enjoy the journey and do things you love!

Ayo Sokale is a motivational speaker, for more information contact; swheeldon@championsukplc.com; https://champions-speakers.co.uk/

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