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This up-and-coming exec is helping orphans become economic leaders

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Standard Chartered associate Kemi Adetu. Photo: Standard Chartered

Kemi Adetu, an associate and client manager at Standard Chartered in New York, was awarded first place in this year’s HERoes Top 50 Women Future Leaders list. The list, released by diversity and inclusion network INvolve and supported by Yahoo Finance, celebrates inspirational women who are not yet senior leaders in an organisation but are making a significant contribution to gender diversity at work. View the full HERoes Top 50 Women Future Leaders list here.

Kemi Adetu had a diverse upbringing. British and Nigerian by descent, she spent her childhood in England, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana — something which, as you would expect, gives her a unique outlook on life.

And even for an associate in a major global bank like Standard Chartered (STAN.L), Adetu’s professional experience has been far from homogenous.

Starting in Kenya as an intern for the group, she proceeded to work in London and Shanghai, before settling down in New York as a client manager on the private equity industry team.

“With the exposure to Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana — and the exposure to Europe and North America — and seeing the vast differences in opportunities people have, I think I have a really different perspective,” Adetu told Yahoo Finance UK.

From the moment she joined Standard Chartered’s graduate scheme in London in 2016, Adetu has been striving to improve diversity and inclusion within the company.

As a graduate representative on the company’s Gender Engagement Network, Adetu pushed internal stakeholders to improve the gender balance on its internship and graduate programmes, which have since gone from having just 20% women to around 45%.

Since moving to New York, she has been invited onto the Americas division of the bank’s diversity and inclusion council.

‘Everyone has resources. What are you doing with them?’

Adetu is adamant that anyone working in a company like Standard Chartered had the ability to effect change, no matter their seniority.

"Everyone has resources,” she said. “It's just: what are you doing with those resources?"

“For some people, it's money; for others, it's their network; for some, it's just who they are as individuals. For me, I've put a lot of effort into understanding my environment and seeing myself through other people's eyes,” she said.

“I think I'm more sensitive and compassionate towards people who look or sound different to me, because of my background.”

Though Adetu is not one to miss out on a chance to create opportunities for others, she also recognises when she has to help herself find her way.

"When I moved to New York in October 2017, something I found very difficult was meeting other people after coming from such a diverse background. It's very hard if you didn't go to school in the United States to build out that network outside of your firm."

With her friend, Adetu started a network for female professionals from a similar background — known as the Fempire Professional Network — which initially focused on a brunch series.

The idea, she said, was “to create a support system,” and Fempire now runs a number of sessions every month, partnering with university Africa Business Clubs.

One of Adetu's initiatives, GLOWUP, in action. Photo: Kemi Adetu

‘We went to the orphanage and had Christmas dinner with them’

As a child, Adetu spent a lot of time in orphanages as a result of her family’s commitment to giving back.

“I've always worked with orphans. It's something my family just did. We woke up on Christmas Day and we went to the orphanage and had Christmas dinner with them — and we did that for over 10 years.”

That experience inspired her to launch an NGO called GLOW UP — which stands for: Girls, Ladies, Orphans, Women, United, Progressing.

GLOW UP forms partnerships with the goal of empowering female orphans and foster children in Africa and the US with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to be economic leaders in their communities, Adetu said.

The NGO is acutely focused on actually achieving results, she said, lamenting the current focus on style over substance in certain sectors.

"I'm very big on accountability — I think in the world we live in right now, especially when you're young and a millennial, everything moves so fast and people want to get to the top so quickly. I see a lot of things that are more PR than they are actual substance,” she said.

“The problem with focusing on the branding is that the real purpose for what you're doing is almost drowning in all the PR and the press conferences.”

‘Relationships are the key to everything’

Adetu said relationships have underpinned every project she has worked on — from the charity she founded as a teenager that raised thousands for congenital heart disorders, to Standard Chartered’s Women in Tech incubator.

“Formally, informally, through networks — people have referred me for things and it's been a very interesting journey,” she said. “A lot of doors have opened for me where I didn't knock, because I've built goodwill, maintained a constant dialogue with people, and helped people on their own journey.”

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Yahoo Finance is supporting diversity and inclusion network INvolve’s executive role model lists across EMpower, HERoes, and OUTstanding. Nominations for the 2019 OUTstanding role models lists are open.