Kai Ojo is managing director of Planisware UK, a global provider of enterprise project and portfolio management software based in Manchester. MBA qualified, Kai has nearly two decades’ experience in the technology sector, including managing programme delivery operations delivering to the US and Japan. Kai works with tech businesses and educational establishments to increase the representation of diverse talent, and also heads up the Diversity and Inclusion Team at the Manchester Publicity Association (MPA), as well as being a member of the Industry Advisory Board at the University of Salford Business School.
“It is vital for people with privilege to provide allyship where they can.”
From Nigeria to Manchester via Togo, Malta, London and Lancaster
I have studied all over the world, starting in Nigeria, then Togo, Malta and then in the UK, where I finished my secondary school education in Blackheath, London. University felt like an obvious next step after my A-levels but in hindsight, it was the only option available. I did an electronic and computer systems engineering degree that included a year in industry. I then did an MBA at Lancaster University Management School about three years after completing my first degree. Over the course of my career, I have also done other courses to complement my educational achievements.
My Planisware journey
My role on a day-to-day basis is extremely varied and I love this! I started the UK office for Planisware back in 2016 and it has been very challenging from day one. It started off pretty as a start-up with the head office (and owners of the business) in Paris as my funders.
This set the tone for my role – going from one day getting my head around pensions and benefits for the team, to recruitment across multiple types of functions – some I’ve never done before, to also building out our strategy and putting in place the plan to execute it. Layered on top of this is a high level of networking, firstly internally amongst my peers globally, and then my team, but also externally within the industry.
No excuse for inaction
One of the aspects of the business world that is still not addressed with enough vigour, but which, ironically, can generate a huge competitive advantage is that of inclusion and diversity in the teams we lead and manage.
There is so much research out there now showing that businesses really don’t have any excuse for some of the inaction. For example, Great Places to Work did some research which showed that employees were nearly TEN times more likely to look forward to going to when “…employees trust that they, and their colleagues, will be treated fairly regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or age, they are”. This is HUGE – without a doubt, employees who want to come to work is your starting point for a great business.
This is part of the foundations of how I am building the Planisware UK team, and it is a fundamental aspect of how I build teams – it’s a passion of mine. As a Black person growing up in the UK after spending my early years in different countries and cultures, I have experienced first-hand the consequences of a lack of inclusion and diversity. This drives me to make a difference where I possibly can, so where better to start than my own team?
Diversity adds up
Often some people pose the question – why the focus on talent being diverse? Why not just hire people for their capabilities? This is true in a way but the reality is a bit more nuanced than this. The world is extremely diverse and therefore any product or service a business is making is being consumed by a diverse pool of people. If that product or service is being created by people who have a narrowed view of the world – guess what, their solutions will not be accessible to everyone – it’s simple maths really.
It’s about diversity of people, not just diversity of thought
To get diversity in representation in all areas of life you need a diverse pool of people. I always remember a middle-aged white male politician being challenged on TV about the lack of diversity in the cabinet and he said what mattered was ‘diversity of thought’. That attitude must change.
The importance of lived experience
In the workplace, one of the challenges we still find in a lot of industries is the leadership make up – the lack of diversity at senior executive levels will always be a barrier because it is not possible to fully understand the challenges faced by those within the team you run if you don’t have lived experience of what it means to be excluded yourself or you don’t have representation at the senior levels either championing and amplifying diverse voices.
This is crucial for business success – representation is one of the key ways to allow diverse talent to come through. If they see it they believe it is possible to be it.
Listen, and listen hard
It is vital for people with privilege to provide allyship where they can. My own experiences allow me to recall the feeling of support when a white colleague would go out of their way to support me, having seen that I was been treated unfairly and knowing full well that it may paint the same ‘target’ on their back. For gender balance, this is a must.
We as men have several privileges that we take for granted – some without even being aware of it. Irrespective of this, we have a responsibility to support the women around us, but this must be done with a sense of self-awareness that allows you to recognise you’re not some sort of ‘saviour’. Listen, and listen hard – then support. I try to do this in every way I can but it’s a learning process that’s constantly evolving.
Global and local growth
Planisware is growing globally as well as locally. My team in Manchester recently moved into a new office and we are currently recruiting six more people to become a team of 13 in total. Our revenue is going to be close to double what it was last year, and our customer base is expanding. My role in the business is also evolving as the team is growing and I am really looking forward to seeing the next generation of diverse leaders coming through the business to help build the business further.