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‘Women can truly have it all, but must be intentional about their wheel of life’

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
06 November 2021   |   4:20 am
I was born as the first fruit to a learned middle-class family in Enugu. My parents named me Ifeyinwa - literally translated, ‘nothing like a child’.

Ifeyinwa Arachie is a seasoned Human Resource professional with over 20 years experience that spans across different industries. Over the years, she has found great fulfillment in consistently solving people problems within the organsation. A graduate of Economics and Statistics from the University of Benin, Edo State, she started her career as a youth corps member attached to the Human Resources Admin team of Shell Petroleum Development Company, Ltd, where she was exposed to dealing with people. In 2004, she joined Pearl Integrated Limited and was seconded to the Human Resources Department of Total Exploration & Production Nigeria Limited. She subsequently was employed into the Manpower planning department of Total in 2011.

An Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) and a member of the prestigious Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), the governing body of HR practitioners in Nigeria, Arachie believes that each role provides a unique opportunity to relate with different individuals, understand their perspectives, challenges, plus ability to encourage, empathise, sympathise, and generally provide some service or another. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her career journey, growth and drive towards solving people’s problems.

Share with us your background and how it influenced your career path?
I was born as the first fruit to a learned middle-class family in Enugu. My parents named me Ifeyinwa – literally translated, ‘nothing like a child’. The first child is always a great source of joy to everyone. As a child, I was always drawn to observing patterns, that is, the cause and effect of things. Even as I went on to study Economics and Statistics as my first degree, naturally, that decision strengthened that innate skill.

However, I was quite unsure how that skill would be utilised in my career, but when I took up an opportunity in a fortune 500 company, I observed something more fascinating. I became more interested in such cause and effect as it related to people, systems, culture, and business, which is everything Human Resources. Since then, I have never looked back. I am in a career that I believe I was predestined to do; I have in-depth understanding of strategic human resources management from people and business partnership perspective. In my current role, I oversee the design and implementation of employee experience systems whilst championing positive workplace culture, in ways that help the business achieve success.

You are passionate about solving people’s problems, how are you able to achieve this?
As a first girl child in the family, problem solving came naturally; I derive pleasure in seeing people happy and fulfilled. I am an active listener, and this makes people able to share their challenges with me. They trust that I can support them to the best of my ability.

In becoming a more efficient leader, I invested in a lot of soft skills courses on Emotional Intelligence, Time management, Team Management, as I believe personality skills are key and they helped me deliver better. This also opened my mind up to possibilities, as you leverage on how others have done it. I remember joining a forum for mothers at some point and it opened me up to the truth that our children are unique and handling this aspect of motherhood effectively also impacted on how I related with others in the workplace.

In your over two decades in the corporate world, how have you evolved?
I have kept a positive disposition and willingness to learn through my career. No job is too small or too big; a job is what you make of it. I focus on leaving people with positive experiences and enjoying the growth journey as well. I was always deliberate about learning on my journey; I wasn’t just particular about my role, but what I could learn from other teams as well.

I invested in a lot of Human Resource related trainings to help me become well rounded. I joined the CIPD and CIPM to give me a wider network on how to solve people problems and how to navigate around the workplace, plus how to be a shoulder to other employees. Human Resource is where everyone expects you to have ‘the answer’ forgetting that you are also an employee.

On a personal level, I also invested in courses relating to personal development, because this allows you to offer more. When you seek after knowledge, you are able to learn something new and make an impact in your role in serving humanity. I am happy to serve the management and employees well, as I am seen as someone who can go the extra mile. Investing in learning intentionally has played a major role in my evolution; I am able to also serve my family and the world more.

Have you experienced any difficult periods in your career and how were you able to pull through?
My positive disposition has always helped me. I see every challenge as a learning curve, which will make me a better human being eventually. Difficulty is relative, but I do remember being on a particular job role for close to eight years and it was becoming monotonous. I decided to volunteer with other HR teams to give me new insights and that helped a great deal. When it was time for my new role, the insights gained paid off and is still paying off. Self- Management is also key for me, because when you manage yourself better, you are able to manage situations and people better. It was important to identify my stressors, because this allowed me to not stress out, even when people didn’t deliver on their tasks.

Leveraging the strength of my team also helped, especially in knowing how to delegate effectively and this also translated in the home front with domestic staff. I was deliberate in taking my annual vacations. There will always be work, if anything happens, I could always be replaced, so family time, me- time on a wellness retreat was important in taking care of myself. Also, surrounding myself with like minds and relieving the stress by having fun activities and not making everything work centered allowed me to fill my tank consistently. I realised that in dealing with myself first, it allowed me deal with others more effectively.

As a human resource expert, what in your opinion has been the effect of the pandemic on the workforce and the workplace?
I am not too sure the world saw what was coming when the pandemic hit us in 2020, with the world shutting down for months and some places still on lockdown across the world. The COVID-19 crisis has radically changed the way people live and work, with an increase in uncertainty that has left livelihoods at risk. It’s paramount that organisations understand what impact this could have on the long-term mental and physical health of employees, and if it has detrimentally affected their career development. Organisations now have to ensure the workplace is such that people are happy in that space; the pandemic has enabled the workforce view work differently. People have come to appreciate that work is not an end in itself, and human beings are so much more than the work they do.

The pandemic is also likely to result in some existing roles disappearing and new ones emerging, meaning there will be a greater need for employees to retrain to fill existing skills gaps and to develop new skills for sectors that are recruiting. Working from home also became part of the ‘New Normal’ and the workforce and workplace are fast adapting to all the changes that came with the Pandemic.

How can we get more women to become fulfilled, what tips do you have for younger women?
Fulfillment comes from within. Women are unique and should strive to leverage on their uniqueness, identify their strengths from a young age and seek opportunities in areas of strengths. As women, there are so many roles we fill and different people have different expectations in your role of being a daughter, sister, mother, wife etc. It’s therefore important for women to know the limits and draw the boundaries and to define what they need to be fulfilled in different areas of their lives; be it spiritually, economically etc. Women can truly have it all, but they must be deliberate and intentional about their ‘wheel of life’.

In a world where most people are becoming consumed with keeping up appearances and doing things because others are doing it, we must take heed so we are not carried away and lose ourselves in the process. Know what you are passionate about and what your priority is. If you have a strong passion for family, then let that be at the centre of what you do and the decisions you make. In all of your priorities, your happiness is key; you need to be joyful to make a positive impact in our world.

For women who are homemakers, you must realise that your well-being affects others within your family unit, so when your basket of joy is full, you can also emit joy to others. Be deliberate about your wellness being a priority. What makes you smile? What do you enjoy doing? When you spend time doing what you also love, you are not frustrated, so what you give out is what radiates from within. Keep your Joy tank full. Do not follow the crowd; know yourself and your values.

As a working wife, mum and career woman, how have you managed these portfolios and still be at your best?
Family is very important to me, and I am lucky to have a very supportive husband. Putting a structure or a routine in place very early in my journey of parenting also helped. Women need to understand the dynamics change when your status changes, as you have more people to worry about. I was particular about the roles I took and how much I could invest in it. As a mum to young children, I knew my children needed me and my employer also had expectations. My time was planned effectively to enable me be there for my children and also serve at my best capacity. I was not a wonder woman; I had a support system and I delegated when I needed to. My mum and siblings were there for me when my children were younger and my husband played a supportive role as he had a business of his own, so his time was a little more flexible.

I would say to those unmarried to ensure they choose wisely so they end up with someone who can support their vision and career path. I believe women don’t need to focus alone on getting to the C-suite, especially when they still have young kids that need their attention, except they have a strong support system. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, it’s the family you have. When my children came of age, they also had to understand the work I do so they could understand what my job role entailed. This helped them understand and also support me mentally and emotionally. In cases where I had deadlines, they knew mummy needed some extra time to take care of work. They also knew such seasons where not permanent, and I would be back to my normal routine and that made them appreciate the journey with me as well. Leaving them out might make them have the wrong impression, so having them on board went a long way.

Having come this far, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I had been more intentional about networking and collaboration earlier in my career. I also wish I got career mentors or coaches earlier. It’s great to learn from others, it saves time. It would have made some difference.

You recently turned 50, how do you feel and what lessons have you learnt?
My life is a journey of God’s grace and favour. I feel absolutely blessed and content. I cannot thank God enough for the excellent health, amazing family, and friends I have been blessed with. Fifty sure feels good and I look forward to showing up more.

In half a century, I have learnt never to give up on anyone, everyone has a unique story, don’t take yourself or anything too seriously, everything will be all right eventually, life is simple.

How do you get inspiration and stay motivated?
I am a strong believer in God, nothing happens by chance, so I deliberately, learn from every experience or encounter. I believe I am here to solve a problem. Every experience I go through, I am intentional about learning from them as this enables me to share the lessons with others. Encouraging others with the things I have experienced keeps me inspired.