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SheCan Nigeria… spotlight on five exceptional women doing more

By Tobi Awodipe
07 August 2021   |   4:21 am
Driving the paradigm shift and sharing the voices of trailblasing women in the corporate and business world by recognising their innate potentials, sharing their life stories and mentoring other women is SheCan Nigeria.

Driving the paradigm shift and sharing the voices of trailblazing women in the corporate and business world by recognising their innate potentials, sharing their life stories and mentoring other women is SheCan Nigeria. One of the biggest women-centred movements in Nigeria today, the platform is identifying, acknowledging and celebrating today’s woman, her strengths and achievements.

The movement is giving a voice to today’s women and empowering the next generation of women and girls to achieve their dreams. Now in its third edition, the initiative founded by Ezinne Ezeani is fielding exceptional ‘first’ women who are doing more in their respective careers.

In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, Ezeani, Soetan, Dada, Aiboni and Falola talk about what ‘doing more’ means to them, navigating career challenges, opportunities at this year’s conference and what they are doing currently to support and uplift other women.

‘I Believe In The Power Of Not Just Doing More, But Doing The Right More’ – Ezinne Ezeani, Founder, SheCan Nigeria

 How much did the pandemic affect this conference and what more do you hope to achieve with this edition?
YEAR 2020 was indeed a very special year in the history of the world (at least in our generation); the pandemic was a huge shock to us all as nobody envisaged it. The conference was already planned last year, resources and speakers booked. Unfortunately, we couldn’t continue due to the lockdown and we couldn’t risk the lives of attendees. However, for last year, despite the pandemic, we had other impactful virtual programs.

In all, the pandemic was an eye-opener, as it unveiled more channels for us to ‘Do More’ and also reach out to more people. Thanks to the digital space; we can now reach those who don’t live in Lagos or in Nigeria and have always looked forward to being a part of the conference and all other programmes organiaed by SheCan Nigeria.

In previous years, the conference pulls over 3000 female career and business professionals, including students, but we’re slightly limited this year as it will be a hybrid event (physical and online). In honoring the directives from the government, we are reducing the number of people that can register for the physical conference this year; we have also provided online channels for others to join virtually.

This year, we have more programmes already scheduled for the rest of the year. From August 18 – 26, we’ll be in Ijebu Igbo to empower 1000 women under the SheCan Empowerment Skill Acquisition Vocational Training Program powered by SNEPCO while on October 1, we’ll be having the fourth edition of the SheCan Pray 4 Nigeria Concert and before the end of the year, we have another programme in a correctional center for vocational training and life skill empowerment. We believe in Doing More pandemic or not, nothing can stop us.

What can attendees look forward to gaining this year?
The conference has always been very impactful, all thanks to the hundreds of positive testimonials from past attendees who have testified and are still testifying about how their lives transformed after the conference. We preach that empowered women empower women and during the conference, industry experts who you admire from afar, would be present and attendees would have the opportunity to listen to them and also ask questions.

In addition, attendees have the opportunity to access networking, mentoring, career and business opportunities from the conference.

How are you applying the theme of the conference in changing lives?
I believe in the power of not just Doing More, but Doing the Right More. The truth is there are so many reasons why this year’s conference should not hold, but despite these circumstances, we are still fulfilling the theme by holding it.

Also, looking at the many impactful programmes we have held in the past and how several lives have been transformed, spurs us to do more. Before the pandemic last year, we empowered over 3000 women and girls in Ebonyi State, thanks to Snepco, Mbr Signature and Wema Bank. Many families were exposed to life-changing vocational skills and business training and were empowered with work tools to commence their businesses. Most of these businesses are still alive and traceable today. Ebonyi State still speaks of this impact and we are ready for Ogun State in a few weeks time. So, for the entire team and I, doing the right more is our daily slogan and lifestyle.

There are several events, conferences targeted towards women and girls. Do you think this is what is needed at this time?

Absolutely. After the pandemic, a lot of people lost their jobs/businesses and are mentally drained; most don’t even know where to pick up the pieces from. This conference is not like others, we ride on changing the mindset of women to understand that irrespective of her career, background or challenges, she can still pick it up and move.

We carefully select speakers who speak to the mind and heart of people, invite organisations that can also help empower those who need it the most. Also, because of what we have all been through as a nation, for the first time this year, we have invited a mental health expert who would also be speaking. I say to people, in the midst of the pain, tears, joy, whatever emotion, there is always victory once you look at the bright side.

‘Breaking The Glass Ceiling Requires Complementing Your Skills With Authenticity’ (Folake Soetan, CEO, Ikeja Electric Plc.)

You have an impressive career, how has the journey been so far for you?
IT has been a journey of grace for me; that’s how I’ll summarise it. Throughout my career, I have been blessed with colleagues and bosses who have shaped my career, mentored and believed in my capabilities. I remember starting so early right after school and looking at the opportunities and possibilities ahead of me, as I always believed success was beyond academics and talent. It’s how you are able to learn from your failures, seek collaboration and push into new frontiers that determines who wins. This has helped my career over the years and still does even as CEO.

There have been times when I have felt pain, stress and been pushed to the limit. However, I get through this with the help of God and support of family and friends. I am a spiritual person, so always believing in the blessings of God is critical to getting through tough times. Family gives me the comfort and inspiration to continue to persevere and navigate through tough times and maintaining a healthy work life balance over the years has also kept me strong mentally and physically.

As the first woman CEO of Ikeja Electric, how are you using your position to drive change and what are your notable challenges so far?

Just like most successful women before me, aspiring to a leadership position in any sphere of your career is daunting. You have to first of all prove that your career progression is not just because you are a woman, but that it was well earned. You then have to again show that you can actually deliver better than your male colleagues to be respected.

One of my first mandates when I joined Ikeja Electric was to implement change management. The organisation had just been privatised and was struggling with blending the experience and wisdom of the staff we inherited and the vibrancy and innovation of their private sector colleagues. This was a major challenge for me and being a woman, I had a lot more to prove beyond just assimilating the best of both worlds. I had to also demonstrate that I had what it took to change mindsets in a largely male dominated environment at the time. That experience and the success and failures that came with it have helped me immensely since I became CEO.

As CEO, apart from using my experiences to drive excellent customer service, performance and meet the objectives of all stakeholders, I continue to drive change through inclusiveness, meritocracy, mentorship and reward for good performance. For example, an important aspect of being successful as a woman in leadership is being able to draw on the strengths and wisdom of every single member of your team in bringing about ideas to solve complex issues.

Some of the groundbreaking ideas that have been successful have been from those you least expect. This is why inclusiveness in solving complex problems is so important. Mentorship is also something I cherish so much, especially having been a beneficiary throughout my career. As CEO, I use my position to support the next set of leaders through various support programs such as training, on field experience, internship and mentoring.

I believe driving change, especially for women, should go beyond just motivational speeches and reading. Introducing them to the real world early on in their careers is the foundation for a gender balanced career enabling working environment is key. An important aspect of being successful as a woman in leadership is being able to take people along with you and I am very intentional in clearing the path for others; inclusiveness is very important. When opportunities arise, it is strictly based on merit so gender is irrelevant which is important in this day and age, especially in a male dominated industry. Also, a key thing is ensuring that women are also aware of the networks one can join to be exposed to more opportunities such as Women in Energy Network (WIEN), Wimbiz and so on.

The power industry has been plagued with lots of challenges and issues, what solutions would you proffer?
The challenges we experience in the power sector are not new, so no point enumerating them here again. As a key stakeholder and solution driver, we have clearly demonstrated that a market driven sector backed by the right policies in pricing, investment and quality of service will bring the best out of the players in the sector. This is why we’ve been at the forefront of solving the myriad of challenges by not just proffering ideas but also demonstrating how these ideas will work if implemented properly.

Today, we talk about metering and power availability as the cornerstone of success in the sector. This of course has to be juxtaposed with the right pricing and policy framework. We started the Bilateral Power Initiative providing 20-24 hours power to over 20,000 customers within our network. We have also provided a model for servicing industrial clusters and manufacturing concerns that need quality electricity to power their businesses. Through our technical partnership with these customers, we better understand their needs and channel the right investments to deliver the service they require. We have also suggested and supported the national mass-metering program of the government and effort clearly targeted at addressing the yearning demands of our customers.

Today, we are one of the DisCos with the highest metering density since this project started. The time to discuss the problems is behind us; we are now implementing solutions. I am sure Nigerians will start to see some of these efforts in due course.

What advise would you give to a woman who wants to sit at the table?
A report by McKinsey shows that just about five percent of African women are CEOs in major companies in various economies of the continent compared to four percent globally. This simply states that men still largely dominate leadership at the highest level of work. However, technology and awareness has made gender balance easier to attain than any other time in human history.

Women aspiring for leadership must compete equally with men in all roles available. For women, breaking that glass ceiling requires complementing their skills with charisma, poise, tenacity and authenticity. It’s hard to stop a woman with these qualities from rising to the top. Get rid of that imposter syndrome and let your hard work speak for you.

‘Women Should Be Represented In A Balanced Equilibrium Across All Spheres’ – Cecilia Bolaji Dada, Lagos State Commissioner For Women Affairs And Poverty Alleviation

 Take through your career journey; have you always wanted to be a public servant?
I STARTED my career as a banker, and then became a buisiness woman before ending up in partisan politics. I was a governing board member of the Lagos State Sports Council, then the Secretary to Apapa Local Council and two-term Vice Chairman, Executive Secretary, Apapa Local Council and finally Commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation in Lagos. I never thought I’d be a public servant before I joined politics, but it occurred to me on a certain day that we all just sit back and complain about our country, but nobody was ready to take the bull by the horn by getting involved and effecting the desired change. So, that is my reason for joining politics.

What’s your view on today’s woman and politics and how she can grow in her political career?
Nurturing is normal for women and this will certainly foster laudable achievement if allowed into governance. Women should be represented in a balanced equilibrium across all spheres of governance. Today’s women have a whole number of engagements as daily routine; she is a mother, wife, housekeeper and office worker, an administrator, manager, and everything that alleviates the experiences of both children and husband.

Nevertheless, the ratio of female participation and representation in Nigerian politics is still low considerably, the meager size is characterised by the male chauvinism and patronage-based political culture, combined with gender economic and household inequalities, which set barriers of women’s participation in governance.

I fervently believe women can certainly do well, for they possess an innate political will that ensures democratic order as planners. Check the history, the impact Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation has made ensured a process of independence amongst women.

How best can we improve women’s participation in political and administrative spaces?
Women must be trained on leadership and administrative skills, because to be an administrator, you must have the qualities of a leader who is capable of leading adequately. Education is also key.

How best can today’s women be more involved in rebuilding the economy of today for better days ahead?
At the wake of the pandemic, young women entrepreneurs saw their businesses affected badly and even after the lockdown was lifted, these businesses are still struggling. Hence, there was a need to engage women in digital marketing and those who embraced this during the lockdown saw progressive business engagements. WAPA had been able to arrange two training sessions for budding entrepreneurs, with 100 of the trainees getting 100 android phones to kick-start their businesses.

As commissioner for women affairs, what ways have you impacted women directly in the state, and what other strategies do you hope to implement?
Just recently, we held a one month short term skills acquisition training for marginalised women in the state with trainees engaging in 11 basic skills training across selected divisions of the state and were given start–off packs upon completion.

Also, skills acquisition training in 19 centers spread across the five divisions of Lagos where over 20 skills are taught and over 10,000 students have graduated in two years. This year’s IWD, we celebrated the industriousness of our women, discussed the plight of our widows and proffered solutions for them. We mark World Menstrual Hygiene Days and hold quarterly mega empowerment programs for indigent and vulnerable women where empowerment tools are given to recipients. We hold workshops in collaboration with spotlight initiative and UNFPA on ways to curb domestic violence, hold interactive meetings with Women-focused bodies on ways to end SGBV.

We partnered with the EU/UN and the Ministry on Risk Communication and Community Engagement Funded for United Nations Joint Basket Fund on new farming techniques for agricultural production by grassroots women. We also hold digital marketing training for women entrepreneurs so that they can become financially independent contributors to the economy. We want all women in Lagos to be economically independent.

‘I Want To See More Women Participation, Growth In STEM’ – Elohor Aiboni, MD Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company
 As the first female Managing Director of SNEPCo, how did your appointment come about and what was your reaction?
THE pandemic forced many organisations to rejig their strategy and we went through an exercise that ensured that post-2020, Shell emerged as a company fit-for-the-future. One of the outcomes of the exercise was my appointment as the Managing Director, SNEPCo; the first female MD in SNEPCo.

I recall I was at home when this news came. All the emotions came in at once; happiness, gratitude, anxiety, but overall, humility. I knew that trust had been placed in me and as with all the obstacles that I had overcome in my career, I believed that I could do this with the strong internal and external support that exists around me

How best can you describe your passion for developing and empowering women and girls and what more do you plan to do in this regard with your new role?

The skill acquisition programme in Ebonyi was a remarkable and memorable one; it proved that given the right training and ambience, women can reach their potential, regardless of their field. The young women who attended that workshop are building on their skills and leveraging the power of the media and technology to do even better for themselves, families and our country.

Regarding my new office at Shell, I will continue to build on the progress that has been made over the 65 years Shell has operated in Nigeria; one that delivers our purpose, ambitions and promise to the Nigerian government and its people and our co-venture partners. We will continue to support the education, health and development of sports for Nigerians and will not relent in our giveback programmes across Nigeria. I hope this continues to encourage and stimulate women participation and growth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and someday leads to more female MDs across Nigeria.

Being a leader in a male-dominated industry, what is the single most important thing you have done and still doing that has helped you achieve more?

One great thing I have ensured I practice through my career has been to develop a learner mindset. In an ever-changing world, I constantly seek to learn and re-learn practices. The networks I have developed across the industry, the expertise I have garnered and the gift of foresight from the experiences of my mentors over the course of my 19-year career; these ultimately help me drive effective solutions daily. Most of all, I am true to myself; I do not have to conform to preconceptions about what women should or shouldn’t be in order to deliver and achieve my commitments.

What has been your balance technique for your career and personal life?
We have our family bonding time and exercise that keep me revitalised. Taking brisk walks helps me relieve stress and I have recently taken to playing tennis. I also enjoy participating in charity and church activities as this gives me great fulfillment. These are ways I keep myself invigorated so I can run my professional life excellently.

‘When Women Lead, They Bring Transformative Changes’ – Funmilayo Falola, Head, Marketing Communication and Investors’ Relations, Wema Bank)
Looking at today’s woman, what would you say has changed compared to women of past years?
I’d say women are bolder; we want to be our own person without judgment. Women today care about being successful and are showing it; not in a materialistic way but as achievers doing great things unlike in the past where women’s successes were muted. It’s us doing what we want, fighting for what we want and not waiting for others to give us what we need.

Unlike the woman of past years, we are very much aware of what we can do, women today preach the need for every woman to see and acknowledge her potential within, invest in her self-confidence and strive to ‘Do More, Become More and Achieve More.’

Wema Bank has been consistent in their partnership with SheCan Nigeria Movement, how has this campaign inspired the women of your organisation?

Women are natural incubators who have the capacity to multiply and repurpose whatever is given them to achieve greater good. We also continue to prove that when we lead, we bring transformative changes to our entire communities and the world at large.

SheCan has committed to supporting the progress of women in our society and having recognized this, Wema Bank through Sara by Wema is positioned to partner with SheCan to scale up and reach a wide selection of women. Our partnership with SheCan is based on our shared vision, which is to ensure that women maximize their potentials, do more and go beyond the ordinary.

This movement over the years, has constantly shown its passion for empowering women through its various programs which aligns with our focus and promise towards women empowerment. As an organisation, we have also created communities both internally- Wema Women Network and externally, Sara by Wema for women. The Wema Women Network is a tool for empowering women staff with a focus to develop a well-rounded woman in career, business, and finance; while Sara by Wema is for women who want better – better solutions, better opportunities, better finances, better impact. The activities include book and movie reviews, mentorship, capacity building and skill acquisition, networking programmes and so on.

What is the bank currently doing in terms of women’s products and services and how best can woman benefit from these products?
Through the Sara by Wema community, women have access to specially curated products and services designed to help them achieve their financial, business, career, health and lifestyle goals. You can have access to finance from nine percent per annum as a female business owner; you also have access to uncollateralised loans, capacity building, skills acquisition and trainings.

Just last month ago, we launched the SME Business school, the first of its kind in Nigeria in partnership with Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Germany where entrepreneurs will be empowered to create global relevance for their businesses at no cost to attendees.

Partnering with SheCan is one of the first of many platforms we’re utilising to help women reach full capacity and there is more to come. We also have programs and webinars that address the healthcare needs of women and a health plan that gives access to quality healthcare at affordable pricing – offering both HMO and Hospital Cash Plan, another first of its kind in Nigeria. We also curate special programmes that support other varying needs, parenting, career advancement, relationships and other lifestyle aspiration. To fully enjoy and benefit from this, you have to become a Sara Woman by simply opening an account either with ALAT or 945.