Abadesi Osunsade is a Black woman within the tech industry and has worked with everybody from Amazon to Groupon. Noticing that women of color were grossly underrepresented in the tech industry, she decided to set up her company, Hustle Crew, with a mission to empower and support Black women in the field through mentorship and training.
We spoke to Abadesi about her Hustle Crew movement. Abadesi can also add “author” to her long list of achievements. Her new book, Dream Big. Hustle Hard. The Millennial Woman’s Guide to Success in Tech is now available on Amazon.com.
Abadesi Osunsade: I decided to start my own business because I was frustrated by the lack of representation in an industry that’s increasingly dominating our lives. As my seniority increased, I was painfully aware of how few women and particularly women and colour and people of colour were around me. I found myself policing inappropriate talk and behaviour and feeling excluded. I knew that if there were more diverse voices in the room than this behaviour would not exist. I wanted to do something about it, and I felt that starting my own business was a good way to start.
SMC: Did you ever have any second thoughts/regrets after leaving?
AO: Oh yes, all the time. It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur and even more difficult when you are a woman of colour. The latest data shows that women receive less than 3% of all venture capital, almost certainly women of colour represent a tiny proportion of that. When I told investors and other entrepreneurs about my idea to make tech more inclusive, they responded with positivity for the most part, but when I actually went into sales mode, companies weren’t biting. They agreed they had gender equality issues, but most of them did not want to invest in a solution. Most tech companies I approached wanted me to deliver my training or inspirational talks for free.
SMC: How did you find the interviewing process when you were starting out in your career? Was it intimidating?
AO: Yes, I was always petrified by interviews when I first started out, then I realised the reason for that boiled down to a lack of preparation. I started applying the same preparation tactics that had got me good grades at school to my job hunt — I did my research. I would find out everything I could about the company and the role, studying for the interview as if it was an exam. I would leverage my network and try to get information from people inside the company that could help me succeed in the scenario. I would anticipate the questions the interviewer might ask me and rehearse answers accordingly. It became far less intimidating after that.
SMC: In schools, they often show students how to craft a CV/resume. Do you feel that interviewing skills should be introduced as part of the curriculum?
AO: I think that most schools take an outdated approach to career preparation. Even the CVs and resumes being drawn up are insufficient. Students should be learning how to create an attractive LinkedIn profile and develop a positive online presence. They need to understand that the job market is exactly that, a market. They need to understand the minds of recruiters and hiring managers and sell themselves as best they can. Interview skills should definitely be taught, but students also need to be taught how to understand themselves better. We are asking young people “what do you want to with your life?” When they have little understanding of the options out there. We should be asking them “what kinds of skills do you want to apply in your working day?” and guide them from there.
SMC: Hustle Crew has some very prominent mentors. Was it easy to bring them on board? How do they support HC?
AO: It was very easy to bring them on board because they’re all my friends and like me are passionate about making tech more inclusive. I started to realise a while ago just how important your personal network is in advancing your career. I realised that this was also one of the blockers of diversity. By default, underrepresented people do not have access to powerful people within industries who can give them access and open doors. I’ve had the privilege to attend great schools that have helped me meet influential people who have opened doors for me. Now we use our collective influence and power to accelerate the careers of ambitious people in our community.
AO: In any environment where you are the minority, you will have to work harder. On top of doing your job, you have to invest time and effort in fitting in, because we still live in a world where differences are more likely to be called out in a negative way than be glorified. While trying to do my job to the best of my abilities, I’ve also had to turn a deaf ear to discriminatory comments and smile and carry on while colleagues ask to touch my hair. It’s draining the amount of extra work women of colour do that goes unnoticed.
SMC: What are your top tips for succeeding in the tech industry?
AO: Be resilient and focused on how you add value. Keep evidence of all your achievements. If you get feedback, ask for examples and detailed direction on how you can improve. Find a careers community like Hustle Crew you can be a part of to help elevate you and provide a safe space to share your struggles and concerns. Build a network of inspiring friends who you can turn to for mentorship and support. Find allies within your organisation to elevate you and support your ambitions — ideally people who represent the status quo. You can leverage their power and influence to help you get where you want to be.
SMC: What is Black Girl Magic to you?
AO: Black Girl Magic is the secret sauce that allows us to achieve greatness despite the constant BS we put up with each day. We are oppressed daily in visible and invisible ways, and despite it all, we excel in every field – as scientists, as business owners, as workers, as athletes, as artists. The list goes on. Despite the odds often being stacked against us we reign supreme. Imagine just how much we could do if we had more cash in our hands and racism and patriarchy were non-existent?