The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is impacting everyone, but some are more likely to have a drastic impact than others. Recent data from UNFPA show that the economic and physical disruption, engendered by the disease, have a more catastrophic impact on women and girls around the world with evidence of an increase in violence against women and girls, the world over.
There was a time when the words women and career did not go together, but times have changed. In 2017, there were 75,175,000 women aged 16 and older in the workforce, representing 46.9 percent of the total labor force.
While there is a significant representation of women in the workforce, women’s career paths have often been bumpy – pay inequity and the ever-present glass ceiling continue to be obstacles to women’s career advancement. Despite these challenges, women are becoming incrementally more successful in charting a career path and excelling in the workforce. In an interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, Mrs. Sheila Ujoodha talks about her career growth path and how she was able to surmount the challenges.
Research tells us that you started your career as an internal audit manager and over the years, you have worked in several countries. Kindly tell us more about career journey and how you made your way to the top.
It all started with British American Tobacco (Mauritius), where I was appointed as the Internal Audit Manager and my mandate was extended to some African countries like Reunion, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia, South Africa and Mozambique. The challenge was huge because of the urgency to get things done with limited resources from different cultural groups and a diverse business environment. Consequently, this amazing experience enabled me to be qualified as the best auditor in the EQUATA region (including 22 sub-Saharan African countries). Thereafter, this journey continued with the Rogers group and Cim Group. As the Chief Audit and Risk Executive, one of my key roles was to support the entity in achieving its strategy and long-term goals by mitigating business risks.
After the significant exposure on world class audit and risk management practices, I always felt that at some point, I would need to translate the experience I gained in multinationals and my innovative skills in the audit and risk management field to the benefit of Mauritian businesses. Being open to exciting challenges, I wanted to mark my presence in international audit related forums for instance as a speaker at the MIS Training 12th Annual Audit, Risk and Governance Africa conference. In 2018, an opportunity arose, and I seized it to pursue my dream and SmarTree Consulting Ltd. was born.
I have not risen to my current title by accident. I had trust in myself and used my own voice! Speaking confidently and taking the bull by the horns with a relentless approach form part of my skillset. Self-credibility was nurtured on the need to build healthy relationships with advocates, create a strong personal brand, project and position myself as an expert in my field of work.
Gender initiatives which garner support from both men and women have been key enablers to my success. It is crucial to support and empower each other, starting with our basic principles of who we are – our morals, values, integrity, humbleness, passion, excellence and enthusiasm toward laying the foundation for progress through work and show togetherness; all these have helped to overcome my journey towards a leadership position.
Today, as a fellow member of the Chartered Institute of Certified Accountants and the Managing Director of SmarTree Consulting Ltd, I am portrayed as a highly experienced professional with hands-on experience in internal audit, risk management, corporate governance and process improvement on the local market and internationally. I also hold independent non-executive directorship positions at the Mauritius Institute of Directors (MIoD), Innodis Ltd and Alteo Ltd. I am presently the Chairperson of the Audit Committee Forum established by the MIoD and KPMG to help Audit Committees in Mauritius improve their effectiveness.
Female participation in politics and business is imperative to closing the gender gap in Africa. How can African women be encouraged to take bold steps and occupy top positions at executive boards?
There is a growing consensus among top executives that gender diversity is both an ethical and a business imperative. Yet, progress is painfully slow. Despite modest improvements, women are not only underrepresented at every level of today’s corporations, especially in senior positions but also in politics.
While being cognizant of how difficult it is to make progress, it becomes imperative to understand the reasons why the gender gap so stubbornly persists. To mention a few, these refer to the double-burden syndrome (women balancing work and family/home responsibilities), the attitude towards women in the workplace (e.g. assumptions about women’s capabilities, commitment or availability) and the culture or social expectations on women.
The risk of a major change program failing is imminent if gender diversity is not treated as a strategic priority. Getting the tone at the top right is no longer an option for corporates which are aiming at a gender diverse and an inclusive culture. Leaders need to therefore make a deliberate investment (gender initiatives) to help women colleagues and model inclusive leadership behaviours. Concrete actions must be taken, and results monitored on an ongoing basis.
Once seen as an employee benefit or an accommodation for caregivers (primarily women), flexible work arrangements are now an effective tool for organizations to attract top talent as well as a cost-savings measure to reduce turnover, productivity, and absenteeism. Leaders must promote a culture that switch the focus to productivity and results, and not time spent at the desk. Moreover, the stereotype that men “take charge” and women “take care” puts women leaders in various double-binds. The need to provide diversity and inclusion training is important to help employees understand the effects of gender stereotyping.
Gender equality at work is linked to gender equality in society; the former is not possible without the latter. To progress on the latter, all stakeholders, including the government, corporations, not-for-profit organisations, educational institutions and media need to take a portfolio of initiatives in priority areas for action.
From an African perspective, the urgency to set up appropriate legislations to support women in leadership position is being more and more felt. In Mauritius, for instance, the Women Directors Forum, in association with the Mauritius Institute of Directors, has been actively involved in making representations to relevant bodies / ministries regarding gender diversity on boards in Mauritius and the struggle to overcome the relating challenges and obstacles is ongoing until the fruit is not harvested.
On a political note, the argument for amplifying women’s voice in politics is not about compensating for women’s lack of confidence or interest or ambition in politics, but about bridging ‘the ambition gap’ and giving equal levels of encouragement as men. Women who show a real interest in politics should be actively encouraged to make the leap to political ground on the basis of merit and not on gender issue. Marshalling grassroots community organisations and gender quotas are policy tools designed to increase women’s representation in politics. For instance, as at September 2018, Rwanda has had the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. The incredible progress was spurred by special measures, starting with the 2003 Constitution that set a 30 per cent quota for women in elected positions, and the political parties adopting their own voluntary quotas for women candidates on party lists. Yet, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap index, political empowerment is where the gender gap remains the widest: only 23% of the political gap— unchanged since last year—has been closed, and no country has yet fully closed political empowerment gaps.
Clearly, we don’t have all the answers. Gender inequality is a multifaceted, entrenched global issue. But our commitment to diversity and inclusion is an abiding part that would definitely lead to progress.
What will you say is the most fulfilling part of being the Managing Director of SmarTree Consulting; and what are some of your organization’s corporate social responsibilities that affect the lives of women?
Nothing is as rewarding for a woman to hold the most senior role in a company and chaperon a team by helping them to achieve more than they ever dreamed possible: setting big hairy audacious goals, achieving personal accountability, and learning the power of persistence.
‘Winners don’t do different things. They do things differently’. Inspired by this quote of Shiv Khera, my ambition for SmarTree Consulting Ltd is “to engage with our stakeholders with a unique approach of excellence”. This involves building a culture of sustainable growth with a strong focus on providing a reliable level of advice to all stakeholders, and a vision for the future: to be a successful service provider that meets the expectations of our stakeholders coined with total quality management principles which meet international standards and focus on the future instead of being stuck in striving to focus on the past events.
Being a woman, a real change maker and capable of empathy, I feel in the best position to aid in the quest to create a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) vision at the core of our business’ goals and strategies.
Corporate social responsibility towards women empowerment as a ray of hope ranges from changing attitude towards women in the society to making women independent from a financially, physically and socially perspective. A solution-oriented approach with the partnership of government, NGOs and media is the key to success and active participation of women in all walks of life will help to achieve individual, organisational and societal goals.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap index, it will take 135 years to bridge the gender gap in sub-Saharan Africa. What steps can be taken to tear down gender barriers in the African continent?
Gender inequality has a high cost. A recent World Bank report estimates that, globally, countries are losing $160 trillion in human capital wealth due to differences in lifetime earnings between men and women. Obstacles such as early marriage, childbirth, and greater household responsibilities prevent women from fully participating in the workforce. Additional impediments such as a lack of infrastructure only exacerbate the situation.
One of the most effective ways to improve gender equality on the African Continent is through education. Women who have achieved a secondary level of education earn almost twice as much as those who have not, yet in low-income countries only one in three girls completes lower secondary education, versus 75% globally. Education not only provides girls with vocational and life skills, but helps remove other barriers to women’s economic participation, leading to exponential improvements. Research shows that each additional year of secondary education reduces a girl’s risk of child marriage and early childbirth by an average of six percentage points.
Another way to close the gender gap is to increase female political participation. Female politicians tend to prioritize social issues relevant to women and girls like parental leave, childcare and education. They bring the female voice to policy discussions, addressing challenges such as equal pay, reproductive rights, and gender-based violence. Women politicians can also positively change societal opinions of women, and even influence parental expectations for their daughters. Rwanda is leading its way in Sub Saharan Africa where women hold key leadership roles and its policies are cited as a model for gender inclusiveness.
As Michelle Obama, former U.S. First Lady has stated: “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.” Women’s empowerment is an absolute economic no-brainer. Governments need to partner with aid agencies, non-governmental organizations and private sector firms and invest in programs on the ground to instill a sense of empowerment in women, and particularly girls. This will be an essential step to eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development on the African continent.
You have recently been endorsed by the Board of Centre for Economic and Leadership Development to be conferred with the Africa Impact Leadership Award and inducted into the SADC Women Leaders Hall of Fame, how do you feel about these honours?
After the CMO Africa Women Leadership Award in 2017, I am both thrilled and honored to hear that I have been conferred the Africa Impact Leadership Award. It’s both exciting and humbling to be also inducted to the SADC Women Leaders Hall of Fame. Such thoughtfulness will definitely empower and encourage me to do my best, always. I will thus continue to work hard to instill the necessary support to the women community at large.
As a woman, leisure activities are required to break the monotony of family and career duties. What are some of the activities you engage in during your leisure time?
I strongly believe that finding a balance between your professional life and your personal life is a key success factor as it can help to increase self-productivity. In fact, this is part of the self leadership journey, and the more self-leadership we attain the more successful we become, and the more successful we become, the more self-leadership we need.
However, this balance requires careful planning and preparation, but it is possible. I have been practicing yoga regularly for 14 years, swimming during the past 10 years and golf since last year. My active participation in sports activities has significantly contributed to the dynamism of my professional career and I am happy to continue on this ride.
What is the best way for the readers of Amazon Watch Magazine to connect with you?
If you remember the world before social media, then you know that back then, to stay connected meant to be in touch personally. Being connected meant sharing experiences and activities together.
The concept of staying in touch is broader in today’s digital world. It doesn’t require personal face-to-face effort anymore. We have tools like social media and email that allow us to be in touch with family, friends etc. On my side, I prefer to be connected either by email or linked in.
The oil and gas industry ranks top on the list of industries with the highest gender imbalance. However, certain women are working hard to close the gap and maybe, create balance in the industry. In a recent interview with the Amazons Watch Magazine, Ms. Wadei Powell who is the CEO of Srimex Oil and Gas Company talk about her experiences and how she has been able to create a niche for herself in a male dominated sector. Excerpts;
Please share with our readers your background and some of your growing up experiences.
I was born in the West African nation of Liberia where I attended the St. Teresa’s Convent School in Monrovia and earned a Diploma 1989. I grew up modestly but with everything I needed. My mother was a single-parent who sacrificed everything to make sure me and my siblings (one brother, one sister, one cousin) had the best life. Growing up in Liberia were some of the best times of my life. Due to the civil crisis that erupted in Liberia in 1989, I moved to the United States of America where I continued my education, earning a B.A. degree in English from the University of Maryland, College Park. In my senior year of college, there was a job posting for an Editor with the Security Industry Association (SIA), which was an organization working to develop standards for the security sector. Prior to this, I had no knowledges of what “Standards” were but I was a very good writer and so my school counsellor encouraged me to apply. I am forever indebted to her for that because it helped shape my future professional path. At SIA I was fortunate to have a direct supervisor and mentor, Ms. L. Virginia Williams, who encouraged and nurtured me professionally. She was a petite woman, in stature, with a “quiet but strong presence”. Although, the professional world of “Standards” at that time was very male dominated, I would watch my mentor command a room of mostly men with a combination of her wealth of subject knowledge and quiet confidence. I knew then and there that if I would be successful in a professional world largely dominated by men, I would need to develop that same confidence. I worked hard on learning the industry and honing my skills. Doing this would prove to become some of my greatest assets because, as it turned out, my career path has seen me mostly as the only female among male counterparts. It was also during this time that I found my passion for systems and processes and decided to pursue and earned a M.Sc. degree in Information & Telecommunications Systems Management, with an emphasis in Organizational Development, from Capitol College in Laurel, MD.
While in the United States, I worked with several industry associations and Fortune 500 Companies, the last being Mellon Financial, where I served as a Business Process Manager working in the areas of Financial, Operational, Organizational and Functional process development and management.
Our findings reveal that you have over 19 years of professional experience, including being the former vice president for administration and human resource at Cellcom GSM (now Orange GSM). Kindly tell us about your career journey.
I have over 23 years of professional experience. In October 2005, after living and working in the United States for over 15 years, I returned to my home country, Liberia. At the time, Liberia was just emerging from years of civil crisis and I hoped that my return would enable me to use my professional knowledge and experience to help develop my country.
From December 2005 to May 2006, I served as Manager of Information Systems at the Central Bank of Liberia where I had direct oversight of developing and implementing the CBL MIS long-term objectives, work plan and budget.
Subsequently, I served as Inventory Control Manager at Firestone Liberia from June 2006 to March 2009 and General Services Manager from March 2009 to May 2012. At Firestone, I had direct oversight of Inventory Control, Government Relations, Concession Agreement Compliance, Education, Information Technology/Payroll, Medical Administration, and Corporate Legal affairs. My specific responsibilities included developing and maintaining strong collaborative relationships with Government officials and stakeholders in the Liberian rubber sector, serving as primary interface with Government Ministries, Public Corporations, Autonomous Agencies, and Professional Associations, and handling administrative and implementation matters related to Firestone Liberia Concession Agreement. I also served as Chairperson of the Firestone Liberia Scholarship Program.
From May 2012 – May 2015, I served as Vice President for Administration & HR at Cellcom Telecommunications, Inc., where I had primary responsibility of administrative and human resource matters, specifically aimed towards reorganizing the organization’s human capital structures.
In 2015, I started a private Organizational Development consulting company, UFOUND Solutions Group, specializing in organizational and human resources development and management. I worked on several development projects, with private companies and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), providing consultancy services in systems strengthening, business process design, change management, and human resources.
In December 2017, I joined SRIMEX Oil & Gas Company where I currently serve as Chief Executive Officer.
I have also served as Second Vice President of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC), held membership in the Liberia Corporate Responsibility Forum, served on the Board of the National Port Authority of Liberia.
The petroleum industry in Africa has largely been male-dominated. A lot of our female readers will be quite interested to know some of your experiences as a first female CEO of your company, and how you are able to achieve success in spite of the obvious barriers.
While male domination in the petroleum sector in Africa is the norm, it is also true of many other industries in Africa, and even in the US. My entire professional career has seen me as the only woman, or one of a very few, in a room filled with men and so from a very early stage in my career I’ve had to manage that dynamic. I have always practiced the philosophy of not seeing myself as a “woman” in a man’s world. Rather, I have always mentally viewed myself as a qualified professional with a job to perform. A typical example is when I accepted the position of CEO with SRIMEX. I never even thought about the fact that I was the first female CEO of an Oil & Gas company in Liberia. It wasn’t until I sent the Press Release to the Public Relations representative that I realized that it was a big deal. I had intended on sending out a simple PR announcement but she insisted that we needed to do something “bigger” because of the message it would send to young women who would now be able to dream bigger.
I have found that focusing my energies on the job at hand and performing with a “quiet but strong presence” has allowed me to mentally remove the barrier myself instead of depending on others to do so. Now, this is not to say that barriers will automatically come down, but I believe that my confidence from the door sets the tone for my interactions with my male counterparts. I deal with barriers as they come and do not make a general assumption that this will be the case with every male counterpart. When it does happen, I am very firm in not allowing it to gain any traction.
The World Bank’s 2018 Human Capital Index ranked sub-Saharan African countries low, based on their education and health outcomes and the impact they are having on productivity. According to the World Bank’s President, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, building human capital is critical for all countries, at all income levels, to compete in the economy of the future. How would you describe the implication of the ranking to organizational growth and economic development in Liberia?
Coming from an OD background, I agree with Mr. Kim’s statement completely. Human capital is the most important ingredient to the success of any organization or nation. Liberia is ranked 153 out of 157 countries, which is extremely low. In simple terms this means that Liberians are severely lacking the requisite knowledge and skills needed for them to move out of poverty and realize their potential as productive members of society. Liberia, prior to the civil war, had an educational system that rivaled the best in the world. I graduated from high school in Liberia and was able to successfully sit the entrance exams for university in the US and obtain an academic scholarship. Today, we see a steep decline in the quality of education in Liberia. In 2018, WAEC reported that 21,580 out of 33,979 candidates who sat for the exam in Liberia, in the senior high category, failed, representing 65.15 percent of the candidates. As an HR professional in Liberia, I have reviewed countless CVs and interviewed numerous candidates for jobs. During these interviews, one can clearly see the lack of preparedness for the job market. As a result, organizations tend to look outside of Liberia for suitable candidates, further crippling the nation’s HCI. We have to realize that there is a direct correlation between poverty and the lack of education and skills. It is imperative that we develop human capital by making investment education (both academic and vocational), health care, and job creation if we are to improve this ranking and elevate our people out of poverty.
Srimex Oil and Gas Company is one of the leading importers of petroleum products in the country. Please tell us more about your company and its contributions to Liberia’s local content development.
Srimex was formed as a General Trading Company in 2003 and imported commodities such as cement, IT and electrical equipment, cooking oil and milk powder. In 2005, Srimex was granted a license to import petroleum products into Liberia which extends to storage, distribution, commercial retail, bunkering as well as exploration. Srimex’s petroleum import business soon eclipsed other activities and in 2011 Srimex Oil and Gas Company (Srimex OGC) was formed to focus solely on petroleum. Srimex OGC also has the largest privately-owned tank farm storage capacity in Liberia. Srimex OGC is 100% Liberian owned and operated and has grown from an importer of modest quantities of PMS into the largest Liberian Oil & Gas company in Liberia. Srimex Chairman, Mr. Musa Hassan Bility, is also 100% owner.
How do you balance your family and career obligations?
With the help and guidance of God and a great support system! Balancing career and family is the toughest job for professional women, especially those wanting to reach executive levels. It is an uphill/downhill battle and at one time or another in your journey, one gets less attention than the other. Anyone that will tell you that as a woman you can have it all is a magician. The best you can strive for is to have the ability to balance the two. I think one of the key things is to be cognizant enough to recognize when you are not paying enough attention to either and to take corrective measures. Secondly, you have to ensure that you have a good support system. I am a proud mother of two daughters and I can tell you that I could not have raised them without God first, and my mother and sister second. I am truly blessed to have a phenomenal support system.
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LinkedIn: Wadei Powell
The gender imbalance seen in terms of women political representation has been a topic in most gender gatherings for decades. In a recent interview with the Amazons Watch Magazine, HON. Mrs. Santi Bai Hanoomanjee, the first female speaker of the Mauritius National Assembly, bares her mind on the challenges women in political leadership are faced with and how women can brave these challenges and be more involved in the political sphere. Excerpt:
- You have a track record of working in a male dominated industry. Amazons Watch Magazine readers would love to know more about your career journey and some of your accomplishments.
Right at the start, I must say that I have always been a very determined person. This trait of my character has, to a great extent, shaped my career and brought me where I am today.
At the very young age of 19, I joined the civil service of Mauritius. Gradually, by dint of hard work and perseverance, I climbed the professional ladder until I reached the then highest rank in the civil service, that of Permanent Secretary. For your information, a Permanent Secretary is the closest collaborator of the Minister. He/she is the person responsible, amongst others, for advising the Minister on the formulation of policies of the Ministry. He/she is also the administrative head overseeing the implementation of policies decided by Government.
At every level in my career, I have always endeavoured to bring about meaningful changes. I have served in several Ministries, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Agriculture, the then Ministry of Women’s Rights which later became the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Finance, amongst others. I seized the opportunity of my posting at the Ministry of Women’s Rights to initiate, as far back as 1984, several projects aimed at furthering women’s rights, such as, inter-alia, the review of discriminatory legislation against women, and improving the literacy rate of women in the country.
At the Ministry of Agriculture, I had the privilege to represent Mauritius in negotiations at the ACP-EU level regarding the Sugar Protocol issues and to attend lobbying missions in EU countries in that connection. I was also closely involved in the major reforms which were brought in trade at the level of the World Trade Organisation and I had the opportunity of attending negotiation meetings in Geneva.
In May 2005, I retired and started my political career by joining the Mouvement Socialist Militant political party. This decision was motivated by my strong desire to serve my country with the rich experience acquired after spending 33 years in the civil service.
In July 2005, I was elected for the first time in the largest constituency of the island and I was re-elected in the same constituency in May 2010.
I served as a Member of the Opposition in the National Assembly from July 2005 to March 2010 and also from July 2011 to October 2014.
From May 2010 to July 2011, I was appointed Minister of Health and Quality of Life and in that capacity, I focused my efforts to raise the standard of the public health services for the ultimate benefit of the population.
Finally, following the general elections of December 2014, I was elected the first woman Speaker of the National Assembly. I used my influence to advocate for the setting up of a Parliamentary Gender Caucus. I must acknowledge that my proposal received a positive response from all the political parties in the House and thus, a cross-party Parliamentary Gender Caucus became a reality in March 2017. I am currently its chairperson.
- As the Speaker of the National Assembly of Mauritius and also being the first woman in the nation’s history to hold this post, what will you say is the major threat to the participation of women in top executive positions?
As a woman, I would say that there are a number of socially acquired gendered roles and norms which tend to act as limiting factors to the full capacity development of women. Although women can be equally, if not more, capable and qualified as men, they always have to work harder than men in order to prove their worth.
So, having in place an accompanying conducive gender sensitive environment remains one of the key dimensions of equitable participation at higher levels of decision making. Moreover, one of the components of a gender sensitive structure includes the use of gender sensitive language so that a certain level of respect towards women can be maintained.
The Parliamentary Gender Caucus of the Mauritius National Assembly commissioned a study in 2017 with a view to establishing the baseline situation on the status of gender equality in sectoral Ministries in Mauritius. The study revealed that there is no discrimination against women in the civil service. At the level of the private sector, recent studies reveal that there still exist some inequalities that needs to be straightened out so as to have more women at board room level. Moreover, all sectors must respect the principle of equal pay for equal work but with equal qualifications and experience. At the same time, organisations should address barriers that remain invisible at the first glance but which lead to the glass ceiling effect. These unconscious bias in the corporate world continue to be a challenge to gender equality.
- Annually, the achievements and contributions of women are celebrated in the month of March. The theme for the 2019 International Women’s Day is Balance for Better. From your viewpoint, what possible measures can governments take to create a gender-balanced Africa?
Across the globe, statistics reveal that gender has been a key determinant in the distribution of the benefits of social and economic development. Advancing gender equality could add USD 12 trillion per year to the economy by 2025, according to the Mc Kinsey Global Institute.
It is well-known that women comprise 50% of the global population, but have far less representation in many key cross-sections of society. For instance, the average representation of women in formal politics remain around 24% at the global level. Moreover, there is a persistent wage gap between the salary of men and women. Concurrently, the United Nations has recognized that the pursuit of gender equality through Goal 5 is a “pre-condition” for the achievement of the 16 other SDGs. The different commitments made at the regional level also call upon Governments to put in place measures for women’s empowerment and gender equality. Moreover, the success of global development efforts depends on women being fully engaged, which means that they must be given the opportunity to reach their full potential at the different levels of policy making and implementation through gender mainstreaming.
In this context, there are a number of measures, which Governments should consider adopting in order to redress existing gender gaps. The collection of gender disaggregated data remains key to establishing the baseline to measure the existing situation on gender equality and monitor and assess progress made towards equity and equality. In this context, as the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Gender Caucus, I have taken the lead to commission a gender audit in the civil service in Mauritius to measure the status of gender mainstreaming at the policy and operational levels. The Caucus has also commissioned a participatory gender audit on the status of gender equality in the private sector with a view to making proposals to address gender gaps. As the private sector remains a partner for development, roping in the private sector to contribute to women’s empowerment through public/private partnerships and corporate social responsibility measures would contribute to gender responsive investment that would complement government initiatives and maximise on the limited resources that some African Governments are already facing.
Furthermore, Gender Responsive Budgeting should be seen as a strategy to reframe investment analysis as well as to recognise gender as a crucial factor for sustainable development.
Empowering women in Africa must start with ensuring that they have access to education. It is a fact that education enables individuals to earn their living. This, in turn, leads to improved living standards, through the fulfilment of basic needs. Concurrently, women should have access to proper health services to enable them to remain healthy, to reduce unnecessary disability and premature death. Women who are deprived of education and who are in poor health cannot earn wages and become a prey to poverty. Such situations lead to a feminization of poverty.
In addition, as we are transitioning into the digital revolution, Governments should ensure digital literacy at grass root level, especially targeting women. However, I have to admit that this will not be an easy task to achieve as it will require a lot of resource. We must bear in mind that in some remote areas of Africa, women might not even have access to a mobile phone which is the basic digital tool. Access to Internet connection remains another major challenge.
At the macro level, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), women in this day and age perform three-quarters of unpaid care work, with a total of around 13% of the world’s GDP, which is not translated into economic power, nor accounted for in the GDP. In the context of African economies, women’s work in the informal sector is also not accounted for as part of the GDP. Regulating this sector would ensure that women’s economic and social contribution is acknowledged.
Eliminating Gender Based Violence (GBV) should remain high on any government’s agenda for the safety of the community. Concurrently, GBV bears both tangible and intangible costs. GBV is too costly to ignore.
Furthermore, Government policies need to appreciate the diversity of women’s identities- there is not a “one size fit all policy”. Government policies and programmes should be responsive to the different priorities of women from different socio-economic backgrounds, as well as cultural specificities that shape gendered power dynamics. Programmes should be formulated and implemented accordingly. The use of specific gender sensitive indicators would contribute a long way to monitor and evaluate the impact of these programmes on intended beneficiaries.
Understanding women’s practical and strategic needs is a key dimension to putting in place relevant policies and programmes, with the accompanying costed action plans to address those issues that are of importance to advancing women’s empowerment. Having both a top-down and bottom-up approach would ensure a diversity of representation of issues and ensure that women’s practical and strategic concerns at the grass-roots are mainstreamed into government’s shorter terms plans and vision.
- Women sometimes find it difficult to balance social life, family and career. What model do you use to strike a balance between these aspects of your life?
I must point out that, over and above all my professional roles, I am a mother of three daughters. As such, I have numerous family commitments. Balancing these with my demanding career and active social and political life has not always been straightforward. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to live in a family setting where we have been socialised to value the male and female gendered roles. I have also benefited from the understanding and unflinching support of my husband and my children.
Personally, I have realised that it is very important to shortlist my priorities, relating to my work and family commitments. Quite often, I am faced with changing priorities and I have to balance what is urgent and what is important. This is where a good planning of activities becomes vital.
Getting my priorities sorted out has helped me to assess the amount of energy that I should invest on my responsibilities at different levels. I always reflect carefully on what issues cannot be compromised, those that are non-negotiable and those that are important to myself, my family and my professional commitments. Being clear on these answers helps me to prioritise, to make the necessary adjustments and to plan my future course of action.
Over my 40 years of career, I have come to the realization that maintaining work-life balance requires constant adjustments, compromises, and sacrifices, but also that it is essential to take the time to spend with my family as such moments help me to re-energise and to keep working. I always strive to strike a mental and physical balance through regular exercises.
Overall, I may say that I have been able to maintain the correct balance in my life: I have had a distinguished career while simultaneously ensuring that my children also successfully complete their university studies and embark on their own professional careers.
- In African countries, the participation of women in political activities is significantly low compared to the rest of the world. How do you think African women can be encouraged to get involved and break into the political sphere?
One of the strategies that have been adopted at the regional level remains the institutionalization of the quota system and affirmative action. At the international level, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) calls upon State Parties to put in place temporary special measures to redress existing gaps.
Evidence suggests that local politics remain a platform for women to leap into national level politics. In Mauritius, at the local Government level, there is a positive legislative measure that stipulates that 30% of candidates for elections should be women. As a consequence, at present, there are 33% of women elected at local government level. Although I must acknowledge that women representation at Parliament level still remains low for Mauritius at only 12%.
At the level of African countries, two countries can be considered as shining examples in terms of women political representation, namely Uganda and Rwanda. Uganda’s 9th Parliament comprises 38% of women as a result of affirmative action enshrined in the Constitution. As regards Rwanda, the percentage of women in Chamber is 64% as a consequence of the 2003 Rwandan Constitution which provides for a minimum of 30% quota for women in all decision making organs, covering the bi-cameral Parliament, political parties and other government bodies.
However, there is much work which is required upstream so as to reach the desired level of women participation in politics. To my mind, this work should start with the family. Both boys and girls should be provided with equal education and development opportunities. The girl-child should not be caged in gendered roles.
Providing young girls right from an early age with self-assertiveness, leadership, advocacy and lobbying skills remains crucial to shaping them into young leaders. Eminent female figures in politics, both past and present, such as Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Theresa May, should be used as role models to inspire young women aspiring to join politics.
Above all, African political leaders must be fully sensitized to the need to create space for women to join their parties. The presence of women should be welcome. This sensitization should be backed with appropriate legislative framework to create an enabling environment. Most importantly, in the thrust to bridge the gender gap, men should be roped in as partners or as male champions pushing the cause for gender equality.
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Most politicians and their spouses only remember the less privileged when they are in office or vying for one, and more often than not, projects to empower the less privilege end with their political tenure. Her Excellency, Mrs. Eunice Ukamaka Egwu, wife of the first Executive Governor of Ebonyi State is of a different league. With an inherent desire to reach out to the needy, Mrs. Eunice Egwu has been silently touching the lives of widows and the less privileged long before she became the First Lady of Ebonyi State, and is still touching the lives of these vulnerable ones, years after leaving that office. The editor of the Amazons Watch Magazine and part of her team caught up with Mrs. Egwu in her Abuja office, where she gave more insight on her philanthropic pursuits, and challenges of women in leadership positions. Find Excerpts from the interview below;
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Eunice Ukamaka Egwu; I was born into a royal but polygamous family, the only daughter among six siblings from my mum, though sadly, I lost 2 of my brothers. I am married to Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu, the first Executive Governor of Ebonyi State. I have six children split evenly – three boys and three girls.
Our observation is that there are so many challenges with women in leadership position? What do you think is responsible for this?
Sincerely speaking, the opportunity is not there for most women. Some women only get to the limelight when their husbands get a political position. This does not mean these women are lacking in abilities, intellectually or otherwise. It is just that the opportunities are limited for most women. Due to societal and cultural inclinations, most women are subdued and tend to just ride on their husband’s glory. For such women, opening up will expose them to societal and cultural critics who might see this as the woman wanting to outshine her husband. Most women are left to get into leadership positions by default, that is, because their husbands are there. It doesn’t mean that some of them can’t do the work, but society wants them to tag along their husband, else, they are seen as frontal and bossy. You don’t want your husband to be called a sissy, so sometimes, women deliberately tag along. Also, the attention is always usually directed to Men. Even when some women have the opportunity to come to limelight, they are careful not to outshine their husbands and faced socio-cultural judgments. These are some of the things I think affect women. Most women have the desire and capacity but the society does not give them the opportunity to excel.
Is there anything we should do differently in relation to the cultural factors inhibiting women?
We have to start appealing to the consciences of the opposite gender that it doesn’t take anything off a man to let a woman explore and shine. The women also have to be sensitized that their life is not relegated to marriage or just keeping a family. We should also start with our family, especially our daughters. We need to tell the girls that they can stand out and do exploits, as most girls are tailored from childhood to see themselves as wives and mothers only and they grow up thinking that is the only thing they stand for. So we should start from the girl child. Marriage is good but it’s not actually for everyone and should not define a woman. We have to be cautious about applying this wisdom though. We Igbos believe in (speaks in local dialects) Akonuche. Ako is knowledge while Uche is wisdom. You find a way of getting what you want without being aggressive or confrontational. Some men just want their wives to be housewives doing nothing. These women have to work wisely with their husbands so as not to run into a conflict. Women need to apply wisdom when they find themselves in this kind of situation, and wisdom is not acquired but given.
Most pet projects of the First Ladies die after the leave office, what has sustained the Widow Care Foundation this far after several years of leaving office as a First Lady?
It is passion. I have always been passionate about the less privilege. When I was an undergraduate, I met a woman who lost nine of her children and she had cried so hard that she became blind. I was drawn to her and became her friend. I have always been drawn to widows from a young age, it was a passion I grew up with. When the Widow Care foundation was launched, I can still remember Mrs. Babaginda, the then first Lady of Nigeria and also the wife of the Governor of Niger state were in attendance. These women did not belief that I lived in Abakaliki. I have always been drawn to the rural people and their plights. My first job as a graduate was teaching and I as soon as I got my pay for the month, I always shared with the needy in my immediate community. When I started making money, I developed the NGO and registered the Widow Care Foundation. When I entered office, it was an opportunity to expand the reach of the foundation.
So Widow Care was birthed before you assumed office, we were thinking it was your pet project in office?
My pet project in office was “Hope for the Child” but I couldn’t sustain it because it wasn’t my passion. Actually, I wanted to continue with Mrs. Babangida’s “Better Life for rural women’’ but somehow the Widow Care stood the test of time because I have always been passionate about widows.
What were your contributions to the socioeconomic development of Ebonyi state?
In the areas of empowering women, I was able to accomplish things together with the wives of the local government chairmen. I have always been enterprising. Some of the wives of local government chairmen who took the program seriously are doing very well for themselves now. I also started what is called the ‘’family law centre’’and I made sure it was passed by the Ebonyi State House of Assembly. Once you are a widow and anyone touches you, you run there. The bill has been sustained and is still functional today. I also got a land and started this school (referring to the venue of the interview). When I commissioned this school I had three of my colleagues who came around and they were surprised about it. Some people don’t know what to do after leaving office, and thus become depressed. People will always cheer you when you are in office but the moment you are out, they move on to the other person. So you need to plan ahead for life after office, and that I did by investing in businesses that has kept me busy.
As a busy female leader, how do you cope with family obligations?
It’s not easy. My son will always say ‘’mummy you are the only person who can do this’’. At 2 a.m I am awake to plan and I even cook sometimes. Even when you are not the one cooking, you still have to plan for it. With over 300 staff in my employ, I have a lot of coordination to do. But I’m coping, though it’s not easy.
You were endorsed by the board of the CELD to be conferred with the ‘’Global Impact leadership Award”. How do you feel about it?
I was elated. The letter sent to me was a chronology of my activities. Sometimes other women take my ideas and get recognition without any reference to me. As one who has the fear of God, I wasn’t doing it for the recognition but then, it felt good to be recognized.
When we publish some of our readers might want to connect with you. Is there any formal medium on any of the social media channels?
We would like to thank you for your time and encourage you to keep doing what you do even when people like us are not there to cheer you on always.
Thank you for the recognition, it’s a pleasure.
The journey of leadership began from an era when women were either absent or invisible in leadership positions to this time where a change in the demographic, following various calls for gender diversity, is sweeping through governments and conglomerates across the globe. However, women still face the biggest barrier of getting into higher echelons of private and public sectors. In the same vein, those women who strive to get to that upper chamber of leadership are most times whisked out before the expiration of their tenure.
In an exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, Olutoyin Oyelade, Founding Partner/CEO of InVcap, an African-focused private equity firm in Nigeria and Canada, highlighted and disccussed 5 practicable ways women can break through diverse barriers to get into upper echelons of leadership. Excerpt:
Please tell us about yourself- vis-à-vis your cultural, social and educational background.
My name is Olutoyin Oyelade. I am a Nigerian-Canadian with a birthday of 15th of January. I am the 2nd of five children, married to Olusola Oyelade, and we are blessed with three young Entrepreneurs. I have garnered 25 years cognate experience from vertical industry sectors including banking and finance, real estate management, private equity, and non-profit management.
I obtained my first Bachelors degree at the age of 19 in Philosophy from Ondo State University, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria. In 1999, I received an MBA from Nigeria’s University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). This academic background, in addition to the various management trainings I had received in my career journey marked my career path, facilitated my career progression, and led to the development of a team of dynamic managers that worked with me. These professionals were trained to serve clients, redesign processes, policies, and practices across the various industry sectors where I had gained some experience. As my team grew, it became imperative to retrain and get more skills in my industry.
I embarked on a self-development program, which culminated in a series of training, from 2005 – 2008. Of particular note was my enrolment for executive education programs based on the support of my former employers Intercontinental Bank. In 2005, I completed a Senior Management program at Lagos Business School; in 2006 I completed my Business marketing program at IMD, Lausanne, in Geneva; and in 2008 I graduated from Wharton School’s (USA) advanced management program. These executive studies launched the start of new ideas in my career path. Following a successful career in Banking in 2010, I followed my dream to research into female advancement issues. To this end, I enrolled for a Doctoral degree in Management (with focus on Leadership) in 2012. By 2016, I had graduated as a Doctor of Management (D.MGT) from the University of Maryland, University College, Maryland, USA.
You have a track record in Africa’s Investment sector which spans over 25 years’ experience. Kindly tell us about your career journey and some of your accomplishments and successes.
I started a career in Banking in 1992 with the Nigerian Intercontinental Merchant Bank (NIMBL) – Nigeria. At various times I worked in client services, treasury operations, finance and administration, and investment management services. The Bank later became Intercontinental Bank Group (IBG, now merged with Access Bank). I was trained under the guidance of some of the most qualified and skilled professionals in the industry and as you can imagine, I learnt a great deal, and soon progressed to become the Head of Treasury in 2002. I am really thankful to God for the experience and opportunity.
By 2005, I became the Group Treasurer for the Group. As Group Treasurer, I had responsibility for Funds, Treasury, and Marketing for the Group covering the bank’s 12 Regional Treasury subsidiaries in Nigeria, London, and Ghana. As Group Treasurer at IBG I was part of the team that successfully raised $1.3bn in debts and equity from the global markets to prepare for IBG’s local and international expansion back then. I later became Group Head of Investment Banking with responsibility for treasury and investment management portfolio of $8bn. Shortly after this, the Bank was appointed as one of the indigenous Banks to manage Nigeria’s foreign reserves. On account of this, I was seconded to train with BNP Paribas, Paris and London. As a management intern with BNP Paribas, I gained more understanding of investment management and asset trading and got an opportunity to interact with the global financial markets, the players and their sectors. (These opportunities prepared me to start the Friends of Africa, Summit in 2011 and InVcap, the Investment firm in 2013). Between 2005 and 2009, I was a member of the National Executive Committee of the Money Market Association, an organization responsible for supervision, certification, and regulation of Treasury dealers in the Nigerian markets. Although, I actively operate in the international Markets as a member of Emerging Markets Investors Association (EMIA), I monitor developments in the local markets and remain a senior member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Nigeria.
Some of my Key accomplishments incudes: InVcap Managers launched in 2013; In 2016 InVcap recorded its first major investment deal, SplashWorldpark.com Waterparks, Ikogosi, Nigeria—reputed to be the first full Waterparks in the West African Region. The first Phase of the project has been completed and opened in 2016; In 2017, InVcap recorded its 2nd Investment deal, EntrepreneursPoint.com, the Newest Co-working and executive business offices. Entrepreneurs Point offers private offices, virtual services, Business Membership, Training and Events to local and international clients. The centre is located in Toronto, Canada; In 2017, I released the Book- Advancing Beyond the Ceiling following my doctoral research into women’s advancement journey and based on my career experiences in the corporate sector. The Book is available on Olutoyinoyelade.com
In the non-profit sector, you serve with the African Expert Network, and charity boards, such as Culbeat Foundation, Friends of Africa, and Casa Foundation, which are all efforts towards fostering economic growth and sustainability in Nigeria, and Africa at large. Please share with us some of the success story in this regard.
I founded Casa Foundation in 2011 as a social impact organisation to meet the needs of youths, women and Children in underserved communities and in line with our commitment to support the basic tenets of the UN sponsored sustainable development goals (SDGs) contribute. We focus on providing support in the area of healthcare, immigrant training, and education to women, emerging leaders, and Youths.
Our Partners at InVcap have continued to support our non-profit initiatives as it closely aligns with our Impact investment objectives. We serve with the African Expert Network because of its focus to provide expertise, advisory, and services that could facilitate the required deal flow for Africa to thrive.
Some of the Key accomplishments are as follows:
- Casa Foundation sponsors Casa Scholarship for International students in Canada. Our group of Entrepreneur mentors have actively taught Entrepreneurship to 7 Cohorts over the last 2 years through the Entrepreneur EXChange program.
- Our Friends of Africa platform (an economic development summit) has hosted senior public and private sector officials to actively engage with stakeholders in the economy including CEOs, Ministers, Governors, and Parliamentarians from West Africa and Canada in the last 7 years. The Summit has produced several business and economic initiatives, including new businesses Launched and Project executed in Africa. FOA continues to issue recommendations to participating governments on additional resources and initiatives on their developmental agenda to impact prosperity of African Nations.
- The annual Friends of Africa Summit has received a letter of Commendation from the Premier and Government of Ontario, Canada as an initiative of great Impact for Africa’s Development.
The World Bank forecasts that economic growth in Nigeria would edge up to at least 2.5 per cent in 2018, from the estimated 0.8% growth recorded in 2017. What is your take on this?
The World Bank projection is a welcome development particularly to buoy investors’ confidence following the news of a recession. Recall that some investors were alarmed by the sudden declaration of a recession after two decades of economic stability and major investments from the private and Investment sector in Nigeria. As you can imagine, the slowdown ground most meaningful investments activities to a halt and the moderate economic recovery expected in 2017 did very little to boost investment confidence as new investors cautiously explored the Nigerian opportunity.
This is particularly so because the fragile economic recovery was predicated on rising commodity prices, boost in oil production and oil policy reforms. However, the policy reforms scarcely addressed the perennial cases of shortages in fuel, power, and energy. Moreover, the FOREX challenge remains—its availability, stability, and flow. For World Bank’s projection of 2.5% growth to become real in Nigeria, I would expect the Experts in charge of the Treasury to effectively implement, monitor, and manage, policy reforms, and introduce measures to buoy confidence in Naira by increase FOREX availability, stability, and consistency of supply etc.
These managers will do well to mitigate potential risks to structural reforms, stability of FOREX rates, while creating additional functional and reliable agencies to monitor, address, and limit other possible downside risks to the economy.
Despite the entry of women into leadership across all climes, women still face the challenge of getting into higher echelons of leadership in private and public sectors; while those women who have risen to that level of leadership are most times whisked out before the expiration of their tenure. Please share with us, some of your experiences in breaking through these diverse barriers.
I follow many principles and have some values and virtues. I will share a few…
Get over-Qualified: First, women need to get a good set of Qualifications. The simple truth is that, If you are going to get noticed you need to do a lot more than the dominant players. If out of a 100%, we hold a measly 4.2% CEO positions, then how can we stand out from the crowd? I found that a small percentage of women might not require too many qualifications to become rich, or get to certain C- suite levels or other positions in life by virtue of birth, heritage, marriage, location, or affiliations etc. Despite these privileged few, the number of top Women bosses remains 4.2% in F500s, and perhaps less than 35% of women lead on Boards, non-profits, and in Governments. It therefore becomes imperative that women gain all the possible advantages that qualifications, skills, competencies, kindness, professionalism, and mental capacity can offer to reach their careers goals.
In my career, I was only required to hold a Bachelors degree; I went ahead to get an MBA. I later attended the best 3 Business Schools in the 3 continents where I worked– Lagos Business School, IMD Lausanne- Geneva and Wharton, USA. Again, don’t get me wrong. Women don’t need to go overboard with paper certificates or the best schools, but they may get as many as possible, if the opportunity exists, to break free from the crowds. I tell ladies everywhere I go—whatever it takes stand out, dare to be different, get the best credentials. Its hard work but it might help in the journey of life.
Be Diligent and Skilled: I was never a 9-5pm person. You would certainly find me at work 2-3 hours after others had left—and I was really working (even as a mid-level officer). It never mattered that a boss was there or not- I just had to be there to finish up the day’s work and get ready for the next day.
It was my training (I earned some names including Thatcher). I learnt as much as possible on the job and this helped me to be more effective. I did not know that my bosses noticed this until I got transferred to lead different units. I must have led a dozen different units and this helped me to hone my skills in different departments from Operation, to Treasury, Administration, to Marketing, Investments, Branch management, Events Planning etc. I led these teams and was either head of one committee or the other planning events for large groups of clients. In one of the organizations, we had almost a million clients and almost 20k workforce). It was a great number to learn life lessons and management from.
Moreover, diligence is the hallmark of successful leaders and when combined with the right skills, it becomes a virtue that could prepare one to shoulder greater responsibilities that could never be imagined in the future.
Diligence can also be very rewarding. For instance, I do remember that my previous organization trained her staff abroad based on performance. I was privileged to get a lot of training opportunities because of this policy. Resilience: Women need to be resilient and never give up on their God given dreams–no matter the challenges, adversity, reproach, relegating strategies, burdens, and innuendoes they face at work.
Purpose and Passion: Women must first find their Purpose, and then pursue it with passion. It is difficult to find fulfilment at what you are not passionate about. Your purpose will ignite your passion and attract resources (partners, mentors, sponsors) to you— your resources will attract brutal Adversities to you, but you will Keep Winning If you Faint not in adversity.
Values and Principles: These might vary but must be well aligned. As discerning leader I try to define and keep refining these principles. I try to maintain the values I uphold and tick off the list from time to time to self-check…Women leaders need to constantly ask some burning questions.
- Methods: What are my methods? What am I known for? What would I never do? What Style, standards, and principles do I maintain?
- Mentorship: Who DO I really lead? Who Leads ME? Who checks me?
- Management: What is my Style? How do I manage people? By standards, by processes, by favouritism, by loyalty? Or by emotions?
- Accountability: Who Am I Accountable to? 1 person, 2 or a group?
- Actions: What do I say/ do when certain people are there or not there?
- Friends: Which type of people do I attract? A+, B+, C+, D+? A combination or one category? What benefits do they bring?
- Impact: How do I harness the gifts within the groups above to help?
- Growth: How can I learn, unlearn, and relearn from more successful and knowledgeable people? How do l earn their respect?
- Adversity: How do I maintain my composure outside my comfort zone?
- Mentorship: True values of great leaders emerge from constantly self-checking, questioning actions, emotions, and decisions. I learnt to answer these set of questions as I was raised. My mother was a great influence on me and imbued in us great principles of life. My siblings are very supportive and I learn a lot from my mentors and leaders that I have studied and benefited from over the years. I believe that these support eco systems are a great way to grow, learn life lessons and make significant progress in the rough journey that life could sometimes bring.
Be Thankful: I am very thankful to God for His many graces. I have had to deal with serious issues, situations, and people but God, my Father, has always sent help to me somehow, somewhere, and He continues to help people like us- who had no hope. I finally earned and graduated from a Doctorate degree within 3 years (between 2012-2016) by following some of these principles. I have become an Investor and a serial Entrepreneur in the last few years of starting an Investment firm with my Partners in a new Country.
You wrote a book, which was published last year, titled: Advancing Beyond the Ceiling: The Gender Barrier Effect on Women’s Advancement in Fortune 500 (F500) Firms, what motivated you?
In my career trajectory, I had learnt some great lessons. I was opportune to start early, from a marketing IT person, to a level one supervisor, and rose to become the Group Treasurer of a 20k-man (approx.) organization in Africa with 365 local Branches, 12 Subsidiaries, and Country Offices in the UK and Ghana. Through my career journey, I observed that organizations were only as great as their leaders. An organization’s values are largely a reflection of its leadership and what Leaders promote would most likely get done. It wasn’t until I left to start InVcap, that I became interested in the statistics on women advancement. As I completed the Company registration, all letters to me would most times be addressed to a Mr…. I corrected my agents several times. Most email introductions to industry peers would come back as “Good to meet you Mr…” – perhaps my new peers probably assumed only Men would dabble into the Private Equity sector?
I pondered on the issue for a bit, particularly when it became difficult to raise funding for projects… until we found some investors. By the time I started my doctoral research …it was only logical to research into the issues that had left women out of the top roles. I would soon find that my advancement to the Top10 team in other organizations was a result of sheer Providence and a deliberate and intentional act of sincere leadership. In the US, it was not the norm as the statistics indicated and more worrying is the fact that the indicators remain significantly unchanged at 4.2% in the last 5 years, with men consistently dominating the Corner offices in F500s.
Upon starting my doctoral research it was only logical that I focused on these Gender barrier issues, and I published some of the findings in my book and have been speaking at various fora since then—from TED “What’s wrong with Women”, to TV, Radio and Magazine Interviews, and She leads Africa, etc.
Advancing Beyond the Ceiling -For too long the subject of a glass ceiling on women’s careers has dominated corporate sector debates and engaged practitioners’. Issues of invisible barriers and hurdles continued to plague the career trajectory of women in senior and middle management…. senior leadership failed to acknowledge these issues, despite the fact that corporations have been known to fail or suffer dire financial consequences for shutting women out of the corner office.
Moreover, Interactions with supervisors and junior officers indicate that the challenges they face in the course of duty negate the core ethics and ingredients necessary to promote the general wellbeing of the firm. While stakeholders in the public and private sectors continue to propose solutions and advocate for palliative and remedial steps to address the visible and invisible ceilings on female career progress, the number of female CEOs remain significantly unchanged between 2013 and 2016 and slightly deteriorated in 2017.
The question is why only a few corporations are pushing an agenda that seems to be the panacea to firm performance and sustainability? And why have the early warning signals of gender inequality remained in corporate corridors— 40 years after Bryant identified the glass ceiling challenge?
My research findings in Advancing Beyond the Ceiling deviates from the traditional approach of limiting the gender barrier dilemma to societal, natural, and organizational practices. The book researches into other imposed limitations, including issues of self-esteem, character traits, and male dominance that could stall women’s advancement.
I proposed reasons for females to spearhead their advancement through scholarship, partnership, mentorship, and sponsorship, first to gain the required confidence and esteem, that some women still lack – despite their position and qualifications, then for women to become better trained in the art of leadership management (not just in theory, but by actions). Leading women could check:
- How effective would I be, if I led in new sectors, led new people?
- How could women lead people that are better qualified than them without becoming threatened to the point of seeking to eliminate perceived competitors no matter the advantages they offer?
- What leadership behaviours characterized mentors and leaders?
- What practices should top women promote in their quest to crack the glass ceiling?
- How can our readers access this book?
My Book- Advancing beyond the Ceiling – is available Online on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Author House, and www.olutoyinoyelade.com
How do you balance your family and business life, which is some of the battles women still face?
For me, keeping a work–life balance means gaining the support of my spouse, and raising Children, that are well grounded in the Christian Faith, so that life’s decisions can be taken faster without compromises; these are my critical success factors and they are a most rewarding blessing from God. To maintain a balance in my home, I keep a schedule of the important dates from the beginning of the year and try to meet these appointments. The family also bonds as I offer support to kids in school and in their other endeavours and goals.
I found that getting busier meant that pressure increased and we had to give up on the time that we spend together. So we had to introduce more fun times to look forward to: movie nights, quiz shows (to test the brain and word knowledge), make a pitch night, etc. If you are raising Entrepreneurs, they better understand Gods word and business principles early enough.
Ensuring that one’s spouse is involved in the various business concerns is also helpful. Not only do you get professional advice for free, issues are resolved faster. For our work abroad, we take turns to attend business meetings so that both parties are not away from home. However, we find time to get away from these routines with the kids from time to time. Couples must learn to create some history that will become memories for the future. I find that by sharing my goals and vision with a reliable partner, the challenges of life are half solved and other issues can be pursued more strategically.
What is the best way for readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you?
I am available on Social Media:
Twitter: @Olutoyin Oyelade
Felicia Twumasi, CEO, Homefoods Limited, a leading Ghanaian entrepreneur, shares with Amazons Watch Magazine, in an exclusive interview, her inspiring entrepreneurship journey- from a big dream at a table top in a kitchen in 1995, to a high-scale ethnic food processing and packaging company, with a distribution network across The United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, North America and West Africa, and export sales increasing into multi-million dollars per annum. However, it is interesting to note that this successful businesswoman faced quite a number of challenges along this journey, other than racial and gender discrimination. Excerpt:
Please tell us about your experience growing up as a girl in Ghana.
Growing up in a convent in Elmina, a small town in the Central Region of Ghana I witnessed nightmare moments of gloom where many of my friends had to close the chapter of schooling just because they lost their fathers; family breadwinners. This ignited the fire of enterprise in me, forming the foundation upon which todays superstructures stand. This same flame has stayed alive not only to keep family and I financially independent through education, but also to empower fellow women to do same, in order to minimise if not avoid entirely a replay of my childhood experience.
I was privileged to be close to my grandma when growing up, thus picking up her dexterity in cooking and now, as it were, my love for cooking. Skills she picked up from exposure to other parts of Ghana and abroad combined with recipes from her travels with her parents; today I share with the world and in itself, keeps my flame burning.
It is quite intriguing that you conceived the idea of Homefoods in 1995 at your kitchen table. Kindly share with us your entrepreneurship journey.
Having this childhood experience imprinted in my memory when I was growing up and seeing women on trucks with their agro- produce coming to the main markets, ignited that urge to start this journey. I knew immediately that I had to do something for these women.
There I planned the vision and mission toward these women to process the perishable agro-produce into products. With the vision and mission set, the journey started.
My vision has been to create, build and establish a quality food chain industry by fusing flavours and spices from around the world, to meet my consumer needs while my mission is to focus attention and creativity on basic food ingredients and services to all and sundry, homes, catering, hotels and fast food industries, food products they absolutely need and want, thus making every meal an experience. This I sought to obtain through adaptive production, inventory management and product design while creating value and wealth for our nation through agriculture in order to maintain a sustainable legacy for posterity.
Homefoods is a 100% Ghanaian owned company within the FMCG marketing industry which is dominated by multinationals. It was thus birthed some 22 years ago from a dream I envisioned and, indeed, what a big dream that was from a table top in my kitchen way back then, that dream was to grow an Agro-based business to engage in the processing and packaging of various ethnic foods, specifically for the export market. From the top of that Kitchen table, I started bottling edible Palm Oil for export to the United Kingdom with just two workers; one staff and my daughter and 5 women suppliers. Why Palm oil? It took one inspiring idea of exporting a product that was non-perishable but essential to cooking. Palm oil fit the bill, with its rich red oil processed from fruits of the palm.
Now, we are a high-scale ethnic food processing and packaging company in Ghana with a current distribution network including; The United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, North America, The Gambia and Equatorial Guinea and our own sub-region, West Africa.
Homefoods has been able to keep up its business-level strategy through sustainable competitive advantage in discrete yet identifiable markets of export for all these years. We have Kept 70% market share in the Red Oil business for 14 years and counting on our customised brands such as BLUE BAY, TROPIGOLD, AFRICA’S FINEST, GHANA BEST, YADCO, BIG MAMA, HOMEFOODS AND HOMESENSE.
We are however, now looking into West, East and Southern African markets. Our exports have grown exponentially from 100 boxes per order in 1995 to a full container per month to forty FCL per year and still growing, with our export sales increasing into multi-million dollars per annum.
In 2009, we embarked on a new business model by adding value to the palm oil and vegetable oil thus expanding to other food product lines such as Vegetable Oil, Various seasoning, Ready to Eat Meals and Soup of West African Taste made for the world and soon, snacks and Laundry, Carbolic and Liquide Soaps made from Palm Oil derivatives. They have been made to suite both international and local consumer demands; all packaged under international standards in attractive stand-up pouches in addition to our Pioneer products being Palm oil and Grains. This growth has been as a result of extensive research and multimarket activities based on our agro-business and thus resulting in our expansion into four factories since outgrown our Head Quarters in Accra:
- Palm Oil and Vegetable Oil Packaging Factory– Odorkor, Accra.
- Ready-To-Eat Factory– Rented space at Food Research Institute, Accra.
- Grains and Legume Snacks & Seasoning Packaging Factory– Agility Industrial Park, Kpone, Tema.
- Derivatives of Palm-Soap Factory (Liquid, Laundry and Detergent Soaps)- Oleo Chemical Plant, Boadi, Kumasi.
Our future plans comprise relocating into our modern facility so as to incorporate all these sites. My dream of building an Agro-Food Processing Empire, we have termed “THE HOMEFOODS CORRIDOR FOOD VILLAGE” a 15-year intellectual odyssey by me. A diversified business entity which will enable all initiatives to converge, eliminating all divergences therefore backed by resources and professionals who will formulate and implement activities and businesses that lie within the corporate hierarchy. This will thus expatiate the role each expert is to play to enable us all, from the farmer to the good infrastructure to the logistic companies to the security institutions etc. to mention a few, to all come and converge on this corridor thereby enhancing food security and the health of the nation, ensuring to leave a sustainable legacy to posterity.
I believe our Agro business is sustainable based on reliable and transparent value chain, fair prices and our concern for environmental, social and cultural values which causes us to be linked to improving Nutrition, Health, Agriculture and productivity. This dream could not have reached its full potential without its committed and loyal team which have been cultured by allowing them to be creative and innovative while combining intellect and idiosyncrasies to face challenges in their various role while working independently yet dependently linked on each other. Homefoods thus believes and thrives on relationship building, quality, innovation, our human capital and most importantly, our Corporate Social Responsibility.
The challenges entrepreneurs face in Africa are often more visible for women. For instance, the challenges entrepreneurs in Africa face when accessing finance are more visible in women-led businesses. Studies reveal that female entrepreneurs that sought funding from venture capitalists only received 25%, on average, of the amount they asked for; while men received, on average, over 50% of the amount they asked for. In the same vein, studies showed that 53% of women had applications for finance denied, compared to just 38% of men. What are some of the gender-based challenges you have faced in your business life and how did you sidestep them?
There have actually been quite a number of challenges along this journey, other than the racial and gender discriminant examples I now laugh over back in Harvard.
Our financial institutions generally do not have confidence in women, I came to find out, and this is more prominent in this part of the world. This in itself gave me a struggle moving from SME status to the corporate level. Banks did not believe that I could survive because no man was backing my quest or my business was not registered by a man. I remember so clearly how I got my first seed money. After all the turn downs from banks, I sold my mom’s trinket- a true sign of support for me, as she gave it to me, Bless her. I got back 500 pounds back then and that was what I used to ship my first consignment. Perseverance.
Even within my Homefoods working environment, I have faced “the man-ego”. Male staff not being open to suggestions; I believe out of intimidation to successful women. The common mind-set of “the place of the woman being the kitchen” and if even we do make it to the corporate world, our level being still a role of servitude. Unfortunately, however, I wasn’t brought up with that defeatist attitude so it only pushes me to work harder.
What are some of your efforts in mentoring and making inroads for women in your industry?
In this light, our business model since inception has been to incorporate and train local women farmers as trade partners of Homefoods; especially, those who have their own farms. My passion has been to engage and train women out-growers and to empower them to capably give better care to their families. This has helped provide value to women efforts, contributing befitting rewards and consequently the financial resources crucial for the enhancement and the quality of life for them and their families. We have achieved this through;
- Business Schools for younger people; MBA students.
- Setting up the co-operative system for women farmers which have quadrupled to about 5000 women suppliers for Palm and vegetable oil and 500 for Gari.
- Using government institution, Ministry of Agriculture, to increase their yields through education and practical demonstrations.
- In accordance with our ‘Giving Back Policy”, educating the children of some of these women farmers who are mainly single mothers.
- By ensuring that all purchases of our company’s agro products for export are from these women co-operative associations.
Undeniably, our Brand has benefitted vastly from loyalty that’s has birthed from this mutual trust.
- How do you balance your family and business life?
As an international business woman and mother of 3, fortunately my older daughter is a grown woman and thus the focus is more on my boys. She however pops in by the house every so often. I take the time to fine tune their minds to the nature of my business ethics and as such they understand when I have to be away.
However, I make sure I share quality time with them by taking a month away, yearly to go on holiday with no air of business. In addition to this, I make sure I check homework every evening without fail to see their progress which impresses me all the time. Fortunately, through their school portal, I have access to their profiles to keep up to date with how well they are faring and discuss any issues there maybe with their teachers.
On the whole, technology bridges the gap of distance and helps balance my business and family life.
- What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you (You can include links to your social networks and websites) Optional.
As a businesswoman and always on the move, email is my best means of communication which is my work mail firstname.lastname@example.org, our LinkedIn page also and more insight can be found through https://www.myjoyonline.com/business/2016/July-20th/joy-business-van-felicia-twumasi-steers-one-of-africas-leading-food-brands.php