‘Sending the elevator down for more women to come up isn’t charity, but a moral obligation’
Lola Esan works in the People and Organisation Practice of PwC Nigeria. A beneficiary of the Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR) mentoring programme, she reveals what she has benefitted as a WISCAR mentee, when the organisation recently marked its 10th Anniversary in Lagos
Can we meet you? Kindly give a background to your education and profession
I am a proud alumna of the University of Ibadan, where I studied Communication and Language Arts. I also possess a Master’s degree in International Management from Queen Mary University, as well as global certifications in Project Management and Global Human Resources Practice.
I have gathered professional experience over the years from top-level execution of the Human Capital function, Management Consulting and Media Relations from different sectors within Mexico, Switzerland and Nigeria.
Today, I practice my trade in PwC Nigeria’s People and Organisation Practice where I help my clients transform their businesses by identifying, developing, harnessing and retaining value from their people.
How did you learn about WISCAR, and what prompted your decision to undergo mentorship?
I had just resumed work after maternity leave as a first time mother and was reading the newspapers when I stumbled on the advert. It was a coincidence really as at the time I was struggling with finding a rhythm with work and family. There was also the curiosity that can women really get to together considering the erroneous stereotype that women would rather compete than collaborate.
As a woman, have you encountered any form of gender parity or limitations in your career?
No, I have been fortunate in my entire career to have worked with only organisations that promote inclusion and I have the blessing and privilege of a fiercely supportive family. At work, apart from the occasional workplace ‘misadvise’ from of a supervisor/peer of “tone down your aggression, you are a woman…” A retort which I quickly learnt to drown out early in life; I cannot recollect a time when I was passed off for an opportunity in favour of a male counterpart. My husband, children and mother also make great sacrifices daily so I can continue to dream, aspire and achieve.
Will you say that WISCAR has enhanced your personal and professional growth through the mentorship program?
In many ways. First it shattered the stereotype that successful women want to succeed alone. I watched with great admiration and respect as Mrs Amina Oyagbola’s friends, from as far back as high school, also very successful women rallied around her and WISCAR. There was no competition, egos bashing or theatrical attempts to hug the limelight-these women just wanted to help more women come up. From then on I realised that sending the elevator down so more women could come up is not charity but a moral obligation to society. Since then I have ensured a colleague, protégé, friend, family has had the experience, every year, and in every stream.
I learnt that permission to go on to become something would never come. I started speaking up more, asking for what I feel is my due entitlement either in terms of responsibility, promotion, benefits etc. Furthermore, I also learnt to show more empathy. I do not think I am a feminist, but over the years I have gone on to be more accommodating of the realities of balancing work and life as women and have then learnt to be more supportive of my female colleagues and subordinates.
In addition, I have seen the need to also pay it forward and so I actively seek out opportunities to mentor young professionals and support causes that contribute to developing the society.
Finally, the icing on the cake for me was the validation that it is possible to succeed at both- Career and Family. All women we encountered were balanced, accomplished women in their different career fields. They did not at any time sugar-coat the realities of the journey to their success, but gave so freely priceless advice which I still tap into.
In my own case, at some point in the course of the 12-month mentorship, the sessions with my coach became virtual as I had to go away since life had happened a second time. I tapped into her wealth of experience at the time for managing the transition and the return to work. I resumed work from the second maternity leave, with clarity on the next steps for my career-within four months, I had taken up the challenge of a C-suite role in a quoted organisation.
Have you faced any challenges having a woman-to-woman mentorship? Do you think you would have preferred a male mentor? If so, why?
Not at all. I do not think one gender is better than the other at mentoring. Mentorship is based on mutual respect and creating experiences that deliver value through the exchange of ideas. These attributes have no correlation with gender in my view. As I have always been surrounded by strong female characters throughout my life, I don’t think I am missing anything.
In what ways was the mentorship provided – career guidance, skill acquisition, or personal development?
It is a structured 12-month programme comprising one-on-one sessions with your mentor and then structured training and development programmes comprising book review and self-mastery trainings. The best part is that the matching process considers the current career or desired career path of the mentee. There are no recommendations for how often a mentee can meet their mentor or the media of communication.
How have you been able to demonstrate all that you have learned from your mentor(s)?
I have a leadership role in my organization, so I rely a lot on the insights from the experience. I mentor younger colleagues leveraging the WISCAR ideals and also apply the insights to personal and professional interactions. I have also kept the reading habit, ensuring I read at least one self-help book every month.
Will you say that undergoing mentorship at WISCAR has helped you make informed decisions in your career?
Most definitely, I mentioned earlier that when I resumed work after my second maternity leave, I had clarity around the career trajectory I had envisioned for myself, armed with the knowledge, I made the leap and have not looked back since.
Do you feel empowered as a female, through this mentorship program?
Everyday. I have cause to interact with captains of industry in the course of work and the confidence garnered from collaborating with the Amazons in WISCAR makes it easy to engage very freely. I have no challenges now having difficult conversations at work or asking for what I feel is my due.
Have you learned key practical skills that have aided your career/ profession?
Oh certainly, I believe I have spoken about some already. In addition, I don’t apologise anymore for being a confident and empowered woman. I take compliments and actively seek out opportunities that will enhance my personal growth and development.
Do you see yourself as a mentor under the WISCAR platform for other younger career women in the future?
Yes, I already serve as a mentor in different capacities- young entrepreneurs, young professional woman, Human Resources practitioners and recently included Google Launchpad. Having been a beneficiary, it would be an excellent opportunity to give back.
Do you have any advice for young women who are budding in their careers?
It is possible to win at home and work everyday, ask for help, ask questions and seek out individuals who can steer you on the desired path. It is easier on the journey, if you have company, so help others up otherwise it would be incredibly lonely at the top.
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