In the vast realm of knowledge, experience, and careers, few individuals possess a portfolio as impressive as Ayo Sokale. With a background as a Civil Engineer with the Environment Agency, Ayo’s influence extends far beyond her professional achievements. Formerly the Deputy Mayor of Reading, she spearheaded sustainability campaigns and emerged as an inspirational speaker on topics like women in STEM, diversity, and neurodiversity.
In recent years, Ayo has fearlessly embraced her identity as an individual on the autism spectrum, using her unique perspective to advocate for neurodiversity, mental health challenges, and strategies for overcoming them.
Ayo’s magnetic presence has captivated audiences on various platforms, including her appearances on BBC Reel and BBC Bitesize, where she has expertly explained the fundamental principles of scientific subjects ranging from physics to design. Her expertise in STEM issues has also led her to contribute as a TV expert in documentaries for esteemed channels like the Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Yesterday TV, and Channel 5. Ayo’s exceptional skills as a keynote speaker have been sought after by renowned clients such as Shell, Heineken, Blue Yonder, the NHS, and Thames Water.
As a Chartered Civil Engineer and Project Team Manager for the Environment Agency in Eastern England, Ayo tirelessly champions the cause of environmental sustainability. During her tenure as a project manager and BIM lead, she pioneered innovative, efficient, and sustainable approaches to flood and coastal risk management schemes. Ayo’s commitment to her field is exemplified by her swift completion of the ICE training agreement, achieving the esteemed status of CEng within a remarkable three years.
Beyond her professional accomplishments, Ayo has been instrumental in inspiring the next generation of engineers. As a STEM ambassador and mentor, she wholeheartedly encourages others to embrace careers in Civil Engineering. Her contributions have not gone unnoticed, as she was nominated for the prestigious Top 50 Women in Engineering under 35 initiative, organized by The Telegraph in partnership with The Women’s Engineering Society. Ayo’s passion for diversity and inclusion is particularly evident during Black History Month when she delivers powerful speeches that resonate with audiences.
In addition to her pursuits in the realm of science and engineering, Ayo’s interests span the performing arts, fitness, and supporting charitable causes. Utilizing her platform as a beauty queen and finalist for esteemed pageants such as Miss Galaxy England, Miss Earth, and Miss Great Britain, she has raised funds for numerous charitable organizations. Currently, Ayo is venturing into the realm of self-development literature, authoring her first book to complement her multifaceted endeavours.
Having launched on May 13th, viewers had the chance to embark on a cosmic journey alongside Ayo as she graces the screens twice a week on CBeebies, presenting the enthralling new show, Get Set Galactic. Ayo Sokale’s unwavering commitment to STEM, sustainability, and neurodiversity illuminates a path for aspiring trailblazers and instils hope in hearts worldwide.
We recently sat down with Ayo to speak about her career, passions and everything in between
How did your background in civil engineering contribute to your passion for sustainability and environmental issues?
As a civil engineer working in flood risk, the environment and sustainability is a huge part of the puzzle. One part of the puzzle is reducing the risk of flooding to the community by flood alleviation schemes and supporting communities to adapt to the changing climate. But the other part of the puzzle is supporting the reduction of carbon emissions to mitigate the climate change impacts which are already causing more frequent, intense flooding and sea level rise.
Looking at the Environment Agency’s statistics, 5.2 million homes and businesses in England are at risk of flooding rising each decade. As the population grows, we are more likely to see the number of properties built on the floodplain double by 2065. And a 0.4 to 1-metre sea level is predicted by 2100 (21 hundred). We are already experiencing hotter and drier summers with the average summer rainfall predicted to decrease by up to 47% by 2070
As a keynote speaker, what are the main topics you address when speaking about women in STEM and diversity?
When I talk to women about STEM and diversity, I like to set the scene, discussing the systems that impact women in society and then I share my antidote to the challenges facing women in stem and the wider society. My first suggestion is that they seek to be radically authentic instead of watering down their uniqueness.
I then urge them secondly to challenge their limiting beliefs and stories they inherited from socialisation, their upbringing and lived experience. This enables them to intentionally create a better story for themselves, one that empowers and creates a positive sense of self. Finally, I urge them all to embark on a journey to self-awareness and awareness of their emotional states and use this knowledge as their compass/north case in their hero’s journey.
I make the case to encourage them to value their difference using nature-sharing ideas from 8 Master Lessons of Nature by Gary Ferguson, as well as sharing ideas from global myths around the world and the current day research on the value of diversity for innovation, change and productivity.
And then I really encourage the audience to go on a journey to themselves as the true path to success. The idea of carving a vision of success that is unique to the individual is a key message and something I am writing about in my 1st book.
Could you share your experience and insights on being on the autism spectrum and how it has shaped your journey?
I am autistic. It is who I am and it’s how I see the world. I love myself and my unique view of the world. For a time in my journey, I experienced people acting as though my difference made me less and I was not worthy or enough. Now I KNOW this is simply not true and I do not allow anyone to act otherwise. I now advocate for myself and others so they can find their route to realising their unique value sooner and are more resilient to negative external factors.
What motivated you to pursue a career in television, specifically in presenting scientific subjects to a young audience?
I’ve wanted to be an engineer since I was 9. I’ve wanted to be a TV presenter since my teens. At the time they were simply no people like me on my screen. I watched engineering documentaries and grew my love for engineering. I want to share my passion with the world and one of my many passions is STEM. I know how important it is that young people see the representation of women, POC and neurodiversity on TV, so they can see themselves in those roles.
Can you tell us more about your role as a TV expert on STEM issues and your collaborations with various networks and clients?
I started off on TV as a subject matter expert on lots of documentaries on the likes of the Smithsonian, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Yesterday TV and Channel 5.
How do you balance your responsibilities as a Chartered Civil Engineer with your other roles as a keynote speaker, mentor, and ambassador?
I am not sure I have found the balance as I work all the time. I look forward to opportunities that will allow me to focus on my current passions in this current season of my life.
What inspired you to campaign on sustainability issues during your time as Deputy Mayor of Reading?
As an engineer and global citizen, it was imperative to use my platform as Deputy Mayor to push this and I did this by Co-founding the Plastic Free Caversham Group in 2019.
The constituency brought together residents and businesses to drive for single-use plastic-free status under the ‘Surfer against Sewers’ (SAS) guideline and played a huge part in Reading’s resource strategy with ReadingCan. Plastic Free Caversham (PFC) worked to gain allies to join them in this plastic-free fight. These allies then committed to change three single-use plastic items for a sustainable alternative and signed up as community ally under the SAS Scheme. PFC achieved their goal of Plastic Free Accreditation in May 2022.
Could you elaborate on your selection as one of Professor Lord Robert Mair’s Future Leaders and your involvement with the ICE Water Superheroes initiative?
I applied by a written statement answering the president’s question and had an interview. I was selected as an ICE Water superhero as part of the initiative to showcase the invisible engineering all around us.
How do you approach motivating and inspiring young people to pursue STEM subjects, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds?
I treat everyone as an induvial, the same way I like to be treated and adapt my strategy to suit their needs.
As a diversity and inclusion speaker, what strategies do you advocate for promoting inclusivity in STEM fields?
I showcase the value added. I look forward to the day when all people can be included as it is the right thing. However, right now, I approach this by stressing the value added by diverse minds and people working in the STEM field, where we are facing huge challenges and a skill shortage.
What drove you to participate in beauty pageants and how did it provide a platform for your charitable endeavors?
I have always been a keen advocate of contributing to local and global communities through charity and community activities. Pageants gave me the opportunity to have a bigger profile to achieve more positive outcomes. I also learnt and developed a lot through that time.
What led you to write your first book in the field of self-development, and what can readers expect from it?
It was important for me to write down the many wisdoms I have gained on my journey to support someone else like me in navigating this sphere. It’s going to be a smart book with a great spectrum of ideas for the reader to apply in their lives.
How do you envision the future of sustainability and environmental awareness, and what role do you hope to play in it?
I envisage the future of sustainability and environmental awareness to entail less than awareness and more like action and smart application of a system and of system approach.
Could you share any upcoming projects or initiatives that you are particularly excited about?
I am keen on my Instagram series – Wednesday Weekly Wisdom where I interview guests to gather wisdom from their lived experience for my audience. I am also proud of my every day science illuminating my followers to the science in their everyday lives. I also cannot wait for my book to be in the world and to share that in due time.
How has your experience as a presenter on CBeebies’ Get Set Galactic been so far, and what do you hope young viewers will take away from the show?
I love working on Get Set Galactic with the most amazing kids and team at Hello Halo and Cbeebies. Everyone had an important role to play to create a show that so many people will enjoy and love it. I enjoyed being part of the creation.
I think viewers will take away the theme ‘try and test it’, which is ultimately a growth mindset as well as it igniting a passion for STEM within them.
*Images: Sarah Plater