Dr. Ibilola Amao : ‘I believe in gender diversity, not gender equality’
Dr. Ibilola Amao is the Principal Consultant at Lonadek Global Services, a multi-award-winning, women-owned company that builds capacity, capability and competence of STEM talent to deliver value in the energy, power, infrastructure, manufacturing, oil and gas sectors. Since inception, over 5,000 Engineers have been trained, alongside a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project that has counselled and empowered over 100,000 STEM Talents. A fellow of the Institute of Directors (IoD) and a Co-Founder of the Women In Energy Network (WIEN), Ibilola sits on the board of other STEM focused firms. She is a Fellow of the Energy Institute (EI), a member of the EI Council and as well sits on the International Petroleum (IP) Week Board. She is equally on the panel of judges for the Royal Academy of Engineering United Kingdom (UK) Africa Prize and a member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. A Vital Voices VV GROW, VV100, GAP 2017 fellow and WeConnect International certified member, she spoke with MARIA DIAMOND about her pay forward for national development and socio-economic transformation, her empowerment programmes and investment in Girls in STEM and Women in Entrepreneurship.
Could you take us through your background and how it influenced what you do today?
I WAS born in Lagos, into the Onadeko Royal Family of Isara Remo-North, Ogun State, almost six decades ago. My late father, HRH Oba Adebayo Idowu Onadeko was a Civil Engineer who encouraged my uniqueness from childhood. I was allowed to do what would normally be considered unladylike. Interestingly, I was more outdoor-oriented as a child than I am now. Riding bicycles, climbing trees, catching grasshoppers or butterflies, planting corn, beans, tomatoes, yam, sweet potatoes, etc, were my favourite pastimes. Then, I graduated to lego, crossword puzzles, spot the difference and others.
My ability to stretch my mind indoor much later in life has shaped my love for solving all manner of problems. My mother is still alive; I have four wonderful sisters, a brother, a caring husband, and three loving young adult children. I am an alumnus of Lagos University Staff School, Akoka, Queens School Ibadan, Friends School Saffron Walden, United Kingdom, the Queen Mary College University of London where I bagged a First-Class honour in Civil and Structural Engineering at age 20 years, then the University of Bradford where I completed my Doctorate in Computer-Aided Design and Draughting at age 23. All these were achieved with a lot of family support and encouragement. Without the God factor, my maternal grandmother, my parents, and family support, it would have been impossible.
As a Co-Founder of the Women In Energy Network (WIEN), what is the objective of the organisation?
WIEN is an association established in 2020 to provide a platform for Women that work across the Energy Industry value chain to network and build confidence and links to progress their careers or businesses. It is a place where women are a majority in the dynamics of gender diversity in the energy value chain.
Patricia Simon-Hart, Funmi Ogbue, and I co-founded WIEN in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit. WIEN has achieved so much due to the resources pulled together by the highly esteemed founding members, Board of Trustees, and Directors in order to create a platform that encourages women to be the best that we can be.
Tell us about your firm, STEM Specialist and Entrepreneur, what exactly is it about?
It is impossible to deploy technologies without empowering the right talent when there are skill gaps. So, what we do is transform local talent into global citizens through obtaining skills to deploy state-of-the-art technologies. We guide people and enterprises to become the best that they can be. We align people, technology, engineering solutions, and services to create value for the society. We are known more for training, capacity, capability, competence and skills development.
We partner and collaborate to achieve goals in a win-win manner. Our Girls in STEM and Human Capital Development Initiatives (HCDIs) focus on delivering diversity, sustainability, and ESG compliance. Our Jobs of the Future solutions enable our clients to optimise talent through remote and virtual services that allow certified professionals to Work From Home (WFH) and Work From Anywhere (WFA).
We have been privileged to work with Bechtel, Foster Wheeler, KBR, the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), Chevron, ExxonMobil, General Electric, Addax Petroleum, and other organisations on local content initiatives, as well as Human Capital Development Initiatives (HCDIs) resulting from skills gaps.
You’re also the principal consultant of women-owned organisation, Lonadek Global Services. Could you tell us about it?
Lonadek provides Engineering Technology Solutions to increase productivity, enhance performance and profitability. These digital solutions can be applied from conceptual engineering, front-end engineering, detailed engineering, procurement, construction, fabrication, commissioning, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning phases. Furthermore, to be globally competitive, the technologies are applied in the energy, power, infrastructure, manufacturing, and oil & gas sectors. Over the past 30 years, we have built a track record of transforming lives, organisations, and communities through our STEM-focused innovative solutions in Europe, the Middle East and Africa
As a professional who sits on the Board of STEM focused firms, are there special provisions for girls or women in STEM?
Through the 15-year Vision 2020 Youth Empowerment and Restoration Initiative (YERI), established in May 2006, Lonadek has empowered over One hundred thousand (100,000) youths in Senior Secondary Schools and Tertiary Institutions with the support of donors across the private and public sectors. We are passionate about improving gender support systems and creating more opportunities for girls and women. We are grateful to Vital Voices, IWEC, and WEConnect who have supported our girls in STEM advocacy programmes over the years.
Apart from working through Lonadek Global Services, with respect to Girls in STEM activities, I give my time with the Association for Professional Women in Engineering (APWEN), Commonwealth Business Network Nigeria (CBWN), Women in Business (WimBiz), and the Energy Industry Council (EIC) and WIEN where we are executing value-adding initiatives to improve women’s representation in engineering, energy, and entrepreneurship.
Also, with the Nigerian Content Developing and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) and the Nigerian Content Consultative Forum (NCCF) Diversity Sectoral working group, I am contributing my quota to develop Girls in STEM initiatives. We need to put in place routes to improve diversity in male-dominated sectors. Lonadek is proud to be at the forefront of providing women and girls in STEM with on-the-job projects and industry exposure. Since COVID-19 pandemic, Lonadek talents have delivered virtual and remote services, Working From Home (WFH) and Working From Anywhere (WFA).
Do you find it challenging grooming girls in STEM?
Not at all, we have done this strategically in our business, CSR and social impact initiatives for 30 years. I was a girl in STEM, so I am well suited to help the next generation overcome the barriers that I was confronted with in my career.
Can you give an estimated statistics of Girls in STEM in Nigeria?
Through our collaborative Human Capital Development Initiatives (HCDIs) with Microsoft, LinkedIn, GitHub and AWS, we have improved diversity in STEM Talent representation from less than 10 per cent to 42 per cent.
Women and girls invest at least between 50 – 85 per cent of their free time on family, home and domestic-related matters. These hours are usually unpaid, undervalued, and sometimes unappreciated. The adage that girls must be seen and not heard has formed a superiority complex in the minds of boys and consequently, a lot of men wonder why women speak up or want to have a voice these days. There is no scientific evidence that the brain of a woman or girl is inferior to that of the other gender. There is some evidence that women are better at multitasking than their male counterparts, as they are wired to take charge of multiple responsibilities in parallel.
A woman is a mother, wife, homemaker and most times bolts on her career, business, or extracurricular activities to all these responsibilities. So, it is an established fact that women have unparalleled peculiarities in all ramifications of life.
As a professional in the field, why do you think girls naturally shy away from STEM?
Girls would naturally shy away from STEM because it is male-dominated; they don’t have enough information on attractive careers for women, and not enough effort is being put into making girls feel more comfortable venturing into STEM. Other reasons for STEM being unpopular with girls and women are: parental influence, lack of exposure and understanding, STEM teachers and career counselors are primarily male; adverts and external communications do not promote women appropriately in male-dominated sectors. Cultural messaging is that the crown of marriage is an ultimate aspiration for women and men cannot love a technically oriented woman like they will love a bimbo. These are just a few of the myths that I have encountered.
Tell us about your upcoming projects for the girl child and women. What are the thematic preoccupations of these initiatives?
We are focused on Girls in STEM initiatives that would deliver at least 40 per cent female participation in all our Engineering Technology and Information Management programmes. We run drone, robotics, 2D and 3D modelling with cloud practitioner training that enable girls to play in male-dominated sectors. We match girls with mentors, coaches, offer them internships, apprenticeships, opportunities.
We have a Facebook group for women and girls in STEM Africa that provides regular updates on scholarships, funding, grants, and opportunities across the globe.
We work tirelessly with WEConnect, Vital Voices, IWEC and Energy Industry Council (EIC) to expose more women, and girls to STEM opportunities.
More women seem to be abandoning white-collar jobs for entrepreneurship, what do you think is responsible for this trend?
Work-life balance is a very key reason why this is becoming more rampant. Poor infrastructure, logistics of traveling, moral standards of home support professionals, mental health and so many other reasons make it a wise choice. Most especially, when you take time out to have babies, reintegration into the workforce is sometimes a huge challenge.
I went into the tailoring business for two years when I had my first two children back-to-back decades ago. There was no way that I could have performed effectively while mothering two toddlers then. Women need to know which battles to pick if they want to win a war. The odds would always be stacked against us in a male-dominated sector. We need male allies and ‘HeForShes’ to help us navigate through these minefields. I am grateful to my family, husband, and children for their support.
Entrepreneurship always offers a soft landing, so this is why at Lonadek Global Services, we are always promoting STEMpreneurship, TECHpreneurship, and INTRApreneurship, so that women stand a better chance in their careers.
In your view, what are those common challenges women entrepreneurs face, and how do you think they can strike a balance?
Perception, the old boys’ network, culture, and tradition will always be a challenge. I also remember when I was much younger, my male colleagues had to convince their girlfriends or wives that I was just another colleague with no interest at all in pursuing a romantic relationship with them. Some of the staff bus drivers at NETCO had spoken to their wives on my behalf that I was a very focused woman whose priority outside family was her laptop and Engineering Technology.
Balancing my travels with raising morally upright children was another challenge. Many times, my parents and siblings had to step in to manage my house help while I was away on an official trip. I would forever be grateful to my husband who trusted my judgment and my family that took charge when I was not around.
What’s your take on gender equality in Nigeria? Do you think women have it all the way or they still have to take the bull by the horns if they must be heard, acknowledged and represented?
I do not believe in gender equality, I believe in gender diversity; we complement each other. I would never want to be a man and I was raised never to feel inferior to any species, whatever the diversity concerns are.
With gender diversity, we still need to earn the respect that may be handed to our male counterpart on a platter of Gold. Sometimes, people in the older generation, through their body language, would refuse to register or accept what you have said until they hear it from another man. These days, I ensure I am heard loud and clear enough for the chairman to give me the floors that the next speaker (male or female) has to take their turn.
Are there challenges you encounter in your field that you feel could have been easier if you were a man?
In Nigeria, I have earned my respect over the years. Globally, I am paying my dues. I believe that we need to find our areas of core competence and passion then focus on value creation. We cannot be all things to all people, so we do the best we can in order to leave our footprints in the sands of time.
As a core capacity builder, what message of hope are you putting out there?
Teamwork, soft skills, and social interaction are just as important as job competence. As you rise higher in the Executive ladder, we must pay closer attention to what is not being said and how to get the best for key stakeholders. We need to improve on our emotional, curiosity, adversity, openness, cultural and decency quotient to succeed.
Most times, in a male-dominated space, there may not be a woman in the room to let you in, so a male ally, mentor, HeForShe may be the only choice you have to break your next barrier.
Women need to handhold and support each other as much as they can to accelerate growth. If you are the only woman or minority in the room, then you have a lot of work to do to get others in.