Ayodeji Ajibola (Human Relations Director)
As women’s month comes to an end, Guinness Nigeria is spotlighting three women in its management team. Sharing their inspiring stories, these three inspiring women tell TOBI AWODIPE what ‘Breaking the Bias’ means to them, leaving a lasting impact in their chosen careers, challenging life and career stereotypes, driving diversity and inclusion at Guinness and changes they are making not just at Guinness Nigeria, but for other Nigerian women.
Ayodeji Ajibola initially trained as a Lawyer, graduating from the Nigerian Law School as a Barrister. She then decided to pursue a career in Human Resources, gaining a Master’s degree in International Employment Relations & Human Resources Management from the London School of Economics & Political Science.
She started her HR career in Phillips Consulting before progressing to a role in the Human Capital Management Group at Oando plc, at the time one of Africa’s largest integrated Energy solutions providers, & the first African Company to have a cross-border listing on the Nigerian & Johannesburg Stock Exchange. From there, she spent five years in GE, initially as GE’s first Employee Services Leader in Nigeria and then as the HR Compliance and Localisation Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, before joining Microsoft. She left Microsoft as a HR lead in Middle East and Africa’s Multi-Country Cluster. In this role, she operated as a HR leader across 19 diverse countries.
Deji joined Guinness Nigeria in April 2020, with a wealth of experience across several industries and Global companies. Her career has shown her to be a strong partner and trusted advisor of other leaders, someone who champions the development of talent, a strong advocate for Inclusion and Diversity and the principle of “bringing your whole self to work”.
In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about how Guinness Nigeria is driving diversity, gender parity and inclusion; what breaking the bias means to her and how more women can get to the top amongst other issues.
Why did you leave law for Human Resources? What informed this decision?
I would simply say I didn’t ‘leave’ Law but only decided to pursue a career in Human Resources, because of my passionate interest in people and their professional development. I love to grow people; I love to see people develop their skills and maximise their potential.
I also love to help people achieve their personal life objectives, so Human resources was a natural option for me. Even if I were still practicing law, I would be dealing with people in organisations and society, because that’s what I am most passionate about.
As a strong advocate for Diversity and Inclusion, tell us the ways you are driving this?
I have been driving advocacy for Diversity and Inclusion at personal levels and in my capacity as HR Director at Guinness Nigeria Plc. In my role at Guinness, I ensure the execution of the strategic policies of Guinness Nigeria Plc’s Human rights and Dignity at Work policies; initiatives on Diversity and Inclusion, promoting work-life balance through parental leave policies, as well as employee training on inclusion and creating opportunities for differently abled persons.
As a matter of fact, we have metrics to show how well we are tracking against targets in this regard at Guinness Nigeria. In my personal capacity, I am involved in initiatives and conversations that support D&I through engagements with professional women associations and networks where we support other women, including younger females on leadership growth.
How is Guinness Nigeria driving gender parity and increasing inclusion in terms of socially-valued opportunities, resources and rewards?
At Guinness Nigeria, we have an institutionalised Diversity and Inclusion agenda that is driven by a Diversity and Inclusion Board and chaired by the organisation’s CEO; that’s how seriously we take this. And there is so much we do in this regard. I can proudly say that, at private-sector level, we are one of the first organisations in Nigeria to give female employees six months fully paid maternity leave, and 4-weeks fully paid paternity leave for male employees.
By 2025, we aim to have 40 per cent representation of women in leadership roles, and for that to materialise, we have institutionalised a 50:50 gender balance ratio target in our recruitment and internal appointments. In the last year alone, 67 per cent of our external hires were female. Presently 50 per cent of our Executive Leadership team members are women, not to mention having a female Board Chair for the 1st time in our 71-year history. This has helped our organisation move from a predominantly male-dominated one (common in the FMCG sector), to an agile, progressive and performance-orientated business, with an inspiring workforce that reflects our performance ambition, our purpose and our broad consumer base.
We have an employee support group for females called ‘The Spirited Women Network’, which allows for frequent and always-on communication and support for career growth and connection across levels. We also launched an all-female STEM Graduate Programme in November last year, as part of our efforts to promote gender parity & contribute to the growth of women in the FMCG sector. We are boldly leading conversations and initiatives on what many organisations shy away from or call taboo subjects.
In March 2021, we introduced global Menopause Guidelines that offers strengthened support and flexibility to employees going through menopause and which encourages all employees, female and male, to build their understanding of how the menopause impacts individuals and they can support their colleagues/direct reports that many be going through it.
We have also launched Domestic & Family Abuse Guidelines globally, to outline Diageo’s zero tolerance for all forms of domestic and family abuse, while providing practical guidance to employees and line managers on where to go for expert and confidential support. We also commemorate celebrations like the International Women’s Day with creative campaigns to encourage women in leadership and work harder toward creating the required balance. There is so much more we are doing at Guinness Nigeria, but will leave it there.
What does ‘Breaking the bias’ mean to you and how would you use your role to implement this?
It is important to understand that the previously held erroneous beliefs working against the progress and development of women are being cleared and redefined. In my role as the HR Director, I am ensuring that we execute well-thought-out plans and initiatives that are aimed at clearing these biases, so we can create pathways for the development and promotion of women in leadership.
Campaigns like International Women’s Day also gives us the opportunity to spotlight the positive examples we have across Nigeria and the world, so women can learn from and be encouraged by them.
In your opinion, how best can we get more women to the very top?
We can only get more women to top positions when women are encouraged to take on roles at the top. Gender should never be an issue. Can a woman do the job? Yes, then she gets the job. It really should be that simple.
I’ll also say as women, we should continuously develop our skills, so that we can be the best at what we do. Thankfully, there are so many women doing amazing things now, so I encourage every woman out there aiming for the top to take the bull by the horns and follow the footsteps of other women who are blazing the trail in diverse industries and professions in the society.
At the lower levels, more girls should be encouraged to go to school and pursue professions of their choice, regardless of the biases in the society against such professions for women.
Tell us a few effective ways you challenge gender stereotypes and bias?
The most important way is to keep encouraging women to break those glass ceilings by boldly moving into male-dominated areas. As the popular Nike slogan says, ‘just do it,’ and in the words of one of our most iconic brands, Johnnie Walker, ‘just keep walking.’ Also, by telling the real stories and highlighting real examples. Finally, for women who have managed to break those biases, be a mentor and supporting hand to those behind you.