Abadesi Osunsade is an entrepreneur, author, and diversity & inclusion advocate. She is the founder of Hustle Crew, a company that aims to promote D&I in the tech industry. Hustle Crew offers career development and mentoring programs designed to help people from underrepresented backgrounds succeed in the tech sector. Abadesi is also the co-host of the Techish podcast, where she discusses the latest trends and news in the tech world, and the author of the book Dream Big. Hustle Hard.: The Millennial Woman's Guide to Success in Tech, which provides career advice for women looking to break into or excel in the tech industry.
Can you tell us a bit about your background: where do you come from, what kind of family were you born in, what did you want to become when you were a child, what were you doing before being an entrepreneur?
I had a very typical childhood of a diplomat’s kid, meaning I moved around a lot and always went to international schools: perhaps this is why I’m obsessed with diversity and inclusion. I grew up in a multicultural home: Nigerian dad, Filipina mum, was born in the US as the first generation of people in my family to have that privilege, and by the age of 14 had lived in five countries. As a child I didn’t consider tech or entrepreneurship as a path, I thought I’d do something creative like be a novelist. It was only when I started working in the corporate world that I realised startup land was probably more exciting than the average office job, and once I was in the startup world I knew I’d be a founder one day. That’s where the money is!
Can you tell us about your personal journey into the tech industry, including any challenges or obstacles you faced along the way?
I watched the movie The Social Network and decided to join the startup world. I didn’t have any close friends or family members in tech so I had to lean on my networks. I started asking friends from university to help and eventually got connected to friends of friends working at Groupon. They gave me advice on the recruitment process and the rest is history. Being one of the few or one of the only in a team will bring challenges because people won’t always get you. There are times where guys on my team made jokes that made me feel really uncomfortable. In 2011 we didn't have the vocabulary we have now: I didn’t know about microaggressions, #metoo… I’m happy things have improved but we still have a long way to go.
What inspired you to found Hustle Crew, and how has your personal experience influenced your work in promoting diversity and inclusion in the tech industry?
I'm aware how many other Nigerian and Filipina women don’t have the opportunities I have because of my background, my upbringing, my education. I have a lot of privileges through my language skills, my citizenship, my network. And yet I’ve been in teams where I’ve been treated more harshly than my male peers, and judged more harshly because I called out behaviour I found to be problematic. I started Hustle Crew after quitting a startup that was toxic to me as the only Black employee there. I had no real plan, I just knew that if someone with my privileges could suffer like that, it would be far far worse for other less privileged women. So I wanted to do something about it! Hustle Crew started as a meet up in London, within a few months I was in accelerators and incubators developing a business idea around the community. For the last few years we’ve run inclusion workshops at reputable employers like NHS, Soundcloud, Bloom & Wild.
How do you think the tech industry has evolved in terms of diversity and inclusion since you started Hustle Crew?
The industry now has a vocabulary to discuss these issues, but that comes with downsides too. I see people misuse the language, misinterpret it or even weaponise it for their own agenda. People have learned how to use inclusion as a tool for manipulation and that is deeply concerning to me. While I believe bias is everywhere I don’t think bias is to blame for everything that goes wrong. Sometimes you’re just not the right person for the job. While our awareness of inclusion issues has grown so has a resistance to the movement. We saw this with Elon Musk laying off Twitter’s ethics and DEI team when he joined. There’s still a strong contingent of powerful tech leaders who don’t care about D&I and don’t have any intention to support efforts around it.
What are some of the most significant challenges that underrepresented individuals face when trying to break into or advance in the tech industry, and how does Hustle Crew address those challenges?
Many people who are qualified for a role get rejected over ‘culture fit’ which is often a way to mask prejudice and discrimination. It’s really difficult to get actionable feedback as an underrepresented person. Research shows that cis gendered heterosexual white men receive critical feedback about how to improve conpared to women who are often told what they’ve done well, but not what they can do better. Research shows that hiring managers want to hire people that look like them - its affinity bias - but we already know tech is dominated by white men. So how do you get hired if you aren’t one? There’s still a huge gap between employers words and actions when it comes to inclusion, and if you’re marginalised in some way you’re stuck swimming - or drawing - in that gap
Can you share a few key pieces of advice from your book "Dream Big. Hustle Hard." that you believe are essential for success in the tech industry, especially for women and people from underrepresented backgrounds?
Getting over a fear of rejection and fear of failure is a crucial part of success. For every award I’ve won there are thousands I didn’t. For every job I landed there are dozens of applications where I never even got a phone screening. It's really important to consistently put yourself out there and take risks, it's the only way to grow.
How do you maintain your motivation when faced with setbacks or challenges in your work?
I find it very powerful to focus on my purpose. My purpose in life is not to be rich. My purpose in life is to help people like me who do not have the privileges I have. Staying grounded in my purpose helps me zoom out and think about the long term. Most lives, if lucky, are decades long. Whereas setbacks last a few weeks or months at best.
Question from the community: How do you balance your various roles as an entrepreneur, author, podcast co-host, and D&I advocate, and what strategies do you use to manage your time effectively? Can you share any tips?
The key is understanding what makes you burnout and preventing yourself from getting there. It's really important for me to schedule into my calendar things like yoga classes, runs for my well being, but also things like theatre visits or art exhibitions for my fun time and play. I also schedule social time with friends to spark joy. On any given week I’m balancing my work time with my fun time, and with time that recharges me mentally and physically. I believe rituals and routines are important. Starting my day meditating, journaling and exercising before I turn my phone on allows me to centre myself before the world’s distractions start to stress me out.
What have been some of the most memorable or rewarding moments in your career?
I used to be an obsessive Grazia reader in my 20s, I had a weekly subscription delivered to my door. I could barely afford it but I’ve always enjoyed reading fashion magazines since I flipped through my mum’s Vogues as a kid. In 2020 I was asked to contribute to a Grazia article about what the most successful women entrepreneurs eat for dinner: that was a real pinch me moment. I’ve appeared in Elle magazine, on BBC Radio 4 This morning: starring in the content I consume is such validation of my work!
What have been some of the most surprising or unexpected lessons you've learned throughout your journey?
I don’t consider myself paranoid or pessimistic - quite the opposite. But sometimes my optimism has made me naive. I’ve often assumed that other women in tech want to help me, want me to succeed, and that has led me to be too open or too trusting. I’ve been deeply hurt and scared by collaborating with women who I believed were passionate about inclusion but really were just using inclusion to push their own personal agenda. That’s been an unexpected discovery.
Recently, you introduced a new initiative called Hustle Crew Academy. Could you share some insights about this program?
Hustle Crew has never had on-demand training and with the increasing need for flexibility and accessibility we decided to make our workshops available online. We have our inclusion skills training that’s been delivered to thousands of employees all across the world, and we have our career skills training too. Our career skills content is shaped by my personal experiences and our community: tailored to the experiences of underrepresented people. How to negotiate, how to build your confidence, how to build your brand. We add new courses every quarter too, inspired by the challenges faced in our community.
Looking back on your journey so far, is there any advice you would give to your younger self or to others just starting their careers in the tech industry?
If not now - when? So many times I waited to start something. I would sit on an idea. I would research endlessly. I would never actually LAUNCH anything. So now when I have an idea I ask, ‘If not now - when?’ and that pushes me to do something about it NOW. The present is a gift: the future is a mystery.
Find Abadesi on Twitter, tune in to her podcast, and get 25% off Hustle Crew Academy with the following code: HC25OFF.
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