Exclusive Q&A

5 Trusted Ways Women Can Get into Upper Echelons of Leadership – Olutoyin Oyelade

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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 discussed 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 Bachelor’s 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 training 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 a 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 the 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 include: 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 stories 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 the 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 investor 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, the 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 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 to 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 9-5 pm 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.

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 a 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 this 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 ecosystems 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 as 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.

Executive Summary:

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, but issues are also 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:
Facebook: @OlutoyinOyelade
Instagram: @OlutoyinOyelade
Twitter: @Olutoyin Oyelade
LinkedIn: @OlutoyinOyelade

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