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Folashade Medebem: Gender equality is a journey and Nigeria is moving in the right direction


Folashade Ambrose Medebem

Folashade Ambrose Medebem has more than 23 years senior management experience delivering world-class strategic business transformation solutions with a variety of global FSTE 100 multinationals including LafargeHolcim Plc, Diageo Plc., PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ford Motor Company, Zurich Financial Services, Learning & Skills Council UK, Nigeria Ministry of Finance and Department for International Development (DFID) the UK. She holds a Bachelor of (Hons) Accounting degree from London Guildhall, a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from the Open University, UK and is a certified Financial Management professional with the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), the UK amongst a plethora of other professional certifications.She was appointed as Director of Communications, Public Affairs & Sustainable Development, Lafarge Africa Plc in October 2016. Prior to this role, she worked as Integration Business Transformation Consultant for LafargeHolcim (LH) (2015) focusing on enabling a speedy integration (following the worldwide merger of LH) in order to deliver the country business ambition as one holistic organization in Nigeria.In addition to her corporate profile, Fola serves on the NESG 24 Executive Committee, is a member of the UN SDG Nigeria – Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) – Cluster 8 Co-Lead to the Federal Government of Nigeria and is the leading catalyst driving Women in Manufacturing Africa (WimAfrica) initiative, all of which Lafarge Africa Plc. is a member. In this interview with GuardianWoman, she talks about the mistakes women are making that is holding them back from career success and how she has established Women Inspiring Impact Network (WIIN) to enable women win in their career and in business.

What was growing up like?
Quite normal, I spent my formative childhood years both in England and Nigeria although I must say both experiences were very different, indeed, culturewise. In the UK I recall taking the class hamster home for the summer holidays – not something I could imagine ever doing in Nigeria! I also remember, learning Yoruba from my dad over the weekend, roller-skating with my friends etc. While here in Nigeria I recall being fascinated and excited to watch the Eyo festival with my parents, who are Lagosians, in Isale Eko and getting wacked by one of them for wearing shoes! I recall driving to Badagry beach for the afternoon for a picnic and vividly owning the kitchen every Sunday morning – I cooked breakfast. Mum and dad appreciated “always” eating it all except for my very articulate brother who refused to be polite like everyone else!

With over 23-year track excellent record in the business management field, what are the things that women following in your footsteps need to be aware of?
Be purposeful in all that you do and clear on what is important to you. I will illustrate sharing my journey – family matters to me tremendously, this means I have deliberately chosen to work with companies that have a culture and verifiable record of enabling women to excel e.g. women on their boards or in senior positions, flexible working etc.Listen-in always, by that I mean reflect intuitively. If it does not seem right, don’t rationalise, just heed. Be persistent, resilient and comfortable being uncomfortable in order to grow. If it is business as usual how do you move from good to great consistently. And it is okay to make mistakes, hey! dare I say even fail (yes, I said it) – dust yourself off and cause correct as soon as you possibly can.Seek out best practice (why reinvent the wheel), seek and connect with inspiring leaders, be inspired. Good old grit cannot be skipped- put in the hard work; success is never an accident- FACT.And, finally, SPEAK UP as often as you can with conviction, remember someone else paved our way, pave for others too.

You have held various business management positions in Nigeria, UK and Europe. Is there any distinct management style that is practiced in these other countries that seem lacking in Nigeria?
Critical thinking. However, I won’t go as far as saying ‘lacking’ but certainly not as much as practiced abroad. Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment, a crucial skill that impacts how you lead. Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking and is very important to employers. In the UK for instance this is deliberately taught implicitly and explicitly in schools across all stages. For example, simply always asking questions challenging the status quo always. For instance, recently at work two members of my team came to share an improvement they instigated outside our function; which improved business efficiency. How? By challenging the process, which by the way had prevailed for a long time. Needless to say I commended and encouraged them to ‘keep this way of critical thinking’ up. Asking ‘WHY’ repeatedly is a useful starting point as is asking the ‘RIGHT’ questions too.

What prompted the return to Nigeria?
My husband, I must be candid. I reluctantly returned in 2007 for four years returning again in 2015 fully. My husband is an emphatic patriot. Thankfully, being employed in a role where I can deliver real impact collaboratively has eased my transition. I love Nigeria very much, too.

Despite the increase in gender equality awareness especially in organizational positions, it is not uncommon to see Nigerian organizations still restricting positions to gender. What is your take on this?
Gender equality is a journey and Nigeria is moving in the right direction. In Nigeria today we have women achieving considerable progress, across most, if not all industry sector spheres; this is what we must celebrate much more of. However where any discrepancies exist, we must work across genders to create engagement, dialogue, understand where misconceptions exists and work collaboratively to dispel myths by showing the very many case studies which not only showcase the mutual benefits of gender equality but the business case for it as well.

As the leading catalyst driving Women in Manufacturing Africa (WimAfrica) Initiative, how have you been able to overcome challenges faced in a male-dominated environment?
By being deliberately focused on core priorities first, Lafarge Africa is working with Access Bank and Unilever to engage core influential stakeholders in order collectively raise awareness about these challenges/imbalances and proffer actionable solutions together. We are currently working on a collaborative summit with the Lagos Business School, which will include stakeholders within the sector. The summit aims to deliver training for female entrepreneurs within the manufacturing sector in areas such as access to finance, as well as opportunities to interface with regulatory and policy makers as a means to reduce regulatory bottlenecks within the sector. The summit will also proffer actionable solutions on how to attract and retain women within STEM-related careers.

What is WIIN and what does it hope to achieve?
WIIN stands for Women Inspiring Impact Network. This is a project that is very personal to me because I have had the opportunity to mentor and coach many professionals. I see the mistakes women in particular make in their careers hence why I have established this platform to enable women to WiiN in their career and in business, also encouraging women to speak up in the workplace and sharing how to implement career winning strategies. Research suggests that only 5 per cent of women in Africa are CEOs, even though we enter the workforce at the same rate as men, something inhibits our growth as we progress up the career ladder. WiiN enables women apply an entrepreneurial mindset to their careers and derive real results from doing so. Do visit my platform and follow interactively too – @IamFola_am

If you were to choose another career path, what would it be?
I fortunately have a multi-faceted career and have enjoyed every moment. Gone are the days of following a single career path.

When you are not working, how you do you find time to rest?
I run regularly, enjoy classical music and travelling, experiencing fascinating cultures and history of the many different countries of this amazing world. I have lost count of the number of museums I have visited.

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