ABN’s search for diversity

Claire Fox

As part of a new investigation on the London City Show, Daniel Dankwah has been exploring the issue of diversity and representation in universities, top financial companies and society in general.

Wednesday 2nd November’s show featured interviews with Yemi Gbajobi, Chief Executive of LSE and University of Arts London’s Student Union and Yemi Soli, Chairman of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK (CANUK) on the issue of diversity in university leadership and the problems those from the Afro-Caribbean community experience when trying to break through.

For Nigerian Yemi Gbajobi, prejudice and misunderstanding has very much been part of her experience while moving up to the ranks to become one of only five black chief executives in the UK and the only black female. As the primary staff member supporting elected student officers, it has been a 13-year journey to get to her current position at LSE.

“It’s sometimes a fight to get our issues and our culture on the table. It is changing but it has been a long road.”

Approximately 60% of students are international at LSE, as is the case for many of the other London universities. Ms Gbajobi does believe that LSE is in a unique position as there are good relationships between lecturers and students and a good ratio of students to Teaching Assistants and staff in general, who are all there to offer support.

Yemi Soli is the chairperson of the Youth wing of CANUK, an organisation set up by the Nigerian high commission in 2005 to oversee the welfare of Nigerians in the UK. CANUK acts as a community outreach for Nigerians, and in particular young Nigerians who can bring their thoughts and concerns to the organisation, which can then be fed back to the high commission through one voice.

With regards to difficulties over representation and inclusion, Mr Soli believes a distinction must be made between:

students who come from Africa, international students and [home] students who were born here or have been based here for a long time. [It’s] two different experiences for them. The home students find it much easier to blend in because they’ve been in the system for a while…The system back in Africa is quite different to here, some of them find blending in quite difficult.”

Mr Soli, like Ms Gbajobi, has experienced issues of racism and bigotry in the past. One of his friends in fact faced serious racism when he was elected as President of an SU, with people even coining a twitter hashtag, #GetHimOut. But he believes that If reported to the proper authorities, racist comments and prejudice can be dealt with appropriately.

Mr Soli, who was President of the Nigerian society at his university, said that he used the society as a forum to take requests from international students who may not have been able to approach their lecturers in the same way home students can. The society would then bring these questions or information to the international office who would in turn pass it on to the relevant lecturers.

Through CANUK, Mr Soli hopes their new youth outreach project can help find possible solutions to the issues and concerns young Africans are facing.

Political show host on Mondays and contributor to the ‘London City Show,’ Kwame Oppong Yeboah echoed Mr Soli’s sentiments about the need to make distinctions between home and international students. For Kwame though, what results students actually get are key.

“The most important thing for me is, are they getting the requisite grades to allow they to go to Russell schools? Books are of paramount importance…We don’t want people to grow up and simply say, I’m being discriminated against. We live in a globalised world, with powerful people. You need to prove yourself.”