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Changing the black narrative

Changing the black narrative

Most entrepreneurs don’t set out with an aim for their company to not exist. Yet for Kike Oniwinde (Economics, 2014), her perfect scenario is a world where her organisation is no longer needed. Kike is the founder of BYP Network, a digital platform described as LinkedIn for black professionals, which connects professionals and entrepreneurs with one another and with corporations for networking and job opportunities. Since its launch two years ago the platform has grown exponentially, with 30,000 members in 65 countries and a net worth of over £1.5 million. Recognised as a future leader in technology, Kike has won a host of prestigious industry awards and was named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list this year. But for Kike, BYP Network is so much more than a business. She’s on a mission to change the black narrative and create a future where all people see themselves represented across industries. 

“Growing up, I didn’t really see black role models represented in the media, apart from in sports and entertainment,” explains Kike. “But my eyes were really opened when I won a track and field scholarship to study abroad in Florida for my masters. I was already an international athlete as a Great Britain javelin thrower before I started university, so while I was at Nottingham I was very focused on my studies and my sport. When I went to Florida, I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted in my sport, but I was able to meet a lot of new people from different walks of life. I was able to see that there was so much talent within the black community that I hadn’t necessarily seen before because I’d been so inwardly focused. It sparked an idea: why did I need to come to Florida to meet these exceptional people? I thought there must surely be a way for us to connect around the globe to share opportunities and work together to create solutions to the problems we face as a community. The idea for BYP Network came from a moment of realisation that this was so necessary.”

Returning home to London and beginning a career in financial technology, the lack of diversity in the workplace coupled with low opportunities to meet others in the city prompted Kike to take her idea from concept to reality. Launching BYP Network with a series of sold-out networking events, the platform today hosts an app, podcast, job board, events and an annual leadership conference. While providing opportunities for black professionals to network with each other, BYP Network aims to support all levels of career development by partnering with corporations to increase diversity and representation. 
“At BYP Network, we connect black young professionals with each other, but also with corporations. These are companies who care about diversity and inclusion, can identify that there is a problem and would like representation to be improved. So, for example, we have partnerships with Accenture, Soho House, Lloyds and Airbnb. The statistics say that it takes a black applicant 80% more time to enter the career of their choice because of biases. But what we’re doing with our job board is giving companies who are looking for diverse hires the chance to interact directly with our community by posting vacancies to the board. You’re looking for the best hires of course – it’s not about being unfair – but posting to our job board will give you more applicants to consider versus not receiving any applications from this community at all. The whole point is that these companies are showing the black community that they care about diversity and inclusion, and want to hire talented individuals. We’re trying to bridge the gap between companies and our community, giving our community greater career opportunities and supporting companies with increased diversity and inclusion.”

While many corporations have embraced the chance to work alongside BYP Network to create positive change, Kike is clear that there are still challenges to be overcome. 

“The biggest barrier is that no-one really wants to identify the elephant in the room. A lot of individuals can’t actually say the word black. So not even being able to say the word of the race that you’re trying to target is already a problem. And so it often gets swept under the carpet to focus on other issues, such as gender. But then we’re not taking intersectionality into consideration. Diversity is everything – it’s race, it’s gender, it’s LGBTQ+, it’s disability, it’s age. You can’t just focus on the one that’s trending right now. A lot of companies are not trying to lead. Some companies, such as ITN and PwC for example, have taken a stance and released their BAME pay gap as they know it’s a priority, but many companies won’t release theirs until the Government legislate or it becomes a big buzzword. 

The whole aim of BYP Network is that in 10 years' time, the world will be diverse, biases won't exist and we'll have done our job. That's the ultimate aim – we shouldn't have to exist.

“Another challenge is that many organisations only pay lip service to improving diversity. And I think that’s a big crisis actually. A lot of companies or industries are happy to put on a seminar or panel about why diversity is important, but ultimately their firm isn’t diverse and they’re not doing much about it. It’s more about convincing others that they are. Again, when it’s legislated and companies have to reveal their BAME numbers, I think that’s when the realisation will come that they need to do something about it. The case for diversity has been proven. It improves profit and productivity, facilitates the sharing of innovative ideas, and allows companies to access markets they wouldn’t have considered without diverse employees. So I think more education is needed, and that push from Government about the fact that companies need to act on this.” 

In two years, Kike has established BYP Network as an influential and important platform in this space. And that’s seen her recognised as one of the Forbes’ 30 Under 30, 2019 Maserati Top 100, Top 100 UK BAME Leaders in Tech and a STEM Trailblazer of the Year, awarded in the House of Commons. But it’s the drive to break down barriers for her community that propels Kike’s ambition.

“I always say that we’re just getting started. To be recognised so early on has shown me that it’s been recognised as a company that is needed and is doing work that is making an impact in our community. But there are so many more things that we intend to do, as a platform and as a company. And that’s what excites me the most. What will happen when we do even more? I have this purpose of helping my community, so every day it’s rewarding for me to help someone or break another boundary or barrier which can make big waves in the future. 

“There are around 55 million black young professionals between 18 and 35 around the world, and I’d like all of them to be on our platform. I knew from the start that I wanted the network to centre around an app, because it had to be a global platform to provide the global solution I’m after. One of the great things about it being a social media platform is sharing stories and learning from different cultures across the globe. We’re all very diverse and different – for example, black Britons have different experiences to African Americans. So it’s about understanding how we can share cultural experiences, break barriers together and be open minded to learning more.”

With huge potential to provide opportunities for black professionals across the globe, the future possibilities for BYP Network are endless. But the future Kike is most interested in creating is a world where the need for BYP Network no longer exists. 

“The mission is to change the black narrative. At the moment, being black or part of the black community has negative connotations to it because of the history behind how we’re perceived. I want to change that mindset so that when someone thinks of a black professional, they know they want more black professionals in their organisation. It’s time to change the narrative so that people both inside and outside our community have a new perspective. I want to ensure there is a future where black people can see themselves represented in all industries. The whole aim of BYP Network is so that in 10 years’ time, the world will be diverse, biases won’t exist and we’ll have done our job. That’s the ultimate aim – we shouldn’t have to exist.”

You can join the BYP Network community by downloading the app or connecting online

The University of Nottingham is working to improve the experience of studying and working for our BME students and staff. The Race Equality Charter mark is an indication of how well we are doing that. We will be submitting our application to achieve Race Equality Charter bronze status in summer 2020 – find out more about what this means for our University community. 

How to get the most out of networking 

1. Remember why you’re there. It’s about building relationships first and foremost, not about a transactional moment. You shouldn’t only be going to take, but to give too.

2. You should never feel intimidated. If people are open in their body language, even if they’re talking to a group, don’t be afraid to approach and start a conversation.

3. If you’re organising a networking event, always think about facilitating games or something that can start conversations. It can be daunting to attend an event on your own so help make it easy for people to start talking to each other. 

Faye Haslam

Words: Faye Haslam (History, 2012), Connect Staff Writer

Nottingham graduate, writer and speaker. Curious creative inspired by film, music, history, knowledge and big ideas. A traveller at heart, always planning the next big adventure.