‘Women Must Understand The Value Of Personal Development’
Amina Oyagbola has traversed industries that include legal practice, oil and gas, banking and financial services and now, Information and Communications Technology, ICT. A seasoned career woman, she currently heads the Human Resources Division at MTN Nigeria as Human Resource Executive. In this interview with NIKE SOTADE, she talks about her passion for guiding and mentoring women to chart successful career paths and dispel the myth of the woman as the underdog in the corporate world, a passion that fuelled WISCAR, an organization she founded some years ago
What is WISCAR and what does it seek to achieve?
WISCAR is an acronym for Women in Successful Careers. It is a structured mentoring platform that empowers entry and mid-career professional women with the necessary skills and capacity that enable them understand the corporate terrain, avoid identifiable pitfalls and navigate their careers successfully.
The concept of WISCAR was borne out of a desire to solve a problem I identified in my interactions with numerous young women at various stages of their professional careers. These encounters and discussions made it clear that most young career women in Africa do not have access to proper guidance or support at critical points in their professional careers. This gap affected their professional growth and development and often resulted in women with considerable potential dropping out of careers. The difficult question, however, was how to fill the gap in a systematic and practical way? It is in trying to address this question that the idea of setting up WISCAR as a rich and intensive mentoring platform emerged. I love Oprah Winfrey’s definition of a mentor. She said: “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself. A mentor is someone who allows you to know that no matter how dark the night, in the morning joy will come. A mentor is someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to your own view”.
That desire to help others excel is what inspired me and by an interesting turn of events, in 2008, I was presented the opportunity to achieve that desire. The desire was to develop a framework for enhancing the professional prospects of young women starting to climb the career ladder.
The fortuitous event that helped me to achieve my desire was in 2006 when I became one of the pioneer set of the Aspen Leadership Institute, West Africa (ALIWA) fellows. One of the requirements of the ALIWA Fellowship Programme was that each participant had to conceive and develop a project that would contribute to the good society. My initiative was WISCAR and the idea has blossomed since then with people of like minds on the WISCAR Advisory Board and WISCAR patrons.
There’s a prevailing mindset that successful career women do not empower other women. What has WISCAR done to help change this impression?
This is merely one more manifestation of the under-dog myth. By this I mean the myth that members of disadvantaged groups always work against each other. There is no doubt that the response to limited resources is usually a visceral fight for those scarce resources. That fight is more evident in those who have less to share. The truth is that a majority of women fall into the category of the economically disadvantaged. They, therefore, have to fight harder to secure fewer returns. Nevertheless, I believe that women are by nature less combative and more cooperative than men. Indeed, it is because a combative nature is unusual in women that any woman who exhibits that nature stands out and draws comment. ‘She is an amazon, a fighter. She is too aggressive’, they say.
The Women In Business (WIN) with WISCAR Mentoring programme has continued to equip several professional women by deploying competency based training programmes to build skills and capabilities to develop, support and promote the emergence of top female talents, also highlighting the importance of mentoring and encouraging women and organizations to mentor the next generation. WISCAR by its very nature and existence (women mentoring other women) continues every day to try to dispel that myth.
Aside from your mentoring programme, what else have you done to help open the door for young and upcoming career women, and how do you think other successful career women can follow suit?
Beyond the WISCAR mentees, WISCAR has helped to develop thousands of young and aspiring women through its high-quality training programmes, seminars and events from the WISCAR School of Excellence carefully designed to enhance strong leadership skills, build individual capacity for personal mastery and overall workplace effectiveness. Furthermore, as a career woman and the HR Executive of MTN Nigeria, I am proud to say that MTN is a very gender-friendly organization and non-discriminatory employer with policies, practices and processes that provide an equal opportunity for all employees to excel.
I see the development of women as a journey that will span many years and several generations. It is a journey that will have many twists and turns. The WISCAR communities have on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis taken steps to try and remove the pitfalls and barriers to progress through speeches from high-profile keynote speakers, panelists and successful career women at our events, our commitment, reach-out programmes, mentorship and encouragement. Ultimately, any woman who is shown that a goal is achievable is half way to achieving that goal. I therefore believe that my greater role is as a cheerleader for up and coming career women and I am committed to always playing that role.
What are some of the key attributes that are necessary for career growth?
Every woman who wants to grow and succeed must understand the value of personal development, must nurture relationships, have emotional intelligence, be focused, committed, loyal, have a volunteering spirit, be open to new ideas, be prepared to make certain sacrifices and seize opportunities, be ready to work hard and make a unique contribution.
They should also have the following attributes: Empathy-the ability to put yourself in the place of other people. This attribute allows women to draft win-win solutions to sensitive negotiations and business relationships. Nurturing attitude that allows women to escape from the stock winner-take-all-approach of many men involved in negotiations/business deals. Women are often able to craft inclusive solutions that will ensure the survival of all parties.
For most women, multitasking or the ability to multi task is a survival strategy. Without that ability most women could not get through the day. When deployed into professional settings, it enhances their ordinary abilities and helps them to thrive in the accomplishment of tasks and achievement of goals
What expertise and capacity did you develop along the way to achieve your goals and benchmarks?
The expertise and competences I had to develop along the way can be broadly classified into two categories: The technical or professional in Law at first, then in Banking, Change Management, HR, Strategy, Corporate Affairs and Social Responsibility, general management and leadership skills. I believe that competency in each of your fields of interest is the base- line. Basic capacity and competence to do the job you have been hired to do is the minimum requirement for any person who wishes to work in a profession or vocation or pursue a career. I always strive to be better today than I was yesterday.
The second category is your personal development as a skillful manager of people and situations and the experience you gather on the job along the way which is priceless. I believe that without the capacity to identify goals, to plan and faithfully execute actions nobody can achieve any goals. I have never simply strived to achieve the targets set for me by my supervisors. Every year I set higher goals and benchmarks for myself, which I strive to achieve. I have also been fortunate in the course of my career to have good supervisors who guided me and enabled me to excel. So that, in essence, is my answer. I have had to learn to know myself, to learn to plan, to learn to effectively manage my time and focus on what is important and to clinically execute my plans and continuously improve to achieve my goals. I am simultaneously my own sternest critic and possibly faithful supporter.
Your career as a corporate professional and a mentor would obviously take you away from home frequently. How have you been able to strike what some call the work-life balance?
I count myself as a very lucky woman. If you had asked me this question even two years ago, I would have recounted tales of juggling of time and schedules. That is because at that time I still had a child in the university. I am proud to say that all my children have left school. I thank God that I was able to manage things through those years. It was like a juggling act and I definitely occasionally dropped balls, thankfully none that I could not recover from. Now, my children are young career people and my main responsibility to them is mentorship and advice. My husband has always been very understanding and we both try to match our schedules to ensure we are able to spend quality time together as often as possible. But going back to the difficult days when we had growing children, my husband and I acted as a team for the care and nurture of our children. That way, we were never both absent. At least, one of us was always available to them, to instill discipline and the right values, to do homework, to give advice and to reassure them.
What’s your typical day like?
Like everyone else in a leadership position there aren’t enough hours in a 24-hour day! There are competing demands on my time. I strive to strike the balance between my professional and personal life and my passion, WISCAR.
With MTN as the leading telecommunications provider in Nigeria and critical agent for economic development that plans effectively and clinically executes its plans to serve its customers, you can well imagine that my schedule is extremely hectic and would be impossible without the support of family and friends, colleagues at work and the WISCAR team.
A part of my day is spent on strategic forward planning and the other part on operational execution of plans to achieve results. How I plan my day is dependent on my workflow. Some things are within my control and purview while others are driven by business requirements and external needs and demands. Typically, there is a cycle and schedule of meetings, teleconferences, events and engagements internally and outside the organisation that require my attention. Essentially, Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people is my guide.
If you had to give a word of advice to the prospective career woman starting out on her first job, what would that be?
Work hard, be true to yourself and always endeavour to help others whether at work, in your community or in the society at large.
QUOTE: The WIN with WISCAR Mentoring programme has continued to equip several professional women by deploying competency based training programmes to build skills and capabilities to develop, support and promote the emergence of top female talents
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