Inspiring the future: Leon Diop
Leon Diop

Inspiring the future: Leon Diop

This week we start an inspirational series of interviews with local career remodel’s who are inspiring us every day. This week Hayden Moore talks to Leon Diop, whose life has been defined by backing himself and taking chances, even if the odds seemed stacked against him or things weren’t easy.

FLYING in the face of adversity is something that Leon Diop thrives in.

You could say that up to this point, the 27-year-old’s life has been defined by backing himself and taking chances, even if the odds seemed stacked against him or things weren’t easy.

Today, the Crumlin resident finds himself as the Chief Executive Officer of Black and Irish and works with business communication platform, Slack.

Leon grew up in a mixed-race household in Springfield, the first child to Senegalese-born Sidy and Tallaght native Rachel.

“I would have grown up catholic, my mam was certain about that and my dad, he was a practicing Muslim but he didn’t really care too much – I would have been exposed to the culture of both,” Leon says.

Leon Diop

“I only would have grown up with my dad until I was around six, he moved to France and I would have had contact with him until I was maybe 12.

“He passed away in 2011 when I was 16.

“There was a lot to reconcile after he passed, him and my mother went through a divorce and it was very public what was happening, so we were very much in the know.

“It was tough to understand what was happening at that time but my stepdad Mark kind of came into the fold not too long after, so I didn’t really feel like I was missing out on that father figure in my life.

“His death did affect me a little, it was hard to grasp the concept of seeing other people with their parents and knowing my biological father wasn’t there.

“Just going on to achieve good things and not being able to share it with them, I didn’t have that.

“It’s a strange thing… as far as it could be with a biological parent passing away.”

Some of the uncertainty around losing his biological father was channelled through anger and frustration in school.

Leon Diop, Chief Executive Officer of Black and Irish and head of recruitment and customer experience with business communication platform, Slack

“I had a little bit of trouble after the death of my father and I found myself getting into different altercations,” Leon tells The Echo.

“I had a lot of anger and ultimately that came out in school, which wasn’t ideal.

“Academically I was sound, I was able to get through tests and that but I struggled to keep my temper down in other situations.

“Look I was able to get through it, I got what I needed in the Leaving Cert and was able to resolve those issues.”

After graduating from St Mark’s Community School, Leon decided to pursue medicine in Trinity College and UCD.

But after a while, Leon started to wonder if this was something he actually wanted to do.

And so, he decided to change direction and applied for the Bachelor of Applied Science in Psychology in Maynooth University – which set the wheels in motion for the next 7 years.

Growing up, Leon and his siblings, Adam and Meghan, spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals visiting their aunty Lisa after she suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2005.

This is what piqued his interest in pursuing psychology.

“I spent a lot of time going between hospitals to see her,” Leon explains.

“See my mam was very young having me, she was only 19-years-old and now her only sibling has a traumatic brain injury.

“The only person my aunty really has is my mam you know? So, we spent a lot of time with her in the hospital.

“I was there between the age of 10 and 13, I spent a lot of my youth in there and I would always be trying to find different avenues of not being there.

“So, I’d be doing my homework there or going around to visit the other patients in the hospital – it was tough.

“Me, Adam and Meghan have a really good relationship now because we were all there, we know life is so fragile and to appreciate the little things.

“I got a really good ethos from that though, the moral of the story is that life can be crap, but it built up a level of resilience in me that I could take with me.”

However, the pathway was not as clear cut.

After changing universities and degree courses, Leon ended up failing a module in his very first year in Maynooth.

“I got in through the HEAR scheme, so I had financial support,” he explains.

“But I had a fail in my first year, it was a big change going from school, where they’re very hands on, to college, where it’s ‘here is an assignment, hand it in if you want, if you don’t want to then don’t’.

“That was a very big lesson in accountability, I ended up having to repeat that first year.”

Leon gathered himself, repeated that first year and powered all the way through to graduate in 2017 with the BSc in Psychology in his back pocket.

That was not the end of his time in Maynooth University.

He was elected as President of Maynooth Students’ Union, making him responsible for the experience of some 13,000 students at the university.

During this time, Leon became incredibly passionate about student experience and, after a brief stint in Dorset College as Student Experience Manager, he decided he wanted a career change.

On the side, Leon and two of his friends, Boni Odoemene and Femi Bankole, started an Instagram page called Black and Irish – which exploded after the murder of George Floyd in the United States.

“I had been thinking of Black and Irish for two years before I did anything, I had that name but I was just sitting on it,” Leon details.

“Even before George Floyd’s death I was always trying to challenge injustice.

“I had a pretty large court case with the LUAS and it had me thinking about anti-black and mixed-race racism. So we started Black and Irish to bring that discussion to people that may be blind to the biases.

“Its main function was to highlight black and mixed-race communities with them sharing their stories to spread awareness.”

What started off as an Instagram account has grown into an organisation which has a laser focus on promoting equality in education, business, politics, media, entertainment and community among other things.

Black and Irish does this through sharing stories of gaps of equality and inclusivity in society.

One of the main ways it does this is through the hugely popular The Black and Irish Podcast with RTÉ and talking to businesses and organisations – which is how Leon ended up where he is working today.

“We were going around different companies giving talks about racism in the workplace and in general life,” Leon explains.

“There was one day where I was going to talk to Facebook and my friend was going to Slack.

“But then he ended up saying to me that he’s not going to make the Slack talk and if we could swap – I was absolutely snapping ‘cause I really wanted to give the Facebook talk.

“Anyway, I went to the talk with Slack and I ended up loving it, had a great time and about a month later the head of recruitment in Slack reached out to me to say that they have a job if I wanted to interview for it.

“I said yeah, just went for it and now I work for Slack as a head of recruitment and customer experience.

“That’s the whole thing, I never thought that I would end up working for a tech company or doing a psychology degree or being the CEO of Black and Irish, an organisation that could potentially employ people in the future – it’s nuts.

“If you never take a chance, you’ll never know what you’re capable of achieving.

“You never know where you’re going to end up, so don’t be afraid to take those chances.”

The sky is the limit.