Tackling under-representation at Oxford and in the world of technology

Tackling under-representation at Oxford and in the world of technology

Leke Abolade is helping to inspire future generations of black Oxford University students through a new graduate alumni network.

The Oxford Black Alumni Network, which numbers more than 200 members, aims to connect black Oxford graduates from across the generations as well as inspiring current and future alumni “to fight for their causes and achieve common goals”, as its website puts it.

Leke (OE 2004–2011) was among a small group of members who were pictured at its launch – an image reproduced by major media outlets, including the Evening Standard and The Voice.

“The photoshoot was organised by members of the network, myself included, which has been created to highlight the inspiring and varied endeavours of Oxford alumni of black African and Caribbean heritage across fields including entrepreneurship, academia, and careers in the City, Law, media, tech, the arts and sports,” he says.

Naomi Kellman, the network’s co-chair, who took a PPE degree in 2011, told the Evening Standard: “There is still a concern among black students that if they apply, they might be the only one — they might think Oxford is not for ‘people like me’. But we want to show that’s not true. There is a long history of black students at Oxford doing well and being happy.”

After leaving QE, where he had enjoyed rugby with the Second XV, as well as singing in the Chamber Choir and playing with the Senior Strings, Leke went up to St Catherine’s College to read Engineering. In his four years in Oxford, he threw himself fully into student life, belonging to the university’s Amateur Boxing Club as well as its African Caribbean Society, Energy Society and Engineers Without Borders. He was also involved in St Catherine’s rugby, in the college choir and in a musical production, Chutney and Chips.

“Oxford was a fantastic educational experience and I want to ensure that prospective black students can believe this will be true for them as well,” he said.

Since graduating in 2015, he has worked in various roles, including a spell in the Osney Thermo-Fluids Laboratory within Oxford’s engineering faculty. Leke has spent most of 2017 working as a software developer with LexisNexis – a US company that works especially with law firms and other organisations operating in the legal sphere.

He is now carrying the objectives that inspired the formation of the new network into his professional life as well.  “Last year I began a career as a software developer and found myself in an industry that, like Oxford, has problems of under-representation,” he said. His response has been to volunteer as a coach in his spare time for Codebar – a non-profit initiative that runs programming workshops in a safe and collaborative environment to improve career opportunities for under-represented communities in technology.