Inspirational Woman: Dayo Akinrade | Founder & CEO, Wisdom

Dayo AkiniradeI am the founder and CEO of Wisdom, Wisdom is a social audio app with the mission to democratise access to mentorship and create an open and diverse community centred on knowledge-sharing.

My journey in tech started as an IT Management Consultant at the ‘Big 4’. Then, driven by the lack of diversity in London’s tech ecosystem, I joined the founding team of OneTech, London’s largest diversity in startups programme, backed by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation. My first venture into startup was Africlick, a cultural dating app targeting 1 billion Africans globally.

Prior to this I studied for a B.Sc. in Computer Science from the University of Manchester and a M.Sc. in Technology from University College London.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

As a child my mother was pursuing a PhD and she spent vast amounts of time in her computer room. So from an early age, I had a sense that computers were important and knew I wanted to work with computers one day. I occasionally will sit down and plan my career, although I plan only a few years in advance as, in my experience, the tech industry advances quite rapidly and opportunities more than a few years away can be impossible to predict. I aim to create where I hope the industry will go and then focus intently on executing toward my goal.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Having worked in London’s largest diversity startup program, I’ve observed firsthand how lack of access to mentors contributes to systemic inequity and disadvantages founders from minority groups. I observed that would-be mentors on LinkedIn have a clear problem: they have no way of engaging the many inbound requests they receive so they ignore them all, unless they get a “warm introduction,” which is itself a crystallisation of systemic inequality. Hence, Wisdom was born from my mission to democratise access to mentorship using the power of social audio technology.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In March 2022, Wisdom was featured App of the Day in Apple’s App Store with Apple saying ‘Logging into Wisdom is like showing up at a party powered by conversations between thought leaders and big thinkers’. Given that the App Store has approximately 2 million apps, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that Apple recognised our mission and decided to feature Wisdom.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Unfortunately, resilience, as a Black woman in tech I am often underestimated, with experienced individuals often expressing surprise and disbelief at my education and qualifications. I say ‘unfortunately’, as the tech industry must continue efforts to #breakthebias.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

When job hunting, do not just select the company with the highest salary, candidates should consider the company culture and what archetype of person is successful there and if their personality is a natural fit.  Candidates often do not consider that job hunting is a two-way fit between the employee and employer.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, although the barriers are often invisible and structural which presents an additional challenge to overcome. Companies that employ large workforces should seek to embed diversity and inclusion into every aspect of the organisation, including their products, brand, team, processes and policy. Once a company is authentically diverse, it will naturally attract women to work there.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

My observation from consulting for high-growth tech companies, is a trend where organisations are experiencing ‘diversity fatigue’. Human Resources departments are managing multiple diversity initiatives and justifying return on investment is a challenge. I think companies can benefit from holistically examining the company culture and being honest about what archetype of individual is successful within their structure. Oftentimes that archetype embodies stereotypically male characteristics. When that is so, a deeper examination and ultimately transformation of company culture may be required.

There are currently only 21 percent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Studies have indicated that genderisation at the earliest stages of child development can impact their future career choices. I would raise awareness on genderisation of children as related to gender-specific toys and attitudes to girls in STEM subjects – which hopefully would go some way to increasing the pipeline of women opting to participate in tech. Encouraging curiosity and leadership and the embracing of hard-fought skills like mathematics and science in our girls must be intentional.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I recommend that women who work in the tech industry seek out a set of mentors that can serve as a sounding board and trusted community of advisors. Today, information is readily available on the internet, however, mentorship brings benefits beyond information. It provides an external challenge from a fresh perspective and enables an individual to benefit from the mentor’s lived experience. Women in tech can use the insight and advice from a mentor, to accelerate their desired career outcomes. Of course, Wisdom is a great platform to connect with mentors.

Royal Holloway Wisdom

Royal Holloway University of London - Women in the Security Domain and/or Mathematics

Royal Holloway Wisdom

Wisdom was set up in 2016 in the School of Mathematics and Information Security at Royal Holloway to try to address the lack of diversity in these fields.

Our main aim is to promote diversity within our department, by creating a group of like minded people who all support this mission. We also aim to encourage more women to study in these fields, by fostering a community that is supportive of women. We highlight areas where women feel underrepresented or improvements could be made, and then ensure that school management is fully engaged in resolving these issues.

We have meetings every two months, to which the whole department is invited. In these meetings we organise our current projects, and there is a discussion on a topic related to diversity. Previous topics include the “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” memo. We also have an organising committee meeting every other month.

In May 2017 Wisdom co-hosted an event with HutZero titled ‘Driving Innovation through Diversity’. With around 40 attendees, the event was focused on discussing how organisations can help promote diversity in the Cyber Security sector. We deliberately designed the event to be interactive, with a ‘workshop’ style as opposed to a traditional speaker/audience setup. This allowed for a good flow of conversation, to enable attendees to share their thoughts, ideas, and network.

Wisdom have also organised the London Universities Women in Stem Day in June 2017, with around 50 attendees. This event provided a forum for discussion between the universities in London about promoting diversity in STEM. The day ended with a discussion panel and networking. Feedback from the event included: "Great speakers, passionate about both their work and committed to gender equality. It was nice to see a different range of seniority (PhD student to head of department) as well as from different backgrounds (academia vs industry)."

We organised a Winter Networking Event, where speakers focused on revealing their own experiences about diversity. Attendees found this helpful, and this fostered good discussion in the networking afterwards. We held an anniversary brunch on the first birthday of Wisdom, to celebrate our achievements. These achievements have been recognised by the university who awarded the group an 'Enhancing Fairness Award'. On the more social side of Wisdom, we hold informal lunches with the Master's students from Royal Holloway on a termly basis. Our other social events include films nights, where we watch a diversity-themed film. These events allow us to think about issues in a more informal setting, where some of our members feel more comfortable to express themselves.

Wisdom recently ran the 11 session Voice & Influence programme for its members. This programme, developed by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford, offers both theoretical and practical discussions and solutions to issues women face in the work place. This allowed for weekly discussions and also advice applicable to individuals. It has also helped us, as a group, look at what our university might do better. An example of this would be a better defined maternity policy.

One of our main initiatives, was to give two undergraduate students based in South Africa the chance to visit Royal Holloway to complete short projects. These projects were under the supervision of Professor Kenny Paterson who, along with the HOPE foundation, and an EPSRC grant, funded the visit. Although we encountered difficulties with the visas of both students, we were still able to host one of the students for a shorter period of time. This allowed her to gain some exposure to the world of research.

When founding the group we encountered obstacles including convincing management that diversity is everybody's problem, and of the necessity of Wisdom. We also needed to convince the department that Wisdom is a group for all, and source funding. We were fortunate last year to receive an EPSRC grant, and we hope our annual Wisdom survey will help us reach out to the whole department.
We are proud at how much our network has expanded in our first year, both internally and externally via social media and our regularly updated blog. Our meetings are well attended, by both women and men, with up to 30 regular members. We hope that these meeting are helping to raise the issue of diversity across the entire department, with both staff and students attending.

Overall, we are overwhelmed with the progress Wisdom has made in its first year. we are determined to double down in our efforts, and make our second year even better.