Looking back on her career, Bolanle Williams-Olley says the path was paved by chance and guided by serendipity. In college, she saw a job posting for a junior project accountant at an architecture firm.
She was instantly intrigued because, in high school, she took a technical drawing class and loved it. When she went in for the interview, the hiring manager also studied math in college, and they immediately hit it off because he understood the value she could bring from her studies.
Today, as the chief financial officer at Mancini Duffy, she ensures that accounting isn’t a forgotten-about department but one that’s critical in decision-making across the company.
Before joining this organization, she had prominent leadership roles at HLM and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). In addition to working tirelessly to empower her team, Williams-Olley also gives back to her birthplace of Nigeria by guiding businesses through volunteer opportunities in the country’s communities.
Here, she took time to discuss being a Black female leader in a male-dominated field, and more:
What are the trends you see within your industry currently?
One of the biggest trends we’ve pioneered at Mancini Duffy is using technology to improve our design process and leveraging it to enhance our 360-degree client design experience.
How would you describe your company culture?
Our company culture is one of my favorite aspects of Mancini, because it’s warm and familial. We work hard, yet we also value playing hard and having fun. There’s a collaborative, supportive thread woven throughout the company. One of the things that set us apart is our culture promotes and fosters people’s potential and allows them to pursue their interests.
What can a job applicant do to catch your attention? What stands out the most to you?
When I interview a job applicant, I pay attention to see if they’ve done their research about our company. I also look for alignments between their experience and what we do at Mancini to identify if the candidate could be a good fit. I also encourage them to be their authentic selves.
What’s the most challenging part of being a leader/manager? What’s the best part?
The most challenging part of being a leader is having to make tough decisions that affect people’s livelihoods. However, it’s a necessary part of business.
My favorite part of being a leader at Mancini is contributing to our firm’s internal and external growth. I’m fortunate to have a front-row seat to watch our staff thrive. I also enjoy seeing the innovative solutions and paths we’re continually creating within our Design Lab; our evolving tech-first approach has been an exciting differentiator.
What’s your advice for tackling big projects at a company-wide level?
My advice for tackling big projects is to tap into your internal resources. We often identify a core group that spans across all levels of the firm – not just leadership —to tackle big projects. I recommend looking internally, because there is so much rich experience and insight that your staff may have from previous jobs, projects, etc.
How do you keep your staff motivated? How do you motivate yourself?
I keep our staff motivated by giving them the opportunity to openly share their thoughts and contributions, allowing them to show up as their true, authentic selves and be open to their feedback. I see my team thrive because they know I’m approachable, and I will listen to them. When the team feels like their boss is invested in their growth, that’s when you see them shine.
I’m truly motivated by purpose, not just the job. By nature, I’m also very disciplined. I see our company’s long-term vision and try to tackle small daily tasks that push us towards our larger goals. I celebrate the journey along the way!
How do you find a balance between work and life demands?
Driving the success of Mancini becomes so embedded in my daily life that it can be challenging to switch the business ‘off’ and balance my personal life. However, my husband and two children are my top priorities, so I’m ruthless about how and where I focus. I’m very intentional about spending time with family. Prioritization is the key for me and periodically reevaluating my priorities helps me find balance, too.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a POC in this industry?
People tend to make false assumptions. I’ve had people in the industry mistake me for the receptionist or for a much more junior role than I actually had! Although there were bumps along the way, overall, I’ve been fortunate to work at firms where my race has not inhibited my growth. I’ve also taken a very proactive approach, carefully and thoughtfully shaping who I work with, where I work, etc. to mitigate some of those challenges.
How do you feel about the current climate in America right now in regards to race? Is it changing your work culture?
This has been a very difficult time in the United States in regard to race. Personally, the deep-rooted racial injustice and police brutality we continually witnessed have all been at the forefront of my mind. Having to yet again think about what it means to be Black, coupled with living and raising Black children in America, I feel that enough is enough. Why are we still dealing with racial injustice in 2020? People in the Black community are sick and tired of hearing another Black person losing their lives in such a ridiculous and preventable manner.
It’s changing Mancini’s work culture in the sense that we’ve had to have tougher conversations internally by looking at our staff’s makeup and what we will do moving forward to remedy what we can. Everyone needs to take a stand and commit to a personal responsibility in order for real change to occur.
I encourage companies to look within their industries and think about entry barriers and then create unique ways to start exposing Black youths to your industry to teach them about the possibilities. Building up the pipeline within the Black community by starting with our youth will allow for more people of color to be exposed to various industries that they do not know even exist.