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‘We believe every woman can do more when she recognises her innate potentials, capabilities’

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In a bid to showcase pioneers in male- dominated industries and shatter gender stereotypes, these four women tell us of their journeys to self, being the first woman in their fields of specialty and thriving in male-dominated industries whilst building successful careers in spite of all odds. They speak on what attendees can expect at the second edition of the SheCan conference coming up in Lagos next week.

Ezinne Ezeani

Founder and convener of SheCan Nigeria as well as the Chief Operating Officer, Mbr Signature Limited, Ezinne is a firm believer in supporting and uplifting women. Putting her money where her mouth is, she tells Guardian Woman lessons she learnt from the maiden conference, what informed the choice of speakers and additions made to this year’s conference.

What lessons did you learn from last year that you would be implementing?
Never underestimate your capacity. All you need to make things happen is the willingness to go the extra mile and believe that there’s room to do more. The amazing truth is life does not care about your gender, same as time. What influences it all is what you choose to do with your life and time. For me personally, the last conference practically helped me see beyond words that most women can do much more going by the feedbacks and testimonials we have received from our followers so far. Going by the feedback we received last year, we are happy to introduce the SheCanMed and SheCanFinance segment into the SheCanNigeria 2019 Conference as the Woman’s Health and HerFinance is very important.

What can attendees look forward to getting from this year’s conference?
At SheCan Nigeria, we believe every woman can do more when she recognizes her innate potentials/capabilities. Just as our theme says, shecandomore, every woman looking to do more in life either in their education, career or business should attend the conference as we will be learning great life strategies from women who are tenacious, zealous and doing amazingly well in their field. We strategically singled out either the “first” or the “only” in their respective industries, as we believe that empowered women empower other women. They have all promised to pour out their wealth of knowledge and experience to us so you shouldn’t miss this conference for any reason. We have the first female Urologist in Nigeria, the only female Executive Director in Wema bank, first female Bonga Asset Manager at Shell and so on coming to blow our minds during the conference. Shecandomore 2.0 will be bigger and better than the 2018 conference as we have added new segments (shecanmed and shecanfinance) to the current segments (shecantech and shecancode). We understand the importance of women’s health (family health) and her finances, hence the inclusion.

What informed the lineup of speakers?
As always we look out for the first only or high achievers in their industries as we believe in SheCan Nigeria that it is easier to communicate a point using achievers in their respective industries. Our approach is to identify those who are doing excellently well in their industry, showcase them so they can tell their success story in order to motivate and empower the attendees as well as the generation next. When they meet, listing and inspired by women who either did what other women thought was impossible for women (most especially in male dominated industries) then the narrative will change from “it’s not possible” to “Who’s next!” For us, career knows no gender and we have repeatedly used our speakers to reinforce this truth.

Dr. Abimbola Abolarinwa

On 25th October 2013, Abolarinwa became a certified Urologic Surgeon after passing the West African College of Surgeons Fellowship Examination, making her the first woman urologist in Nigeria. A Fellow of the West African College of Surgeons, she is encouraging other women to venture into Urology. Due to her efforts, there are currently five women urologists in Nigeria and two others in training. Still actively searching for more to join her team nationwide, this SheCan pioneer woman talks about her journey into urology, resistance and challenges she faced and what she is doing to train other women to join this specialist field.

Take us through your journey; what exactly led you to the field of urology?
It started with that little desire to be a doctor as a child. In my third year of medical school, I finally decided to be a surgeon. I was strongly attracted to Orthopaedic Surgery. This I sustained till I began my Residency training in Surgery at LASUTH Ikeja. The first three years of surgical training involves rotations round all the surgical subspecialties. This is to ensure the trainee has a broad-based surgical exposure and skill acquisition before narrowing down to a particular specialty. It was during these rotations that I fell in love with Urology. I newly discovered it to be interesting, cutting across medicine and surgery, has a high volume and turnover of patients and variety of clinical cases and above all, a structured training programme available in LASUTH that was fully accredited by the Postgraduate Colleges of Surgery. The desire, willingness, preparedness and the opportunity to study and train as a Urologist all happened at the same time for me. I had a total change of mind after over 10 years of being sure of what I thought I initially wanted. I still wonder what happened. Probably fate, Divine arrangement, chance, destiny or a combination of them all, I cannot tell. However, it is one of the best decisions I have ever made till date.

As the country’s first woman urologist, how does this make you feel and what challenges did you have to overcome along the way?
I have mixed feelings. It ranges from feeling great with satisfaction and contentment to outrightly feeling overburdened. There is no prize or appointment for being a pioneer, but it surely comes with a deep sense of duty and responsibility. You suddenly become a point of reference. However, it is mostly a blessing for me and has conferred a lot of respect and honour within and outside the medical community. Any challenge I face in Urology is not different from what other Urologist in training and practice face in Nigeria- limited skill in minimal access surgeries, poor equipment, long and irregular work hours and poor remuneration.

Did you receive resistance from any quarter when you decided on this field?
Yes I did. There was that initial shock from almost everyone, as it had never happened before. I was not even taken serious initially. Some did not believe I would finish the programme. Some felt there was no place for a woman in Urology, that there are other specialties more suited for women like Paediatric Surgery or Plastic Surgery. Others observed me warily and with deep suspicion. And then the question comes up: “What are you doing in Urology?’’ All these advises, opinions and biases were given to me freely and unsolicited, in subtle and overtly blunt ways, from both male and female doctors. I guess Lagos being a cosmopolitan state, open to all and the willingness of my trainers to have me in the team, increased my resolve to ignore resistances and standard stereotypes used to define women.

How are you encouraging more women to join you in this field?
I have had the task of demystifying Urology to other female surgical trainees who may have a bias against sub – specializing in such a male-dominated aspect of surgery. They need to see that it is not a life of misery; hence I ensure I express my joy and job satisfaction to them as much as possible. I show them the career prospects of being a Urologist first and the advantage of being a woman in Urology: being more detailed, attentive and the ability to multitask. I also do a lot of personal follow- up akin to aggressive evangelism. We discuss the challenges, the sacrifice, our peculiar needs as women with regards to finding that delicate work-life balance in surgery, the need to identify the useful human relationships that would offer support during the training to attain this balance, encourage each other and so on. In fact, some female surgeons in other specialties jokingly accuse me of attempting to poach female resident doctors in training to Urology. I am happy and proud to say that four other ladies have become Urologists in the last five years. There are now five female Urologists in Nigeria today and two other ladies are currently in training. I am still casting my net wide, hopefully to double this number in the next few years. My eyes are currently fixed on a lady in Lagos; I hope I will succeed in winning her over too.

As a woman shattering glass ceilings, what would you tell a woman that wants a seat at the table?
Woman, you are allowed to dream. Please do so. Woman, I encourage you to stretch yourself a bit more than you normally would; you need to dream more, act more, sacrifice more to achieve more. Woman, while you are at it, please celebrate your little baby steps of accomplishment, tell yourself “well done”. Woman, choose to have a grateful heart and deliberately free your mind and soul from past pains and injustice so that you can fly light and attain heights. Woman, do not fly in isolation, fly with others like you, pull up another woman. A woman can dream, can heal, can recover, can plan, can achieve, can succeed, and can break barriers. I believe #SheCan seat on any table she wants to be because #SheCan accomplish whatever she sets out to do in spite of society and self. This is what I would tell her.

Elohor Aiboni

Elohor is the first female Asset Operations Manager, Bonga, a DeepWater Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) facility operated by Shell in Nigeria. A Master’s Degree holder in Integrated Environmental Management from the University of Bath, UK and a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from University of Benin, this SheCan pioneer takes us on her journey, biases women face in the oil and gas industry and how we can change the stereotyping of women.

Take us through your career journey?
As soon as I finished my National Youth Service, I secured a place in the Shell Intensive Training Programme and, on successful completion of the one-year programme, I joined the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited in Port Harcourt as a Trainee Production Engineer. I have held several roles in Production Operations, Project/Asset Management, Business Adviser to the Executive Vice President, Sub Saharan Africa, Operations Readiness/Assurance in Kazakhstan. I also worked closely with the commercial team to hand over divested assets after which I became the Asset Manager for Sea Eagle FPSO (Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Vessel) which is in shallow waters of Nigeria, a role I held until my appointment in 2018 as the Asset Operations Manager for Bonga FPSO facility. Bonga is operated by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo) and produces Oil and Gas from a water depth of more than 1,000 metres about 120km offshore in the Gulf of Guinea. My career has been quite exciting and challenging I would say.

As someone with a vast experience in the oil and gas industry, why are more women not making a career in this field?
We have made progress attracting more women than we did some 15 years ago but the numbers are not where we want them to be. There are challenges with attracting and retaining technical females in every industry not just the oil and gas industry, but I must give kudos to Shell for the commitment to diversity and inclusion, which are at the core of our business operations. Shell creates an environment that supports young women in all phases of their career by having flexible working patterns, support systems such as office crèche and network groups, improved maternity leave policy, career growth opportunities, mentorship and sponsorship programmes among others, and all of this as a company policy. So, every woman in Shell is motivated with the required support to attain whatever level in her career. This is why I’m a strong advocate of keeping our funnel of females in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) rich by improving girl-child education, promoting early technical network groups, science and technology sponsorship for females and many more as this will help break the barriers that impede women from going into and growing in technical roles.

As the first woman Asset Operations Manager in SNEPCo, what challenges did you face along the way?
I am blessed with a very strong support system and have been fortunate to get excellent female and male mentors so far in my career, these have helped me face the various challenges encountered with ease. Just to mention a few of the unconscious biases which women still face till date; I worked with several supervisors back then who believed I shouldn’t work in the field, take on stretched tasks, or be a team leader because I was a woman. Some men believe that they can make decisions for you when it comes to your career without asking because you are a woman and this really needs to change. We must change the stereotyping of women in engineering field; women do not need to be aggressive, tough, or outspoken to be in our field.

What would you say to any young woman looking up to you?
You determine the ceiling. When something hasn’t been done before, therein lies your opportunity. Be creative, bring out your unique abilities and stay focused, leveraging the wisdom and strength of those who have gone ahead of you.

Folake Sanu

Folake is an astute finance professional and banker of repute with over 32 years working experience in banking, professional accounting and auditing practice. Her experience spans Corporate Strategy, Financial Control, Operations, Technology, Risk management, Audit, Mergers & Acquisitions, Credit and Marketing. A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and an honorary senior member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Folake is an alumnus of the London Business School and has attended various management courses in reputable institutions including Harvard Business School and INSEAD, France.

Take us through your career journey
I studied accounting and started as a Trainee Accountant with KPMG Peat Marwick Ani Ogunde & Co, an accounting firm. I qualified as a Chartered Accountant and led teams on audits of financial institutions. I joined the banking industry after years of advisory at managerial level. I have risen through the ranks in the industry, working in three banks in different roles that cut across strategic planning, merger and acquisitions, operations, financial control, compliance, business development and now an Executive Director in the foremost indigenous bank in Nigeria, Wema Bank. The journey has been challenging and exciting, with so many learning points to date.

With over three decades of experience in the finance and banking world, how do we attract more women to take up and make a career in this field?
It is worthy to note that the industry has a substantial number of women workers with more than 40 per cent of the staff. The challenge is how to support and ensure these female workers to get into the executive and top-level management of the institutions.

What financial advice would you give female founders, entrepreneurs, and career women?
As a woman business owner or career woman, the rule of finance is universal. I will advise any woman who likes to know that the first step in managing your finances is to have a realistic and comprehensive plan that covers your aspirations, family and obligations. Also, seek sound financial counsel and invest wisely; avoid impulsive spending, be diligent in keeping records. For the business owners, please, understand the difference between your cash flow and business profit, many thriving businesses have collapsed because the business owners do not understand these principles and instead of scaling up for more profitability, they misinterpreted cash inflow for profitability and the death of the business met them like a thief in the night.

Tell us something that has influenced your career positively today and other women can emulate?
My parents were professionals, and they encouraged their children to excel in their chosen career. My attributes will be a can-do-spirit, hard work, resilience, confidence and trust in God for guidance and wisdom have been my major influencer.


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