At an early age, Banke knew she wanted to be a lawyer. One of her granduncles was a lawyer and had a way of turning his cases into a fascinating story which piqued her interest in the law. With her passion for justice, she had originally thought she would become a human rights lawyer.
Banke A. Odunaike, Head of Legal in EMEA & APAC at CBRE
Banke says she was pulled back into the property industry, an inevitable fate that her training principal predicted a long time ago.
After qualifying as a trainee solicitor, she was offered a role as a commercial property lawyer but turned it down because she had her mind set on becoming a pensions lawyer. Fast forward to 2017, following a fulfilling tenure as a pensions lawyer in the City, Banke received a LinkedIn nudge about a role at CBRE and, she says, the rest is history...
While commuting that morning, she had atypically accepted the nudge and read through the role description. She thought the CBRE position looked great! However, she subsequently hit sections of the job spec where, she began to doubt her capabilities. Banke recalls thinking: “I couldn’t possibly do that…”; that it wasn’t for her, despite being the ‘perfect’ candidate or so the algorithm said.
Taking the job has led to near-six successful years with the market leading consultant. Luckily, she’d ignored what she thought she lacked in experience, and was actively pursued by their HR.
Banke’s words of warning come early in her conversation with BWRE. "Don’t pigeonhole yourself within the law - it’s versatile, and there are so many specialisms", the ‘geek’ in Banke came completely alive in the world of pensions. But as she got into it, she realised she thrived more in the commercial side.
Alongside this, is her urgency that women should stop talking themselves out of opportunities. Anyone applying for roles beyond their sense of perceived capabilities can learn, and will learn. Someone who’s driven won’t want to fall behind on deliverables, so they will push themselves to high standards - “say ‘yes’ and learn on the job”, she urges.
There’s still so much room for innovation in real estate, from a DE+I Perspective. Banke feels she’s not in a ‘saturated’ industry where she can’t add value, and departure now would look premature.
On dealing with being a Black woman working in a white, male dominated industry (both within CRE and Law), she advocates for intentionality about resilience. Being clear on one's purpose. Having a sense of direction was really important. Banke had a good notion of what she wanted to achieve, but kept flexibility about how she landed those goals.
While her greatest achievement isn’t finite - it’s ongoing - what brings Banke the most joy is seeing others achieve. Witnessing members of her team progress, especially those who are hardworking, driven and ambitious and being an enabler for those with grit and determination, brings her a lot of joy. She’s proud of being able to facilitate that.
Many will have heard or read the statement, ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’, but Banke chooses not to subscribe to that notion. She is not suggesting representation doesn’t matter, because it does. However, to her, representation wouldn’t exist if people believed that others have to be visible already to follow that path. Having this mindset means change could never have a point of inception, “focus less on (being the only Black person in the room), and focus more on the value you can bring to the table”.
Banke advocates for leading by example and choosing to edify whenever the opportunity to promote inclusion presents itself. Being ‘the change’ one wishes to see. She does this herself by making herself visible - sharing her story, listening to, and learning from others’ stories and by seeking collaborative ways in which perceived obstacles can be surmounted.
Although change, while happening, is slow. If she had a magic wand, she’d change the pace of efforts towards affirmative action for diversity, equity and inclusion. How long it will take to get to a point of true equity or parity is ‘scary’, as statistics suggest this is unlikely to be in the next 100 years. .
But resilience comes in numbers. “We all have our blind spots, and learning curves, so it’s critical to build a dynamic network”, Banke suggests people should put themselves in a situation where people around them are smarter, because they’re bound to learn. Also be willing to take critique.
She advocates passionately for reverse mentoring as it’s incredibly beneficial. “You’re both gaining”, she says, and has dubbed it The Three E’s, covering the three key objectives when you connect with someone: engagement, empowerment and elevation.
Finally, she says, don’t forget to ‘pay it forward’ which is an antidote to isolation.
Perhaps most fitting with Banke’s composed positivity, she shares, “the best is yet to come - keep at it!”.
Banke Odunaike’s podcast episode will be released in September 2023 as part of Black Women in Real Estate’s Phenomenal Women campaign.
The Phenomenal Women campaign is sponsored by the RICS