Lola Cardoso: Female leaders need to be different
As the Head, Group Corporate Strategy for Union Bank, Lola Cardoso is responsible for shaping the bank’s strategy and driving execution to achieve its ambition. In this capacity, she works alongside all the businesses and functions of the bank to ensure their priorities are aligned and they have the necessary enablers in place to achieve desired outcomes. In addition to the overall corporate strategy, she also leads Union Bank’s innovation and sustainability efforts, which are integral to the bank’s future growth and underpins its “Simpler, Smarter Bank” positioning. She tells GuardianWoman about her bank’s role in empowering women as a corporate organisation
You are the Head, Group Corporate Strategy for one of the longest standing Financial institutions in Nigeria, which is celebrating its 100-Year Anniversary this year. Tell us about your role and how it feels as a woman to be an integral part of this milestone
For me, it is very exciting to be part of this milestone for the bank and for Nigeria. Like many at Union Bank, the commitment to repositioning the Bank is evident internally and externally. Reaching this milestone, having been a part of our transformation, is very rewarding for me. I am even more optimistic on the future of Union Bank and our next 100 years.
With the 100-year anniversary celebration, Union Bank set a clear agenda to lead in driving discussions and activities to encourage social change, including empowering women. As part of your role, you are responsible for driving this initiative. Why are women so important to Union Bank and what steps have been identified to implement this?
Women have always been an integral part of our focus at Union Bank; after all, we make up a significant number of the total workforce. In 2016, in a bid to provide an even more supportive environment for women in the bank, we established an internal community – the wehub to create networking, mentoring and development opportunities for our women. Externally, Union Bank is also supporting women. For instance, we recently supported the Leading Ladies Africa Top 100 List and gala, which is another way of celebrating leadership and the impact of female visionaries who have made phenomenal imprints in their respective industries. These are strong and innovative women, and we are immensely proud of the 100 women who are being awarded.
We strongly believe that women are catalysts for long lasting and impactful change and that by creating an enabling environment like the wehub, Union Bank isn’t just a provider of financial services, but it is also a key contributor of lasting values to the Nigerian society at large. This is why our rating as an employer of choice continues to go up. Union Bank was recently named in the Top 10 on Jobberman’s list of Top 100 Organisations in Nigeria to work in for 2016.
Union Bank joined women globally to celebrate the International Women’s Day recently. Would you agree that the message of gender equality has been fully accepted in Nigeria? What societal or institutional changes do you believe are still necessary?
Gender equality is a discussion that is still very much ongoing in Nigeria and globally. As a country, we have made significant progress in starting relevant conversations around gender equality and we must continue to strive for this across every sphere of business, government, education, and non-profit organizations.
The private sector has also made progress in the development and inclusion of gender equality policies as part of their corporate governance and human resources frameworks.
I believe these discussions must continue and, as a collective, we must further explore how we can successfully drive true and lasting change, moving from a mere tick-in-the-box item to one that has lasting impact.
This year also marks the first year anniversary of Union Bank’s wehub. Tell us about this initiative, what it hopes to accomplish and what has been the impact so far?
Union Bank’s wehub stands for the Women Empowered Hub of Union Bank. It is an internal community that creates an enabling environment for our women to network freely, engage in mentoring arrangements with one another and also fosters personal and larger community development.
Since our launch last year, the impact of the wehub and its activities on our women have been phenomenal. Internally, we have had regular webinar sessions involving women across our network coming together to learn and discuss professional and personal life topics. In addition we have collaborated with external partners – NGOs on community development projects which have boosted the confidence of our members while teaching them to “pay it forward” and contribute to the development of girls and younger women.
Our plan in 2017 will build on this momentum. We have already successfully hosted International Women’s Day, which was a big hit leaving our wehub members and invited guests strongly motivated to be bold for change.
A key component of Union Bank’s corporate social responsibility in recent years has been a partnership with LEAP Africa on their Social Innovators Programme (“SIP”), which encourages youths, including young women, to offer effective solutions to challenges in their local communities. You also support the Junior Achievement of Nigeria’s LEAD Camp for girls. Tell us about this, some success stories and how important such partnerships are in improving women issues in Nigeria?
Partnering with NGOs through wehub has been a very rewarding experience both for our partners and our women. Union Bank has collaborated on the LEAP Africa’s SIP program for the past four years. Each year we support innovative and culturally relevant business ideas and mentor young, enterprising and intelligent Nigerians. This is something we are proud to be a part of and will continue to do in the future.
In 2016 we also sponsored the Junior Achievement of Nigeria (JAN), Leadership and Development Camp for girls (LEAD Camp). We were introduced to 60 intelligent and vivacious 15-17 year olds and they left such an impression on us at the bank that we knew we had to take the relationship further. So we did, and in January 2017 we kicked off the first ever LEAD Camp-Union Bank (wehub) mentorship program. Each girl is paired with a wehub mentor, who provides academic counseling and serves as a sounding board for life’s issues. This is another initiative that we intend to continue to support amongst others.
In Nigeria, the need for women empowerment at all levels is undeniable. What areas do you consider significantly urgent and suggest that institutions invest in?
It depends. Organizations have different needs and the only way for them to discover what their focus areas should be is to engage with their women and align their needs with overall organization ambition and objectives.
At Union Bank, we had a series of engagement with our women to validate the need for and align on the primary objectives of an internal community/platform for women. We asked what they wanted in the context of the bank’s vision and strategic direction and what they felt was missing for them professionally or personally. There was solid support across the bank both from women and men, across all levels to establish the wehub. Even the name “wehub” was a product of our engagement.
How can female industry leaders like you serve as a source of inspiration for girls and women with limited access to opportunities?
First and foremost, it may seem like a given but we need to strive for excellence in all that we do and live by example at all times. We need to be the difference we want to see and we need to help create the difference we want to see. This serves as the true inspiration for girls and women.
We need to be fearless and always put up a good fight to break down barriers for all including setting the right precedent for others coming after us, that is, pay it forward.
We need to find time, quality time, to mentor and counsel girls and women. Sharing our individual stories is powerful and will help push them to strive for better. Providing others with opportunities to meet successful people with diverse backgrounds will help amplify their dreams and allow them see the possibilities. Providing a safe environment to listen to their fears and encourage their passions and leverage resources (financial, people, time) to support them, will not only inspire girls and women but motivate them to action to “do great” for themselves and their future.
Do you also see a way for men to get involved in driving the message for gender equality and women empowerment?
One of the things we say in the wehub is even though we are a “women- focused” community, we encourage the men to participate and be just as active. We invite our male colleagues to all our activities and see equal opportunities for both genders to learn together.
It is common knowledge that the best way to push real change is by partnering successfully with men.
Final words to women who want to reach the heights you’ve attained?
Everything (not anything) is possible. Dream Big. Knowledge is Power. Work Hard. Deliver and Demand Excellence. Care for Yourself. Have Fun. Finally “Pay it Forward.”
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