Viola Graham-Douglas (International Premium Spirits, Reserve & Modern Trade (IRM) Director)
As women’s month comes to an end, Guinness Nigeria is celebrating the women of the organisation and spotlighting three women in their management team. Sharing their inspiring stories, these three inspiring women tell TOBI AWODIPE what ‘Breaking the Bias’ means to them, leaving a lasting impact in their chosen careers, challenging life and career stereotypes, driving diversity and inclusion at Guinness and changes they are making not just at Guinness Nigeria, but for other Nigerian women.
Viola Graham-Douglas holds a Bachelors of Law from the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. She completed her Master’s in Business Administration at the Sheffield Business School, United Kingdom in 1999. She holds a second Masters Degree in Investment Management from the CASS Business School (Formerly City Business School) also in the United Kingdom.
Viola joined Guinness Nigeria in June 2017 as Corporate Relations Director, and on March 1st 2021, she became the IPS, Reserve and Modern Trade (IRM) Director. She has enjoyed a varied career spanning legal, finance, communications, audit and operations in the banking and cement industries. She is a committed Arsenal fan and enjoys travelling to new countries (53 countries so far and counting) and discovering new cuisines. Viola is passionate about creating and leaving a positive impact and brings this to bear in all her interactions in life.
In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she takes us through her career journey, how to create work environments where women can thrive, what breaking the bias means to her and how she exemplifies it daily amongst other issues.
Take us briefly through your career journey up to this point, how has the journey been for you?
I would say the journey has been really exhilarating. I started out with a degree in Law and went on to get two finance-related masters degrees, as well as my Chartered Secretaries (ICSA) certification. I’ve built a career that spans across several industries and roles such as banking, audit, general management, corporate relations and sales over the last 20 years.
It has been an interesting yet fulfilling journey. Many of the industries where I honed my professional skills are renowned for being male-dominated, but with determination to succeed, my love for facing challenges head-on and the desire to win each time has constantly pulled me through. All of which are driven by my life purpose, which is to leave a positive impact everywhere I go.
You have worked across different industries over the years, how best can we create workplaces where women can thrive?
There is a popular saying that organisations thrive when the women in such companies thrive in their careers. I agree with this popular saying, as I believe that to create a conducive work place for women to thrive, three key factors must be considered.
First is freedom from all kinds of gender stereotypes, biases, insecurity or perhaps intimidation from others. Second would be Flexibility. Organisations need to create flexible work policies for the benefit of all, and to remove those barriers that may hold women back. An example for me is the fact that about three years ago, my company Guinness Nigeria Plc introduced 6 months paid maternity leave for women and one month paid paternity leave for men and also introduced flexible working hours for employees.
The third factor would be Trust and empowerment. Once someone is employed into your organisation, then you should trust the person’s capabilities and empower them to succeed in the job irrespective of gender or nature of the job. I believe everyone should be respected and valued for the work they do, the effort they put in and the successes recorded, regardless of gender.
Looking back, what three key things would you tell women to do to advance career-wise?
Looking back, I will say that a lot of things have influenced my career growth positively. First is to constantly equip and arm yourself with knowledge so that you can be the best at what you do. If you don’t know how to do it, find someone who does and learn.
Second is to surround yourself with people who are success driven and have a winning mentality and/or get yourself a mentor who can coach you and once you have that network, you must learn to accept feedback from a few trusted people so that you don’t have a blind spot. Third, you must determine what your purpose is so that you can design a pathway to fulfilling that purpose. Understand your strengths and weaknesses and work on them to be the best person you can be.
‘Break the Bias’ is this year’s IWD theme, what does this mean to you and how are you exemplifying it?
Biases are delimiting factors to development, what this means is that as an experienced professional who is female, I must keep supporting younger women to overcome these flimsy prejudices and stereotypes, so we can all grow and achieve great things together. I am constantly doing this with young female groups and I currently lead the Spirited Women’s Network at Guinness Nigeria Plc, a support group for all female employees to foster career growth and development.
We do a lot of mentorship programmes, capability building sessions and lifestyle engagement. Your gender should never be a limiting factor for you. In fact, being female should be an added advantage for you in today’s evolving and inclusive world.
You affirm that you’re passionate about creating and leaving a positive impact, tell us the ways you are doing this?
Like I stated earlier, I am at the core of the mentoring engagements for younger female employees at Guinness Nigeria Plc and I also belong to other female professional organisations outside my company where I lend my voice to the professional development of women in the workplace.
In my spare time, whether employee volunteering or personally, I also support campaigns on female education, mentoring and leadership programs to help women be the best versions of themselves.