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How To Network As An Introvert, Avoid Burnout, And Grow The Black Tech Space According To CEO Lekan Olawoye

Hint: Cheesy rom-coms are involved.

Lekan Olawoye is the founder and CEO of Black Professionals in Technology Network. OBSIDI is a platform by BPTN that helps Black tech professionals in Canada grow and level up their careers.

Lekan Olawoye, CEO and founder of OBSIDI

We sat down to chat with him about the future of Black professionals in tech. Let's get into it:

In your own words, what is OBSIDI by BPTN?

Lekan:  OBSIDI is a global platform that enables Black tech talent or Black professionals in general to connect with forward-thinking and amazing companies. When building this platform, we were intentional about saying that Black professionals have been underrepresented in tech for a long time and it's a myth that we're unicorns. We're out here, over-skilled, and [companies] just haven't known where we are — so let's enable them to.

Olawoye sitting in a chair

What would you say have been your ultimate goals for this organization?

 There’s no skill gap limiting Black professionals but rather a networking gap. A victory for us would be increasing the amount of Black talent getting hired, which means the representation numbers within their talent base get driven up. Those metrics enable businesses to perform better. The ultimate goal is to create a diverse workforce for companies to thrive and do very well.

And how do you nurture that talent?

We always say that you've got to shoot your shot and know your worth. What usually happens is that professionals may not know that they actually can do that; so when they come into our ecosystem, we provide them access to wonderful people from many amazing companies, including TD. What we provide in our company is that we enable mentors to be on a platform where mentees can then access them.

"I recognized very early on that folks that grew up in the places I grew up don't really show up very much. That's the thing that motivated me. To make it and try to use my abilities to be part of the evolutions that are needed in society."
people sitting in a presentation for BPTN

How did you find your start in the tech space? Did you have that comfortable mentoring experience?

I’ve been lucky and blessed enough to be mentored and coached throughout my career. Early on, I sort of had a quirky career mentor, who told me that I needed to be a "tri-sector leader" — a leader who understands how business, government, and community work. So my career has had these interesting twists and turns, but I am here based on the mentorship that I've received.

So then, what does it mean to you to have an impact on the young Black talents who become mentors and mentees under OBSIDI?

I think impact is measured more by others, not necessarily by me. But I don't want to ever look back and think that I wanted to do something and didn't. That's been the thing that's moved me along with trying to be supportive of community and to bring my talent to creating big solutions. If throughout my career, those who I've been able to work alongside have seen my work and were inspired, that's amazing.

"There are people who can be helpful to me, but I have to make sure that I bring value to them. I'd rather have two wonderful conversations than 20 okay ones."

Career networking is so important but it doesn't come naturally to everyone. As a self-proclaimed introvert, how do you personally network?

I'm not very good at networking but I'm good at building deep relationships. I prefer to stay away from them but when I do go to networking events, I'm really intentional about understanding the value that I bring to that space. I would say less is more when it comes to networking.

How do you keep from feeling burnt out?

It's important to remember that in the moments when you just keep working and don't want to stop, that Rome wasn't built in a day. The reality is, when you look at the magnitude of what you're trying to build, progress is incredibly slow and you have to be mindful of that. I think what's important for Black professionals now is to just slow down and say, "What are my skills today? Where's everything headed?" Take a moment and be in your environment for a bit.

How do you let yourself unwind and relax then?

I'm not very good at unwinding. If I go on vacation, it probably still takes me about two weeks to actually stop working! But I do like to watch very dumb movies. Most people won't believe this, I'll watch rom-coms. It relaxes my brain because I know everything that's going to happen.

Olawoye speaking

Tell us about your partnership with TD! How has it been beneficial to the work you do?

TD has been an instrumental partner and customer, really since the inception. TD is wonderful for the community. It's really amazing to see great talent connecting with them. With TD, we've built out something called OBSIDI Academy. It is this incredible, intense three-month boot camp where graduates are hired at the end of it. It's a game changer for investing in and hiring diverse talent. It's been a wonderful relationship.

Olawoye speaking

What would you like the future of tech to look like, especially for Black professionals in the industry?

Tech will always be an enabler. It helps to do things and it can only do what we tell it to. I want to see Black professionals at the forefront of all of that innovation. I know we have the skill sets. It's now just about having the confidence to step out and be intentional about being visible.

Lastly, what is the best piece of career advice that you've ever been given?

I was told, "You have a lot of fire but you're burning everybody. Understand how to channel your fire." That means don't let everything come out of your mouth, or else the people who are trying to help you and the people who don't like you are all getting burned up equally. It's important to understand how to turn it on and off.

Person watching someone speak on TV
"A quote I live by is from 50 Cent and it's, 'Whoever said progress was a slow process wasn't talking about me'."

TD is proud to support Black-led organizations like OBSIDI and the Black Professionals in Technology Network. Check out their commitment to Black communities and learn more about OBSIDI here.

Note: Answers have been edited for length and/or clarity.