IWD 2022: Break the bias, find your path
The Chief Marketing Officer of OVH Energy Marketing, Lilian Ikokwu, had shared her perspective on women in marketing and the power of finding one’s path this International Women’s Day (IWD).
Ikokwu bagged a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Nnamdi Azikiwe University when she had an epiphany. “Computer science is defined by rules and codes, programming languages and artificial intelligence,” she said.
“Shortly after graduating, it clicked for me; I wanted to try out other things. I wanted to develop creative solutions for ingenious business problems.”
Pivoting to marketing with her creativity, communication skills and analytical abilities; she felt right at home. With her background in computer science, Lilian understood the numbers; quickly realizing that data-driven marketing is the backbone of all laser-sharp understanding of one’s target audience.
Ikokwu’s career trajectory has been an interesting one. Fresh to working in the oil and gas industry, she tried different size roles. She worked as a commercial branch manager, Lubricants and VAP Manager, customer care manager, network optimization manager, head lubricants (sales and marketing), and now Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Lilian has come a long way with an impressive role as CMO of one of Nigeria’s most prominent indigenous marketers of choice, OVH Energy Marketing.
She had been laying the groundwork for years. “Radical changes do not happen overnight. Thousands of seemingly insignificant blocks build a mansion; I believe the same thing happens with opportunities,” she said. “Laying the groundwork and capacity building sometimes take years; its back-breaking work that eventually pays off. Then when the right opportunity comes along, you think to yourself, this is it. This is the moment I’ve been preparing for.”
Sharing her views on women’s progress in the marketing industry, she said, “I am an optimist, so is it progressing? Yes. Is it fast enough? I don’t think so. Across the spectrum, from client to agency side practitioners and through content creation to messaging, the business case has been made for the incredible upside to full female participation. It is proven that having women in leadership roles positively influences consumer representation. This should ordinarily be a no-brainer. But if it is so obvious and simple, why hasn’t it been solved yet?”
Clarity on the root issues and a concrete plan to solve them are critical. For example, despite near-parity in entry-level numbers, women are out numbered almost 2 to 1 by men in first-level manager jobs that are the bridges to senior roles. Ikokwu believes that levelling the playing field by dismantling obstacles that impede retention will increase female participation within the industry.
There is a dogged stubbornness that one needs to possess to succeed. This attitude serves Lilian well in her role. “The profession attracts more females at entry-level. However, in Nigeria, upward mobility becomes a challenge due to the disproportionate duties a woman carries because of culture and non-supportive practices.”
This often results in a career break leaving few women at very senior levels to drive the change.
Policy and implementation are the solutions, she explained. To support female employees for professional development while on maternity leave and for re-assimilation to the workforce is a game-changer.
She discovered through experience the importance of continued education and having a solid network. “I recommend both to ascending talents, sometimes it’s exhausting, but it is worth it. Continue learning, dabble into different things because you’ll never know if you don’t try, and that is the only way you keep learning.” Always a scientist at heart; she believes that even failed trials reveal helpful information.
“Also have both women and men as allies. You are only as strong as your network, and while this may sound cliché, it is the truth. I have also noticed a reluctance in women to leverage their network. When this happens, I tell them why buy a fancy car if you won’t take it out for a ride?”
“To me, mentorship is critical in life,” she said. “Seeing someone that is where you want to be, just has an impact on your life.” Particularly as a Nigerian woman working in marketing, Lilian appreciates the unique impact her visibility can have on fellow women pursuing careers in Marketing.
“I’m inspired by so many great mentors who have helped me on this journey; I hope that I can serve others like that.” By sharing our stories, Lilian reminds us, we equip each other with insight. Those are the most valuable gifts as we continue to find our respective paths.”