Chinwe Odigboegwu (Legal Director, Guinness Nigeria)
As women’s month comes to an end, Guinness Nigeria is celebrating the women of the organisation and spotlighting three women in their 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.
Chinwe Odigboegwu is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Notary Public for Nigeria, Associate of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria (ICSAN), Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK (CIArb), Accredited Mediator of the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, UK (CEDR) and Certified Trainer in Mediation and Negotiation of the Bond University, Australia.
Chinwe is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association, the Panel of Neutrals of the Lagos Court of Arbitration (LCA), the Panel of Neutrals and Training Faculty of the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC), Training Faculty of the Negotiation and Conflict Management Group (NCMG) and the Standing Conference of Mediation Advocates, UK (SCMA).
She joined Guinness Nigeria in February 2019 as Senior Commercial Legal Manager after leaving Nigerian Bottling Company – NBC (Coca-Cola Hellenic) where she was Head, Litigation and Dispute Resolution. She also worked at a top-tier Commercial Law firm of Banwo & Ighodalo (B&I) where she rose through the ranks to become a Senior Associate and Team Leader of the Firm’s Litigation, Arbitration Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Practice Group, and supported its Intellectual Property, Energy (Oil & Gas), Maritime & International Trade, and Corporate, Securities & Finance Practice Groups.
Chinwe is a natural teacher, renowned for her ability to communicate with people of various ages, cultures, and educational backgrounds. Her adult teaching days date back to 2004 when she lectured adult federal government workers on two courses – Business Law and The Law and Practice of Meetings – at the Federal Training Centre (FCT), Maiduguri during her one-year compulsory national service (NYSC) many years ago.
Now, she creates time to train Mediators and Mediation Advocates as often as possible. An Associate Fellow of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI), as well as a mentor and an Associate of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), Chinwe is very active in leadership, mentoring and societal development. She recently authored a book on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitration Awards. She is also a recipient of prestigious awards including ESQ Nigerian Legal Awards, Top 40 Lawyers under 40. She was appointed Legal Director for Guinness Nigeria Plc. on 1st March 2021.
In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about women-limiting laws, which she said is overdue for amendment; telling women’s stories and breaking the bias, as well as challenging stereotypes in the legal profession.
As someone very active in leadership, mentoring and societal development, how are you advancing other women with these skills?
Most of my mentees are women and some of the core objectives that I charge them to achieve include knowledge sharing, mentoring and community development. My mentees are not only achieving success in their careers and businesses, but they are also paying it forward by being catalysts of growth and advancement for others. I feel blessed to be a mentor of mentors.
There are still some laws that subjugate Nigerian women till date, what can be done about these laws to improve them?
True, there are some women-limiting laws and policies that are overdue for amendment. For example, until a court voided the practice in 2009, the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS) required a married woman to obtain written consent from her husband as a condition for issuance of international passport. We also have some outdated labour laws, which are subjects of debate, especially in the manufacturing sector.
I believe that to cause the changes required, there should be dialogue amongst the relevant stakeholders and collective positive action. Currently, what we are advocating at Guinness Nigeria is for a legal framework that gives women equal opportunities at work, including the freewill to take on roles in manufacturing requiring night shifts, just as their male counterparts.
You’ve had a long and illustrious career in law, do you have any regrets or want to change anything?
I do not have any regrets whatsoever regarding my career; it has been a rewarding journey of learning and giving. Of course, the journey has not been perfectly smooth, as I have encountered bumps here and there, which have made me somewhat wiser and stronger. As every other human, I am not above mistakes and have made a few, but thankfully, nothing major to cause regrets.
If I were to add anything to my previous years, it would be to have written and published a lot more around my multiple competencies.
There are so many programmes, events and talks targeted at women, yet real impact remains slow and almost non-existent. Why is this so and what would you suggest can be done differently?
I do not think that real impact has been slow and almost non-existent. Though a lot more needs to be done, I think that there has been considerable impact and the narratives are changing. However, we are not telling a lot of the stories that need to be told.
Women battle with impostor syndrome, amongst other things including what I call ‘humbility’ (a colloquial comical way of describing the act of hiding or not taking credit for achievements). We need to arise out of our insecurities, own and drive our initiatives for change, then step up to demand and proudly receive the accolades due us. My fellow women, rather than wait for change, let’s make it happen!
Tell us a couple of ways you would break the bias and challenge stereotype in this profession?
I am happy and humbled to be counted amongst female lawyers who have broken some biases in the legal profession. Gone are the days of doubting a heavily pregnant woman’s ability to handle intensive court sessions, expecting a woman with young children to take a career break, and expecting a lawyer who transits from a law firm to a Company to wait many years as an In-House Counsel before being promoted to be the Head a Legal department.
I was already working with Guinness Nigeria when I published my book on Arbitration; I definitely broke the stereotype that to thrive as an Arbitration practitioner and author a book on Arbitration, one must be “practicing” with a law firm. I was a Senior In House Counsel and a Mum of four when I went to the UK to obtain my Masters (LL. B) in International Business Law. I am glad that my organisation has hugely embraced change through our renowned Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, including our parental leave policy through which our women get six (6) months fully paid maternity leave and our men get one month fully paid paternity leave.
I will continue to break biases in the legal profession and the corporate world in general by speaking up, volunteering to support initiatives, creating enabling policies, and lobbying for relevant changes in our laws and regulations.
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