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Women breaking new grounds

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Photo by: Kelechi Amadi-Obi (www.kelechiamadiobi.com)

SheCan Nigeria is a platform for today’s woman to realize her potentials and develop her capabilities in achieving success through collaboration and empowerment to become active players and contributors; a movement designed to drive a change in culture and perception of today’s Nigerian Woman, and the world at large.

The basic fact that “She Can Do More” is the core message, both for the woman, whom as a result of religious or cultural values believes that her gender limits her possibilities in life; and the structural corporate gender discrimination which promotes the ideology that men are better fitted for some roles in the corporate world today, thereby subjecting
women to perpetual corporate injustices. 

In a bid to #PressforProgress and shatter gender stereotypes, these four women tell TOBI AWODIPE of their journey to self, being in a position of leadership, thriving in male-dominated industries and building successful careers in spite of all odds. They also spoke about the SheCan conference coming up in Lagos next week.

Ezinne Ezeani (Founder, SheCan Nigeria)

What birthed the idea for SheCan Nigeria?

SHECAN Nigeria is a movement for today’s woman to realise she can do more when she recognizes her innate potentials and capabilities thereby empowering her to do more.

Motivating people and giving back to the society has always been one of my passions. I believe that empowered women empower women.

SheCan Nigeria was birthed with the desire to fulfill purpose. The desire to see girls and women achieve much more in their respective walks of life while remaining focused to become great achievers.

How do you combine being an MD of a company and running an NGO?

We have a structure that allows our corporate tour and event management business run on its own. However, the priority for me is the ability to fulfill purpose, my greatest joy is seeing the hopeless believe they can be the best and finally achieve being the best.

So I work very hard and most times, when I drain myself working and I tend to give up, I remember the children going to school on my pay roll or some people whom we are helping out financially.

This motivates me to push harder and never give up. I strongly believe that life is not all about being successful or riding the best cars but is more on the lives that have been impacted and changed through you.

My desire is when I’m long gone, generations will say, “thank God Ezinne lived.”

What informed the choice of women to be awarded?

This year, our conference slated to hold April 13 and a Walk for She Can Do More for April 14, is focused on #SheCanCode, #SheCanTech, #SheCanEntertain and the key objective is on empowering women to realise they can succeed in male-dominated industries.

For instance, this year, we are focused on motivating women to become engineers, IT gurus, movie producers and directors and so on. Next year, we will empower female surgeons, pilots and so on. The women chosen have done excellently well in their respective industries and remained tenacious in achieving success.

How do you intend to build on this?

SheCan Nigeria is a movement and the conference is the official flag-off in Nigeria. The conference has birthed several post event activities already such as SheCanCode boot camp, SheCanTech training, internship and mentorship opportunities, vocational trainings and community empowerment tours.

We have organizations that have committed to offer trainings, internship and employment opportunities to the girls and also empower women who are in business during the conference on that day.

Also, a model has been put in place to guide people and monitor the progress of our girls who have been placed in jobs and training centers while ensuring that the transition between being a graduate to full employment is a successful one and also to ensure that others are empowered in the right direction.

Mary Njoku (C.E.O, ROK Studios)

Guide us briefly on your career path so far?
 
I started out as an actress from a young age; it was all I ever really wanted to do. My mother saw I was passionate about acting, and that I was committed to my craft, so she encouraged me to follow my dream. I did some theatre acting, and then moved into movies.

After a number of years in front of the camera, I wanted to move into producing and scripting movies, which is why I set up ROK.

My first big solo project was Festac Town, which I wrote and produced. We now have hundreds of co-produced and produced movies and TV series in the ROK catalogue, which is why I decided to launch ROK, our own, fully programmed TV stations on DStv and GOtv as well. 

As the Head of ROK Studios, what does your work entail? 

I commission scripts, oversee production schedules and operations, I source new talent and also work on programming for our TV stations ROK, ROK 2 and ROK 3. I also still act, so I’m on set a lot of the time as well. Essentially, I work on all aspects of the business, to ensure we keep creating new content. 

As a woman in leadership, how do you create a comfortable work-life balance?

I am a mother of three, so I am fully aware of the struggle of trying to balance work and motherhood. I’ll admit that the work-life balance thing is hard, as when you run your own business, it’s hard to switch off, your mind is always thinking about the work. But I make sure I have quality, family time with my husband and children, they are my downtime. 

How have you managed to remain consistent in building a successful career? 
I just do what I love. Producing and scripting films, for me, felt like a natural career progression, I had just as much passion for what went on behind the camera, than being in front of it. I’m still learning and growing everyday and don’t have an overly defined idea of what my final career path will look like; all I do is ensure that I keep pushing myself.   

You are going to be honoured with the She Can Entertain award, how will this inspire you to motivate younger girls and women in your field? 

I’m privileged to be able to share my story and hopefully, other women who have a passion they want to pursue, will be inspired to follow their dream. 

And this doesn’t have to be acting or producing or anything creative. It can be anything that interests you, that you’re willing to work hard at in order to achieve success. 

What would you tell women looking up to you? 

To be bold, to be resilient, to have self-belief, to be genuine and to work hard and to never allow anyone tell them “no”. 

How are women empowered to do more in your organization? 

We have a lot of senior women at ROK, who are at the heart of our programme making, and we have also been encouraging more women to apply for behind-the-scenes production roles.

We want to foster an environment where talented, hardworking women can grow and thrive and produce work they are proud of.

Doris Okeyide (Regional Manager, South Western Region, Cummins West Africa)

Tell us about being in a perceived male-dominated industry for over 15 years?

The journey I must confess, has not been an easy one, but I was committed and persistent in making sure I excel  in my chosen career which is male dominated.

I also work effectively with team members, contributing my own quota and bringing value to the team without looking at myself as a female amongst other male peers.
 
What would you tell young women that want to venture into your field?

Dear young woman, be passionate, collaborate and contribute value. Once you are focused and dedicated without allowing any form of intimidation, you will surely make it to the top.

Most importantly, you must have great passion for this field of choice, that way you would be able to scale through any kind of challenges or hurdles that will come your way as you climb the ladder of success.
 
As a woman in leadership, how do you create a comfortable work-life balance?

Work-life balance for me is more of planning and knowing what works for you as well as your family so that no aspect suffers.

I work when I need to and create time for my family.

How have you managed to remain consistent and build a successful brand?

My personal motto is perseverance, commitment and being available to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow.
 
You are going to be honoured with the She Can Tech award, how will this inspire you to motivate younger girls and women in your field?

It’s a  great honour and all I can say to younger girls is that you can become who you desire to be, provided you have  the passion, drive ,dedication and commitment and mostly importantly, the right attitude .

Do not allow anyone say to you that you can’t excel in any career path you choose for  yourself  especially in a male dominated field.

What would you tell women looking up to you?

Never give up, you can be who you want to be with the above stated qualities.

How are women empowered to do more in your organization?

Cummins is a global organisation that allows both men and women thrive in their chosen career by giving equal opportunities to all irrespective of gender.

It is a strong ethical company that preaches and practices diversity and inclusion in all business segments.

My sincere appreciation would always go to the Cummins Leadership team both in Nigeria and worldwide for the support given to me to showcase my skills and talents in becoming who I am today.

Oremeyi Akah (COO, Interswitch Group)

Tell us about being in a perceived male-dominated industry for over 15 years?
Personally speaking, I don’t think it’s been too much of a big deal, given that I’ve worked closely with not only men but also women, starting out in the industry, and particularly because at Interswitch, it’s been largely a merit-driven, equal opportunity environment.

By virtue of the nature of the Industry (Payment/Technology), yes, you do find out that there are more men, however, over the years, I’ve been excited to see a steady increase in the number of motivated, talented and capable young women (many of them engineers) holding out their own comfortably.

A good number of my direct reports within the technology-driven core operations function in Interswitch are female, and I believe the environment is going to get even more enabling for females.
 
How can your field attract more young girls and women?

Collectively as an industry, and particularly as female professionals who are pathfinders in some sense for the upcoming generation, we certainly need to think about how to get more women into the highly innovative tech sector of which payments is a crucial sub-sector.

Even in the USA, which appears to be the hub of technological advances and home to companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Uber, the proportion of women in the sector is still quite small.

According to the study “Girls Who Code,” published by the consulting firm Accenture, women will hold only one in five tech jobs by 2025.I think education is very fundamental in this regard.

It is crucial in determining which profession women will choose, so it’s important to actively spark the interest of girls in tech at an early age.

However, I think the awareness is increasing, especially locally in our environment. Another factor that can make a difference is having positive role models in this space, globally and locally, and this is one of the reasons why we at Interswitch have thrown our weight behind this initiative, and we certainly need more things like this to galvanize awareness, interest and motivation amongst young girls.

How do you find the perfect work-life balance?

The truth is that there is no perfect balance. Priorities change with the day. As a mother of three boys and a wife, this makes life even more dynamic.  Another truth is you cannot do everything yourself.

I will say the balance of life will come as you know and maximally utilize your personal strengths while being very self-aware of your differences. I am a very passionate person who likes to get things done but might not always give full attention to details.

Hence to have a balance, I ensure I surround myself with detail-driven colleagues who will enable me focus on my execution-strength while providing detailing I may have missed- this makes me a better use of time. Knowing that you cannot do everything yourself, you need to be able to always answer this question, “What is important now”? If you’re able to consistently answer this, I believe it will enable you strike a perfect balance almost every time

How have you managed to remain consistent in building a successful career?

Personally, I think that passion/motivation, a sense of purpose and vision are integral in this regard. Fortunately, I’m also blessed to be in an organization that I find, aligns with many of my aspirations, in terms of vision and reason-for-being, which has at its core, leveraging home-grown innovation out of Africa to catalyse the continent’s development and empowerment.

There’s also a place for developing the required knowledge, skills and competence, especially in a dynamic space like payments and technology in which we play.

At some point, I decided to step back from work to re-calibrate, by going to pursue an MBA at Cambridge University in the UK, which opened me up to new perspectives and also played a key role in accelerating my career. I’ve also leveraged on career mentorship over the years.

As was said by Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” My belief is that there is no place you want to go to that people have not gone before.

It would save you a lot of time if you are humble enough to learn at the feet of those who have gone ahead of you. Mentors help you to prevent costly mistakes and help you grow quickly by preventing you from re-inventing the wheel.

You are going to be honored with the She Can Code award, how will this inspire you to motivate younger girls and women in your field?

I find it both encouraging and humbling and appreciate the organizers for this recognition and for the vision to drive more participation and contribution from girls and women to this industry.

I’m naturally motivated to contribute to any initiative that motivates younger women and girls in the technology and payments space.

However, this recognition only spurs me on to do more in terms of sharing experiences and insights from my own career trajectory, as well as devoting some time to active mentorship as much as I can.

What would you tell women looking up to you?

The world will tell you that you cannot. What matters more is what you tell yourself.  Every one is scared so no big deal with that.

Brave the fear and face your dreams.  Press for progress in every sense of the phrase. Have a vision and work that vision to reality.

Believe in your abilities, because it starts from your mindset. There is no way you can achieve it physically if you doubt it in your mind. In today’s contemporary world, there’s no glass ceiling anymore, so with a good mix of passion, purpose, competence and hardwork, you can blaze your own trail in your chosen field of endeavor.

How are women empowered to do more in your organization?

Forty per cent of our current senior management at Interswitch are women, and more women are on course into the C-suite.

We have lots of young women who are actively driving the core of our technology and service delivery functions, and sometimes last year, we featured a number of them on our blog series under the theme, “Girls who code”.

Being a technology business, our male-female staff ratio is roughly 60:40 and we are encouraging a lot more women to join our team.

It is an equal-opportunity environment in every sense, and we also recognize the unique career realities of women and we continue to explore how we can provide the right mix of resources and benefits that help women at Interswitch to adequately balance their careers with other attendant responsibilities. 


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