“Success STEMS From Diversity” – Eva Longoria
Fumbi Chima is a top global executive, ROI-driven business leader and business growth strategist of Nigerian origin, currently serving as the Global Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Adidas. She is an accomplished business executive with exceptional senior management skills in strategic planning, acquisition, and business development. She joined Adidas this year, at the beginning of January 2019 and is responsible for driving digital transformation within Adidas. She spearheads the transformation of the IT capabilities foundation into a digital environment at an industry-leading record pace, without business interruption, around the world. ANITA KOUASSIGAN invited her for an interview to explore the crucial role mentors and role models play – guardian angels of the workplace – for those wanting to develop, or re-embark on their careers – especially women.
“At the heart of the solution is technology. Technology plays an increasingly important role as part of the equation in alleviating gender inequality. Simply put, technology and access to technology can liberate women from isolation.” (Fumbi Chima, 2016)
Prior to joining Adidas, Fumbi has served as the Global CIO with global organisations such as FOX Networks Group, Burberry Corporation, Walmart Stores Inc., Asia Business Operations, and American Express’ Global Corporate Technology. In addition to her day job, she served on several boards – the board of Global Sources in Hong Kong and the Diplomatic Courier Global Affairs Media Network.
It is, therefore, no surprise that Fumbi has many accolades under her belt, which includes being recognised as one of the Top 100 Women in STEM, and in 2018 one of the Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America as well as being honoured with several awards, for example the 2015 Trailblazer Award by Face-to-Face Africa. In 2012, STEM – Women of Color, named Fumbi IT Leader Of The Year and in 2014 MBA Diversity Magazine named her one of the Top 100 under 50 Executives. Fumbi is committed to helping promote more women in technology.
ABOUT WOMEN IN TECHNOLOGY
Despite the growing number of women in high positions in technology, the top managerial role in IT – the CIO – is still very much a male-dominated position. How do you feel about this?
There’s no hiding the fact that women do not make up a sizable fraction of leaders in the tech industry. For me, it is part of the puzzle – the world I live in. I am always going to live in a man’s world, that’s just the reality of my generation and where I am. However, I believe I can make a difference in closing the gap by helping people under my leadership. People who aspire to be who and where I am. Those trying to figure out how to get where they want to be.
I don’t think I was picked for any job because I was a woman, I was picked for every job because I had a good reputation and a strong personal brand. And that’s what makes a difference. And you know, the reality and the conversations are becoming slightly different – people do not look at me as a Fumbi, the woman, the CIO. What they see is – OMG, she is a successful executive. And even men come back and ask: “What are the issues we need to discuss to help to bring other women to the leadership positions?” So, the conversation is changing, and it is good that we speak openly about it.
Trying to fit men and women into fixed boxes of what society deems to be suitable, only holds people back from following their interests and passions. It keeps individuals from moving society forward on vital issues that could benefit from more natural talent.
I understand that you participate in several mentoring networks. Please, can you name a couple of them, and explain how they work and the impact they are having?
For me, mentorship is one of the best ways to enable a more inclusive environment because when you mentor someone, you express your inclination to invest time and effort into another individual, helping him/her to think critically about his/her career and to work through challenges, which results in the mentee feeling welcomed and valued in the workplace. And this gives the mentee greater confidence to be completely authentic. I believe this authenticity brings a diversity of thought – both for the mentee and for those who interact with the mentee.
I try to be very informal in my mentorship discussions to create a more comfortable environment for my mentees. I try to adapt the relationship to the mentee’s goals and personality – or style – as much as possible. I like to learn as much about what the mentee is comfortable about sharing, and I share quite a lot about myself, too, in order to lay a foundation of trust and candour, and from there the conversation naturally progresses.
Do you believe that in order to be a mentor, you must first be a leader?
I wouldn’t entirely agree on that. Some leaders need mentors, too. Mentoring is an important way of developing leadership skills, both in oneself and in others. So, both are interlinked but not necessarily dependent on each other. That said, one of the key tenets of leadership is the need to pass on knowledge and experience to others. In this way, you pass on your knowledge, grow and develop other leaders who can come in, take the reins and lead more effectively.
Historically speaking, mentorship has been linked to advancing workplace equity for women and minorities. As a champion for diversity, do you agree, and does mentorship go even further than achieving this?
I feel the goal of mentoring is to pair talented, experienced employees to serve as mentors for promising, less experienced employees (or mentees) within an organisation. Ideally, over time, the mentee gains skills, knowledge and a better understanding of the organisation.
The mentor, in turn, naturally gains a new perspective and learns about an area of the organisation that was unfamiliar previously. The true benefit and influence of mentoring are often seen not in achieving goals and objectives, but in the personal exchange between the mentor and mentee. If you are successful as a mentor, you can create valued relationships and the opportunity for positive behavioural changes- a consequence that is especially beneficial for organisations committed to promoting and supporting diversity. So, it’s like a domino effect because mentoring is a multi-faceted development which, when properly applied, can achieve the most elusive of diversity goals – inclusion and equality. Let’s just say mentoring gives diversity its “legs.”
ABOUT GIVING BACK
You hold several volunteer leadership roles, including WARIF, a Nigeria-based foundation. How do you decide which roles to take up, and are you approached, or do you approach causes yourself?
This topic is very personal and close to my heart. I have been raised in an environment where I was taught the value of giving back to society because the secret to living is giving. If you really think about it, what is life all about? Creating meaning. How do you create meaning in your life? It’s not about what you do for yourself. It’s about how you’re able to improve the lives of those around you – your loved ones, the people in your community or the lives of people somewhere else in the world. It also creates a ripple effect. For instance, my daughters also see the importance of giving back to the community. It’s just ingrained in them somehow. I am inclined to tend towards causes that are close to my heart.
I’ve read that you are leading an effort to develop mentoring opportunities for women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). How is that going?
I am passionate about diversity and that’s why developing mentoring opportunities for women in STEM is so important. Barriers to accomplishing gender equality in the STEM field are complex, and their potential solutions are no less multifaceted.
Mentorship by senior women is critical to women’s success in the STEM field. Mentorship by someone that looks like you can improve the career path confusion and amplify job satisfaction. And yet, significantly lower numbers of women than men report having office or field mentors at any point in their careers.
Most STEM mentorship programs, for instance, focus on attracting young girls to the field through high school, college and early career initiatives. Mentorship isn’t just important for potential STEM professionals though. These types of associations are also important for mid-career women to visualise their future and to seek advice on overcoming barriers as women in male-dominated societies.
Connecting men is enabling and empowering women in STEM is also as critical to sustaining cultural change in the field. As is inspiring and reintegrating women returning from maternity leave and nurturing mid-career talent through mentorships and women’s networks. If corporations take innovative and targeted efforts to retain their women – such as the initiatives discussed here – we could create a more inclusive STEM culture where women, and their companies, will prosper.
Sport has been linked to helping fight for several causes e.g. “for health” or “towards the community.” By virtue of your position in one of the world’s leading sportswear brands, are you a sports advocate (for whatever reason) or do you keep the culture of your workplace and its CSR mission separate from the causes you support?
At Adidas, our core belief is “through sport, we have the power to change lives.” This is our higher calling. This is why we come to work each day. Sport is central to every culture and society and is core to an individual’s health and happiness. We work every day to inspire and enable people to harness the power of sport in their lives. Everything we do is rooted in sport.
Having an athletics background, everything that I did was fairly competitive. But competition is not just about competing as an individual. You always compete as a team, which is where collaboration comes in. I have always respected and worked for companies that allow and foster creativity and collaboration. And to work for the company that aspires to be the best sports company in the world…it’s just a perfect match and a reflection of my DNA.
You are truly a global citizen and a leader in your profession and life as a volunteer. How often do you return to your country of origin, and do you have any of your own plans for Nigeria aside from your current board appointments/commitments?
Despite my very hectic and occupied schedules, which require me to travel around the globe, unfortunately, I have not been able to visit Nigeria to see family and friends as much as I would have liked to. I would like to do more of this, but my work commitments at the moment keep me more focused on my career.