Originally aired on January 26 @ 4:30 PM - 5:00 PM EDT
Afroflare UK BHM Fireside Chat hosted by Chad Toerien with guests Raphael Sofoluke, Founder & CEO of UK Black Business Show & UK Black Business Week, and Opeyemi Sofoluke, Lead Regional Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager at Facebook & Co-Author Twice as Hard: Navigating Black Stereotypes and Creating Space for Success.
Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to Cloudflare TV. My name is Chad. I'm one of the Afroflare leaders and I look after Sub -Saharan Africa in the sales team. And today, as part of Black History Month, in our celebration of Proud to Be, I'm so glad and happy to invite Raphael, founder and CEO of the UK Black Business Show and Black Business Week, and Opeyemi, Lead Regional Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager at Facebook, and co-author of Twice As Hard, Navigating Black Stereotypes and Creating Spaces for Success. So thank you for joining, taking time out in your busy schedule and welcome. Thank you. Thank you for having us. So founder and CEO and program manager at Facebook. I mean, those are some really impressive titles. So, you know, I'm glad that you're able to take time out in your busy schedules. I'm curious. So what's it like day in the life of, you know, in each of your roles? Maybe if you want to start Opeyemi. Yeah, sure. Thank you very much, Chad, for having us. And so in terms of my day to day role, as you mentioned, I'm a program manager, lead regional program manager for DEI at Facebook. And my role really looks at supporting our underrepresented communities, really build more inclusive environments. And so I work for business resource groups across Asia -Pacific, EMEA, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America in terms of these communities and to really amplify the work that our communities are doing. And we focus on a number of areas in terms of career, culture, community and company, but really with a focus on building and creating more inclusive environments. And I would say that one of the philosophies actually that we that we have when we think about our business resource groups is you do not have to be to belong. And so really, it's about creating these spaces for underrepresented groups, but also making sure that allies are welcome to these groups so they can also learn and understand and gather their insight on how to better support and underrepresented communities we see. Fantastic. And I love that that mission, you know, it's such an important topic. And, you know, that's that's also what we want to achieve with these like this talk and these series. And yourself, Raph? Yeah, so my name is Raphael Sofalouks, I'm the founder and CEO of the UK Black Business Show, which is the biggest business show in the UK and Europe for black business owners and professionals. So we launched in 2017 and pretty much doubled in size each year. And so our last show had just over two and a half thousand attendees and one hundred and ten businesses, black owned businesses exhibiting from across the UK and Europe. And this year we've launched the first ever dedicated week for black entrepreneurs, professionals and allies of the black community taking place in two weeks time now. So the UK Black Business Show is now a part of a whole week of really exciting events. Some fantastic speakers like Trevor MacDonald to June Sarpong to Kanya King. And each day really just dedicated to a number of different themes. So we've got a leadership day, we've got a finance day, we've got a tech day where we've actually got a cyber event as well. So that's really relevant to the cloud flair. And, yeah, just some some great sessions throughout the week. And some of the biggest sponsors in the world as well. Partnering with AmEx, HSBC, JP Morgan, Experian. So, yeah, that's that's me as well as co-author alongside of the Emmy. And I didn't know you were a co -author, but I mean, that's that's amazing. And and those, you know, some of the sponsors that you have, they're certainly, you know, amazing highlights. And so I suppose, you know, to have this level of success on both of your sides, like where did it all begin? You know, what is the you know, what's the origin story? How did you end up here? Yeah, I mean, I can I can start off. So, I mean, I used to work in the sales industry. Really kind of passionate about sales as well. I just fell into sales after uni and just wanted to make quick money. But then we started working on a really big exhibition called the UK Investor Show. So big exhibition, some of the biggest banks and thousands of people come in to see the latest investment trends. And it really just dawned upon me that actually there wasn't really an event like this for the black community, where black entrepreneurs can gather together with other like minded entrepreneurs and black professionals can gather together with other like minded professionals. And also a platform where black owned business could showcase and sell their products. So really just kind of looking at that, I really wanted to just launch something to bring that all together. And our motto is to inspire and connect. And that's what we're all about. You know, representation creates role models. And we wanted to also, you know, have speakers at our show who, you know, young people can look at and say, OK, I can be like them, you know, in terms of, you know, business professional or a black entrepreneur. And it really just the journey is kind of really developed since then. Very passionate about diversity and inclusion in general, but especially, you know, championing the black community in sectors in which we're underrepresented in, especially, you know, tech definitely being one of them. I think it's 3% of the tech sector in London has black employees, which is crazy because it's one of the most diverse cities in the UK. So, yeah, really just passionate about, you know, championing the black community and everything I do kind of aligns with that. Yeah, and I think just following on from that, as you can see, Raffa is someone that has great ideas and also is great at implementing on these ideas. And so he did actually have an idea for a book towards the end of 2019 and he shared this idea with me and also his agent. And being a good friend of a wife, I said, actually, this is a good idea, but I think we can refine it. I think it can be stronger. And so we sat down together and we were really kind of brainstorming topics and themes to cover. And as part of that discussion, one of the things Raffa said in that conversation, and it's a phrase we've all heard, I would say as an ethnic minority, and I'm sure many ethnic minorities would agree, but he said, you know what, sometimes it just feels twice as hard. And then we actually started to discuss, you know, what does it mean for things to feel twice as hard or to feel that we have to work twice as hard? And in that discussion, he said, actually, maybe this should be the title of the book. And being the good husband that he is, he said, how about we do it together? And I think it totally made sense based on my background and the kind of work that I do and was doing at the time. And so we said, yeah, let's definitely do this together. And so we got back in touch with his agent and shared the new idea. And there was a lot of support for it. And the journey kind of went from there. I love that, you know, husband and wife, you know, team and, you know, conquering the world together. That's, you know, that on its own is also just an inspiration. And, you know, like expanding on that title, twice as hard. I mean, you know, if I have to, you know, reflect and, you know, just personally, of course, there's certainly moments. But it's just, you know, when I hear that, it just resonates. But it's also like when I heard it from other people. I mean, it seems like it's, you know, it holds no bounds because, I mean, you hear it, you know, from celebrities as well. You know, you know, the biggest, the biggest stars in the world, right down to, you know, just someone in corporate or just trying to start out their career or even going through university. Right. It's just so, it transcends all kind of areas and ages and things like that in parts, you know, stages in your career. Like, how did you find that? And how does kind of the book speak to that, I suppose? Yeah, and exactly what you said, you know, about, you know, everyone resonating, any black entrepreneur or professional resonating with that word, regardless of, you know, the height of their career. So the book Twice As Hard, you know, we spoke to 40 black entrepreneurs and professionals from the UK and US. And actually we wanted to find out, you know, is it twice as hard? So the book is almost, you know, we speak to these entrepreneurs and professionals, finding out, you know, some of the challenges they've experienced, you know. And not only that, but also finding out, you know, how did they overcome this? And what we found out, you know, speaking to some of the leading professionals in the UK and US. So we spoke to people like Matthew Knowles, Beyonce's dad, to people like Glenda McNeil, who's the first black woman to be on the board in American Express's history, to some fantastic entrepreneurs in both countries. And what we found was that they all went through struggles, you know, they all went through, you know, things like imposter syndrome to, you know, microaggressions, to, you know, challenging stereotypes, to code switching. And what we wanted this book to be was almost like a guide, you know, something that we wish we had when we started off our career to help us, to give us that advantage. And it can be picked up from anyone really. And then we was really kind of, you know, intentional about how we put the book together as well. I think maybe Oppie and me can talk a bit more about that. But yeah, we really wanted to create something that, you know, was perfect for black entrepreneurs, professionals and also allies of the black community. Yeah, and to that point around what we covered in the book, we were super intentional around the topics we explored and we sat down with one another and we kind of ran through when we started our career, what would have been those things that are super helpful to know. And so we started the conversation around personal brand, for example, and actually we opened up the book with a chat on personal brand and it's really asking yourself that question, who do people say you are? When you're not in the room, when you're not around, what's that feeling you leave people with? But we found that actually as a black person, you're so much more aware of the way you say things can be received differently to how you've intended. Your appearance alone can be seen as intimidating. There's so much more thought that goes into how do I show up in this space? And can I even show up authentically? And so we really wanted to explore that and then we go on to talking about, you know, networking, how to build relationships in terms of finding mentors and sponsors, how to actually navigate white spaces, you know, being a black person in these environments where actually there isn't any senior leadership that looks like you that you can go to for advice. You know, you're so conscious that you don't want to come across as stupid or, you know, unintelligent. And so how do you navigate these environments? And then we also explore growth, you know, personal growth, professional growth, how to really kind of move from a space where you may be feeling overlooked and undervalued to being in a place where you feel like you're actually thriving in an environment that is truly inclusive. And then, of course, we touch on, you know, finance. So many professionals and entrepreneurs talk about finance from different perspectives, from an entrepreneur's point of view, actually securing finance, gaining access to finance. But then from a professional standpoint, you know, how do you ask for that pay rise, salary negotiations, you know, we understand that people from minority ethnic backgrounds often are underpaid compared to their counterparts. So how do you have those conversations and have them successfully? And then we also explore mental health. There is so much strain actually on black professionals and entrepreneurs dealing with all these things that we've just spoken about. So imagine you have to go to work and deliver and add value and make impact. But on top of that, you're just dealing with being black in that environment and the impact and the strain that has on you as an individual and as a person. So we explore that and really try and equip our readers with ways to actually have a good self -care regime. And then we close on a chapter with allies. And as we know, you know, 2020 was a year that in many ways, some people woke up to racism. It was kind of like, oh, this thing exists. But we saw following the awful murder of George Floyd, that organizations and companies were making pledges and having conversations around diversity and also black identity in a way we've never seen before. And so we really explore what allyship means. And of course, there is so much more that can be said about allyship, but we've included a few points on how to be a strong and effective ally and really touching on the fact that it's a doing word. It's not just, you know, I'm an ally. Actually, what are you doing? Is the question we pose to our readers. Yeah, that's, you know, it's such an inspirational book. And I think, you know, so valuable, you know, both, I suppose, on the inspirational side, in terms of some of the people who you interviewed, I want to hear some of those stories. But also on a practical side, it's, you know, everything you touched on is just spot on. And, you know, I think it's super valuable, you know, to get, you know, into someone's hands and kind of understand how to do that, because I think a lot of people are just figuring it out without any guidance. So, no, thank you. It's inspired me, certainly, right. So, you said you spoke to Beyonce's dad? That must have been quite an impressive conversation. You know, can you expand on that a little bit? Yeah, I think we both probably have different kind of, you know, gems that he dropped inside our brain. So, yeah, we had a one hour Zoom with him. And it was really, really kind of insightful. You know, he spoke about his career. He spoke about, you know, his ability to network, which was, you know, fantastic. And just his, what we noticed as well, a trait which I saw in a lot of the entrepreneurs like himself was their work ethic. He's a really hard working person, but also very strategic. And I think also as, you know, a black professional in the workplace, you need to be strategic about your career, whether it's finding a mentor, whether it's, you know, getting people to sponsor you, whether it's going to that networking event where you could potentially speak to that senior leader. And a very great story, which I remember that Matthew Knowles, he said to us was when he was working for a company, what he used to do, he would use to, not steal, but take the newspaper. So, take the newspaper of a senior boss before he would come in, because he knew that boss would come and look for that newspaper. So, he'd done that so he could have the opportunity to speak to this guy. And it was such a, you know, I've never heard of that before. And it just, you know, shows so many people have different ways of thinking, but very clever ways as well at the same time. You know, getting their foot in the door. And it just shows, you know, you have to be strategic with, you know, everything you do. And yeah, I think that that's one of the things that stuck out from Mr Knowles, Mr Matthew Knowles. I don't know if you had anything to share as well. Yeah, no, he shared a really interesting story which we actually touched on in the book. I think it's in the chapter on growth, just around Boxton thinking. And he used this example to talk about like, in as much as, yes, there's systemic racism, and there are, you know, managers or people in the workplace that are racist and may treat people from ethnic minority backgrounds differently. Sometimes there are also those kind of mental barriers that we have because of the racism or discrimination some people have experienced. And so he really used this example of, you know, when you are a Boxton thinker, or if you're standing in a box, when you look around you, what do you see? You see walls, you see limits. And actually, he really used that example to say, we need to learn to step outside of those box and remove those limits, or those hindrances that are sometimes a barrier to our progression. And so sometimes when you don't see someone that looks like you in a certain position, you almost feel like, I don't know if I can do this, you know, can I really go for this opportunity? But actually, if you just step out of that box in thinking, and just remove those kind of barriers, those things are achievable, they are attainable, and it's really about applying yourself and that work ethic that Raphael already touched on. So that was really something that I took away from the conversation with him. And that's really powerful. I think, you know, one of the challenges is obviously, you know, we might have an idea to do something, but you know, that box thinking, self-limited belief just exists. And sometimes you just can't move on it, right? And I think, you know, especially when I look at, like, you two, you both have achieved so much. And that is itself is a representation of, you know, moving forward and achieving your dreams. So, you know, and that's also what our, you know, the purpose of the show as well is to highlight that, which is fantastic. And what is the, so, you know, what did you both experience as, you know, maybe twice as hard as you were going through this journey, you know, putting the book together or through your careers or getting to this point? Yeah, I would say, I would say during my career, just, I started my career in investment banking industry. And I was, you know, one of the only Black people, one of the only Black women. And so for me, some of the challenges I faced, and I talk about it in the book, and there was a particular instance just around our appearance, you know, coming into work, I shouldn't have to necessarily worry about how I look, it really should be about the value that I add and how I work in my team. And as many Black women do, I had this whole scenario when I first joined around what is the appropriate hairstyle to wear to work? You know, should I have my hair out? Should I have braids in? Should I have a weave? And I decided to go with braids, just because I felt like that's what I wanted to do, but it's also easy maintenance. And then a few weeks in, I decided to change my hairstyle, as we do. And on a Monday morning, I rocked up to work and I had a bob, my hair was in a bob style weave. And then a colleague of mine, a white man, made a remark. And it was almost like a backhanded compliment. He said, Oh, you know, Oppie, I really like your hair like that, you look a lot smarter with your hair like that. And I paused. And I then asked him, Okay, what do you mean by smarter? And actually, by just having that response, I think it gave him the opportunity to reflect on what he had just said. But so many black people go through these kind of microaggressions with, you know, was that supposed to be a compliment? Clearly, it wasn't. But this is the kind of things, you know, I've had to deal with in the work environment, or maybe just people making inappropriate remarks. And so really trying to not, you know, I don't want to fall into the stereotype again, of the angry black woman. So how do I address this in a way that obviously calls out this behaviour as wrong, but then at the same time, being so conscious again of my personal brand and how I show up. And so there is, you know, things around this, I think that many of us probably have gone through and many people could most likely identify with. Rafa, I'm sure you probably have stories of your own to share. Yeah, no, definitely. I think one that really is really vivid, or two in my mind is, you know, just being in a working environment. Before I used to have, now, obviously, I've got the UK Black Business Show, but when I worked for a company, just walking through the office, and then someone, he went to shake everyone's hand. And when it came to me, he went to nudge me. And I was like, okay, you know, that's a bit weird. Maybe I want to shake your hand as well. It was quite strange. And then at another workplace, I remember a senior manager, he actually used to exhibit quite a lot of kind of microaggressions towards me. And actually, some of my colleagues were noticing saying, Rafa, like, why does he act differently towards you? And sometimes it's easy to think, am I going crazy? Or it was, you know, it was good to see that actually some of my colleagues and some of my white peers, who, you know, I would consider allies were like, Rafa, he's acting a bit strange to you. And some of the things he would say, you know, accused me of being lazy, despite me being the top seller in sales. And some of the things just really kind of didn't add up. So yeah, a number of things, I mean, that professionals go through in the work, in the working world, which are very, very similar. And that's what was so interesting as well about the book, that despite, you know, the ages, and the different countries, we were seeing very similar things in both countries. Yeah, no, and thank you for sharing that. You know, I don't know if you've heard of the acid rain reference, where it's like these microaggressions, it's similar to like acid rain, you know, it's like, in isolation, it's like, you know, one droplet. And sometimes, you know, even if you are on the receiving end, it's confusing to deal with, but you're also not sure, you know, in that moment. But and then that acid rain over time, it does do damage, right? And, you know, that's, that's, I suppose, one of the biggest dangers as well of these microaggressions. So I really appreciate you sharing those. So I think, you know, segueing into, you know, like you said, Raf, you left corporate now into the Black Business Show, you know, like, I'm very curious to hear more about, you know, what you guys have planned for this, this season, if you will. And like, you know, maybe talking about the show, and then also the event in the conference. Yeah, sure. So it's, we really just, as I mentioned, we really wanted to develop from from a one day show. So going from our into our fifth year now, we were running a fantastic exhibition and conference with some great speakers that we've had throughout the year, but we really wanted to expand on that and do something a bit more dedicated to different tracks, different kind of sectors, which were, you know, very present in the Saturday show. So as I mentioned, you know, we've got our launch party on the Monday, and Tuesday is our leadership day. So we've got a Black Women Business Talks, we've got a Black Men Business Talks, and each event has two panels, so an entrepreneurial panel to cater to our entrepreneurial audience, and then our corporate professional panel catering towards our professional audience. So for example, the Black Women Business Talks will have four Black women talking about leadership within an entrepreneurial space, and then a corporate panel of four Black women within, you know, companies like HSBC, JP Morgan, Amex, talking about leadership within a company, how to get yourself a promotion, etc. And then we've got, you know, the Black Tech Experience is part of the Tech Day on the Wednesday, we've got our Black in Cyber, we've got our Black Coders event, which is for the students, really want to encourage more people to get into coding, and especially, you know, cyber was very close to my heart, because I know there is not many Black professionals in cyber security, which is, you know, why we added that to the agenda. We've got our Media and Culture and Sports event. And we've also got our Allies program as well on the Thursday, which you know, we want to get up to 200 to 300 senior leaders in the room, HR directors, D&I consultants, and help them to be a better support, teach them how to be a better support to some of the Black entrepreneurs and professionals as well. And then on Fridays, our Finance Day, and then ending the week with our flagship show, the UK Black Business Show, we've got around 200 Black-owned businesses exhibiting as well as some of the biggest companies in the world, up to 4000 attendees, and some fantastic speakers at that on that Saturday. So yeah, a whole week of exciting events, really, really excited about it. I'm fired up. I mean, I think I really love about what you've put together. There's it's really well rounded, like, there's something for everyone. And, you know, you've covered literally all the all the important topics, right? So I think just to ask probably the silly question, right? Is this going to be in person or on, you know, online, you know, of course, we're not sure what the whole, you know, I think the overused word with COVID and lockdown, right? Like, like, what are your plans around the event? I don't want to hear the word lockdown. Yeah, I don't want to even say it. To answer your question, it's live, it's in person, it's IRL, in real life. It's, yeah, it's happening. It's happening in two weeks. So hope to see everyone there. Hope to see you there. No, of course. And what are the dates? So the 25th to the 30th of October, taking place at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, opposite the House of Parliament in Westminster Abbey, really, really beautiful venue. Yeah, I'm definitely gonna gonna come through. I mean, you know, all the all the days sound like, you know, like a lot of content and like I want to attend every single day. Who is, like, if you could maybe tell us a little bit about some of the speakers or some of the key highlights that, you know, are, you know, you can't miss type of type of things that's happening. Yeah, it's, well, Tuesday, we've got Sir Trevor MacDonald speaking. I mean, he's like a, you know, a British broadcasting legend. So I'll be interviewing him on the Tuesday. We've also got some fantastic authors, Elizabeth Onyomi, the co-authors of Slayin' Your Lane, great book, and Oppie Emi was actually interviewing them. We have some great speakers on that day as well, Sharma Dean Rhee, Bianca Miller. And then on Wednesday, our tech day, we've got Mike Little. He's the co-founder of WordPress, which basically powers the majority of the Internet. He's a black guy born in Stockport. So he's speaking on that day, as well as some great kind of, you know, tech professionals, senior leaders. I don't know if you're a football fan. We've got Robbie from Arsenal Fan TV on the Thursday on the sports event. June Sarpong on the Saturday, Kanye King from the MoBo. Basically, I'm saying you need to sleep at the venue. Mate, I mean, I'm just like taking it all in. I'm like, OK, yeah. Yeah, that's straight swag. Like, I mean, you've got enough, like, headliners. It's an amazing show. And Oppie Emi, like, you're also doing some talks as well and you're interviewing some people. Yeah. Highlighting the book, of course. Yeah, we'll be definitely highlighting the book and on the Saturday we'll have a stand so people can come by and grab copies. But I'm also really looking forward to speaking to Elizabeth Nyomi as we explore black women in business and in the professional world. But I also will be, you know, coming along, sitting in the audience, taking notes because it does look like an amazing lineup. Yeah. And how do we get tickets? Yeah, sure. So you can get tickets on UK Black Business Week dot com. There's a weekly pass available or you can just buy tickets for a specific event. Awesome. Well, I'm definitely, you know, you're going to see me there and hopefully we get to meet in person, you know, and, you know, my show is still online. So but but hopefully I get to meet you in person and I'll certainly stay for as many of the shows as I can. But yeah, that brings us 30 seconds to the end. If there's any other other things you want to highlight, otherwise we can close off the show. Yeah, just yeah. Thank you for having us. And yeah, definitely. We'll hope to see more from Cloudflare in, you know, championing black professionals and entrepreneurs. So, yeah, great job to yourself in doing that. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for attending. Bye bye. Bye.