Akua Opong is a Chartered IT Professional within the Group Technology Team as a Senior Associate within financial services. As part of her role, she mentors new starters in the team, including interns and graduates, and provides technology guidance to colleagues across the Group. Outside her primary role, Akua is a keen diversity & inclusion advocate, WIN (Women’s Inspired Network) Head of External Partnerships, WIN Tech Network Events & Community Lead, UK Accessibility Lead, Mental Health Champion and UK Community Action Lead for the outreach initiatives/fundraising activities. As a STEM ambassador, she is passionate about raising the profile of Women in STEM. She was a UN Women UK Delegate for CSW67 during International Women’s Day 2023. Akua is also a Neurodiversity advocate (self-identifies as Dyslexic and has ADHD), Cajigo Technology Mentor, charity ambassador, fundraiser and a keen sports volunteer for Netball England and British Athletics. Her career highlights include being featured in Investment Week, Forbes, guest articles and Global Tech Advocates Black Women in Tech – The Voices in the Shadows book (volume 1). Additionally, Akua was Campaign Tech awards judge, Brummell’s Ones to Watch 2023,
Women in Software ChangeMakers 2023, Computer Weekly’s Women in UK Tech Rising Stars 2023, Women in FinTech Power list – Standout 45 (Technology Category), WeAreTheCity Technology Rising Star 2022 and Baton STEM Trailblazer Award 2022.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
Growing up I wanted to be a pediatrician, a branch of medicine that involves the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents. I then looked at working in the army in emergency response but with an IT intelligence role after university. I studied from primary to college years in London and then completed my degree at the University of Surrey (BSc Honours) in Computing and IT with a one-year industrial placement at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd in West Sussex. I worked part-time throughout my studies and then had a part-time job alongside my IT roles. I wanted to be independent and didn’t want to rely on my parents, they worked hard and they deserved for me to stand on my own two feet to cover my tuition fees. I love reading, meditation, music, theater, attending book tours, festivals, and music (I love Motown and powerhouse singers like Whitney Houston or the soothing sounds of Toni Braxton).
I have worked in IT for more than five years without giving my age away. My first IT job was supporting the Dubai Royal family across their UK properties, worked at Rathbones for nearly 5 years, PA Consulting and fast forward to July 2019, I joined financial services. In my previous roles, I was part of the sports and social committee, I loved organising fundraising events. In financial services, I work as a Senior Associate within Corporate Technology. In this role, it is very fast-paced and I love it this way. I have been involved in the global laptop inventory project, creating technical documentation, new starter IT inductions and more recently configuring, deploying equipment and providing remote assistance to staff during and post Covid-19. Outside of my role, I am part of the Women’s Inspired Network, WINTech Community, Charity Ambassador and a Mental Health Awareness Champion. The opportunities are unlimited and this is what I enjoy about working at LSEG. I want to make a difference, promote diversity and give back to all the charities. This has helped me to improve so many interpersonal skills and each day I learn something new. Outside of my role within financial services over the last 10 years, I have completed various charity walks, runs, half marathons and abseils for various charities such as Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation, British Red Cross, Race for Life, Alzheimer’s Society and Diabetes UK. My most memorable achievement was back in 2007 when I participated in the Great South Run for children with Leukaemia with my colleagues at the time from Rolls–Royce Motor Cars Ltd. I have been doing sports volunteering for the last five years in athletics, badminton, netball and tennis. I am also a Team London Ambassador who volunteers during the summer. In most companies where I have worked, I have assisted with school site visits for business challenges and teaching children of various ages business skills.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say YES, go for it!”
I am always looking at ways to give back and finding a way to donate IT equipment to charities and organisations was something that would help so many communities. Also, donating stationery and clothing yearly is rewarding. In this life, you have to help others, give them an opportunity, a chance to succeed and more importantly HOPE (Have Only Positive Expectations).
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
I believe in diverse workplaces, different cultures, level playing fields, voices being heard at all levels of the organisation, gender equality and fair pay. More importantly, we need leaders that help individuals gain access to the right resources. In the modern world we live in, technology is affecting the way we work, study and so much more. We should be promoting using technology for good and helping others.
The key tips I would suggest for aspiring female entrepreneurs and leaders facing barriers:
- Know your worth: Earlier, I mentioned self-advocacy and it is true as an individual you need to back yourself up by being your own champion, your own advocate and know your own value. Bring to attention any bias when you see it to stamp down your authority as this creates fairness in the workplace. This is so important in the industry as this allows you as an individual to be confident whether it is negotiating a better or fair pay package (bonus or pay rise). Always be clear on what you want and have supporting evidence that will back up your requests. Speak to people you trust, if you haven’t gained this clarity.
- Personal Brand: What is your Unique Selling Point? How do you want to be known in the industry? Demonstrate clearly how to navigate without feeling unworthy yet you want to be able to raise your profile i.e., panelist at an event. Be more visible.
- Continuous learning: Learning new skills even if it is 15-30 minutes a day learning. For example, writing better reports to help as I transition into leadership roles. Growth Mindset to improve and this is essential in the technology industry. Seek out subject matter expertise that can help improve your knowledge, industry events and training courses. Remember investing your time, is an investment in your growth.
- Wellbeing: Self-care is where you take your power back. This is listening to your body, being mindful of your work/life boundaries and channelling your inner strength. Self-care allows one to refuel and reclaim personal power. I review my thought process by journaling, making affirmations and saying a daily prayer. I use the five-minute journal from Intelligence Change.
- Achievements: Always celebrate your successes, however small or big. All these accomplishments show how hard you have worked and how far you have come.
- Goal setting: Set monthly and yearly goals. Break them down into manageable chunks. Develop a vision board that sets out your goals for the year and a theme to achieve the goal.
Just remember girls with dreams become women with vision. Dream big and challenge yourself to be the best version of yourself.
“Your work is going to fill a larger part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do” – Steve Jobs
I always say to my mentees to “be a leader for change, lead with empathy, look to inspire and empower the next generation. When you are looking to drive change, be the beacon of hope that people can trust with integrity and demonstrate the values that act as a drive for change. A leader leads from the front and helps bring others on their journey where success is achieved collectively.”
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women leadership today?
There are many potential benefits and positive outcomes when organizations empower women to take on senior leadership roles: Firstly, we have all seen that an increased diversity of perspectives at the highest levels of decision-making can lead to more innovation, better problem-solving and reduced risk. Research shows diverse leadership teams perform better.
Representation matters, for women of colour to join organisations, we need to see other women who look like us at all levels of the business. What type of diversity and inclusion networks, plus mentoring schemes are available? Are women of colour being promoted within the organisations?
Growing up, I always sought role models and even when I wanted to join a company, I looked at their Executive Team and senior leadership teams to see whether I could progress within that company. Is the company diverse and invests in its talent? For example, hosting career talks, and events and discussing ways to get into the industry. This includes learning about any challenges and obstacles that we face. We want role models and inspirations for younger women starting their careers, demonstrating what is possible and “normalising” women in power. This will create a future talent pipeline and eliminate the loss of qualified candidates from gender alone. We have seen gender bias in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and this could reduce the number of candidates that apply for roles that get through to the interview stage. I strongly recommend the Netflix documentary Coded Bias as this discusses this in more depth. In my experience, women leaders often bring fresh approaches and dimensions like collaboration, nurturing talent, emotional intelligence and inclusivity. These can enhance leadership culture.
In addition, brand reputation will further increase equality and progressiveness, which appeals to today’s investors, and customers and this will improve financial performance. It reflects a better representation of the overall workforce, customer base and society. Leadership should mirror the diversity of stakeholders. This will again help attract more talent to the workforce. We want to ensure more equality and fairness from a moral perspective yet eliminate any gender bias. I would like to highlight that a diverse workplace brings huge benefits to organisations. We need to remove the blockers and barriers to ensure all organisations recruit individuals fairly. Ensure there are networking opportunities and create a workplace culture that values and supports diversity, inclusion and belonging. Other factors include education and training. When you have someone working for you, you want them to thrive and give them a great chance to become a future leader who demonstrates great qualities in the workplace.
What’s the most important thing you have learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
Life is a journey where you may struggle and have to overcome different challenges. I want to break down those barriers and remove those stereotypes so that regardless of your gender or background you can and will succeed. From an early age, I was always setting goals – whether career, personal or financial – in terms of what I wanted to achieve. Even when I would feel anxious or distracted by negative thoughts I would have a self–talk and recognise that often the sum of our life is made up of a lot of small, meaningful, everyday moments—versus huge, momentous, next-level feelings of joy.
I was extremely fortunate to have managers who believed in my capabilities and gave me opportunities to gain experience and learn. Due to imposter syndrome, I did not fully take advantage of the opportunities and connections as I lacked confidence. In the last five years, charity work, volunteering, joining D&I networks, LinkedIn contacts, and self-discovery have helped me greatly. These skills have taken me to a new level or to a new area of opportunity that I wished I had known when I first started out in my career. There are times in life when you hit an obstacle, but you need to keep going and just persevere. What is Ikigai for you? “Iki in Japanese means life. Gai means the reason. Ikigai is all about finding one’s reason to live.” This looks at your purpose or Why? Ikigai combines the joy from doing something and a sense of purpose, meaning and well-being. It’s a feeling that your life is valuable, that you have an impact.
Ikigai is the union point of four fundamental components of life: passion, vocation, profession and mission. If what you love doing is something you’re good at doing and something the world needs and what you can be paid for, you’ve found ikigai – your true life’s purpose and meaning, and a balance between what you can (and want to) do that’s of value to the world. I would like to pass on advice to others as if I were sending a letter to my younger self. Just be brave and always bring your authentic self and never be afraid of learning something new or asking a question. Always believe in your capabilities to dream big and become a girl with a dream that becomes a reality.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
I believe that you need to have faith. You need to believe in your own capabilities, remove any distractors, and have your community support you and the possibility of the unknown. New challenges have their own risks but overcoming any challenges shows resilience, breaking down barriers to achieve your aspirations. Always aim high!
Define success on your own terms – not by outdated norms and biases, but by your values. Lift others along the way and know that your accomplishments can transform what is possible for those who follow. Be the role model and leader that others deserve. Lead with compassion, ethics and care for the greater good. There will be obstacles but have faith in your abilities. Build a community of champions who see your potential and advocate for you. Nurture your development. Ask for what you need and negotiate unapologetically. Trust in your voice, take risks and don’t shrink yourself to fit outdated standards. Help cultivate a community where women reinforce each other and realize their collective power. And through it all, stay true to your values. You belong in every room and at every table. Just remember that with vision, determination and resilience, you can shatter ceilings and create your own narrative. But also know that you stand on strong shoulders. So, dream big, lean on your community (your tribe), and lead the future with your head held high and wear your crown (homage to Global Tech Advocates – Black Women in Tech Founder Flavilla Fongang). The next generation is counting on you to manifest the change we need in this world. I leave you with the words of my role model Michelle Obama:
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end,” Michelle Obama wrote in her memoir Becoming. I chose this quote as I attended the Becoming book tour at the O2 in London. Michelle Obama is a massive advocate for young girls to be given a chance to succeed regardless of their background. Each person should be given opportunities, in a world that is fair and equal. It is about uplift, empowering and not about competing with each other, but working for each other – for the young girl or woman’s voice to be heard.