Meet the first woman to head the UK’s 124-year-old University of Birmingham

BY Preta Peace Namasaba July 10, 2024 5:20 AM EDT
Sandie Okoro, the new Chancellor of the UK's University of Birmingham. Photo Credit: Standard Chartered

Sandie Okoro OBE has been appointed the Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, becoming the university’s first female Chancellor. She will be the university’s eighth Chancellor since its establishment in 1900. Okoro currently serves as the Group General Counsel of Standard Chartered.

“I am truly honoured and delighted to be appointed Chancellor. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to give a little something back to the amazing university that has given so very much to me and my family,” Okoro said about her historic appointment.

As the ceremonial head of the university, Okoro will preside at degree ceremonies, and celebrate with and inspire graduating students. She will also engage with the community and stakeholders and work to raise the university’s profile and reputation. Okoro, her father, and her son are all alumna of the University of Birmingham. She graduated from the university with a degree in Law and Politics before qualifying as a barrister at City, University of London.

Okoro was born in Fulham, London to a father from Nigeria and a mother from Trinidad. She decided to become a judge at the age of nine after watching the television program The Crown Court. She persisted in her pursuit of a legal career despite being told by a school teacher that “little black girls from Balham don’t become judges.” After qualifying as a barrister in 1988, Okoro changed course to become a solicitor.

“The wonderful University of Birmingham is the alma mater to three generations of the Okoros, my mum, me and my son. So my connection to it is very special indeed. I have followed the University’s outstanding progress very closely since my days there as a student on a full grant back in the 1980s – its dedication to impactful research, its focus on creating an inclusive environment for talented, minority students and educational excellence are themes very close to my heart,” Okoro said about her history with the University of Birmingham.

She previously held the position of Head of Legal for Corporate Services at Schroders, Global General Counsel at Barings, and General Counsel for HSBC Global Asset Management. In 2017, Okoro was appointed as the senior vice president and general counsel for the World Bank Group, making her the first British national and Black woman to hold the position. In this role, she was primarily responsible for providing legal advice and acting as a spokesperson for all legal matters for the multi-billion dollar international financial institution. Okoro also served as Vice President for Compliance at the World Bank.

Okoro holds a multitude of accolades in recognition of her contribution to diversity, equality, and female rights. She was appointed inaugural Chair of the UK-based charity Women of the World Foundation, is a Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and received a lifetime achievement award from the UK Black Solicitors Network. Okoro was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2024 New Year Honours for her services to Diversity in International Finance.