Sunday, 28th May 2023

‘Women should apply emotional intelligence when navigating power structures’

By Waliat Musa
15 April 2023   |   5:08 am
Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan is an executive member of the Access Women Network (AWN). An advocate for youth and women empowerment, she mentors and chairs Women in Development and Sustainability, a not-for-profit organization, which primarily utilises mentorship and customised education to support the development of women. A change maker in the field of sustainability and communications spanning…

Omobolanle Victor Laniyan

Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan is an executive member of the Access Women Network (AWN). An advocate for youth and women empowerment, she mentors and chairs Women in Development and Sustainability, a not-for-profit organization, which primarily utilises mentorship and customised education to support the development of women. A change maker in the field of sustainability and communications spanning various industries including manufacturing, media and the financial sector, she has pioneered many notable sustainability-focused initiatives placing Nigeria on the global map.
Victor-Laniyan initiated and led the development of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP), making her the only West African on a global team that developed the Global Principles for Responsible Banking released by United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI).
In this interview with WALIAT MUSA, she spoke on how women can develop their leadership skills and strategies to promote gender inclusion in the workplace.

Take us through your career journey, how would you describe it?
I have worked for over 25 years basically in the field of sustainability and communications; I love to give back and make positive impact in society. I think that is the way I have been wired and it gives me joy when I see people grow through my intervention; I’m inspired to do a whole lot more.

So, my work career has been across various sectors, from communication to media, to manufacturing sector, food and beverages to development sector. I’m steadily involved in the development sector, so I sit on board of quite a number of not-for-profit organisations, religious-based, non-religious based, business rel
ated ones, those that have to do with eradicating or fighting diseases that Africa bears highest burden, like malaria and HIV.

Then, between my husband, and myself we have a not-for-profit organisation that we established together; we have been doing a lot of work helping people out of poverty level, inspiring people and supporting widows. We formally registered the Omobolanle and Victor Laniyan (OVL) Foundation in 2016, and since then, we have been able to express ourselves in terms of supporting people.

For instance, one of the things we do is establishing study centre where we have out of school children ranging from those in primary school to those that are now seeking admission. As a result of our intervention, some who have been out of school for two, three to five years, we bring them back to the study centre and get them trained by the teachers.

We get teachers from private schools around; pay them a bit of extra money so they teach these children. The beauty of it is that we have about six to eight of them who are about to write JAMB now, and they are some who wrote JAMB last year, passed and are about to get into the university.

So, they will be on our scholarship throughout their university education. However, some of them are not interested in attending formal university. For instance, there’s one of them that wants to be a nurse; they are interested in different things. But we encourage them by ensuring they undergo counselling to put them through on their course of study.

My very first exposure to sustainability, especially the giving back aspect of it, started from when I was a child, because my late mum was a pastor for 35 years. From when we were very young, we were exposed to helping less privilege; people suffering in their marriages come to the house for counselling and for support.

Some of them come to take refuge for some time, so we were exposed to understanding that in life, it is not all about you; God blesses you so that you can be a blessing to others. So, those were part of the fundamental principles that I grew up with. We used to do a lot community support, like Red Cross and all of that; we used to go there to give the children food and gift items. So, it formed part of my value system.

With my experience with my pastor mum when I was young, I knew more than my age in terms of what women are exposed to; the type of support system and solution that are required for women. Those were my initial exposure.

I continued to pursue my interest in CSR, and then I moved from Punch to Cardbury. I was employed in Cardbury initially as a Consumer Relations Manager, but then I was the secretary of the Social Responsibility Operations committee. So, when Cardbury head office in the UK wanted to establish stand-alone corporate social responsibility department in Nigeria, I was made the first CSR manager for the company in Nigeria; that was how I got more into my passion was. Everything played out clearer to me, so, I just continued in the field.

But I did a lot of self-development leading up things, because the field was evolving; we signed on to quite a number of international organisations. So, my exposure and my work with these international organisations also helped me in terms of my knowledge, trying to shape the way things were being done appropriately. I was with Cardbury for close to seven years, and then I got into the financial sector.

What would you consider your major achievement in the field of sustainability and communication?
The most recent one is being the only West African on the team that developed the Global Principles for Responsible Banking, a set of principles that banks globally signed on to. About 30 of us developed the principles, which has now been adopted by the banking industry globally and is shaping the way they do sustainability.

Before then, I initiated a concept and led the development of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles, which is a set of principles that today is adopted by all banks operating in Nigeria, including the Central Bank of Nigeria.

In the manufacturing sector, I did a couple of things. For instance, I initiated the toll free lines; you know what it meant in Nigeria in those days to have toll free lines where consumers would call if they had a complaint on a product. What was more important was the fact that the organisation was willing to listen to consumers, to take action with respect to complaint, to look at the trend of the complaint and see if there was anything we could do to have better consumer experiences with our product and services.

That for me was interesting because that is the first step towards being a responsible organisation. You are accountable to your stakeholders and you take responsibility for what you give to them. The moment you have that mindset and you are embracing change or showing a willingness to be better, you can only get better.

Sustainability is a journey, so for manufacturing, I will say that is one thing I did. Do they still have the toll free lines? I don’t know, because I left a long time ago, but then, it was a pioneering achievement in the manufacturing sector then.

When you began your career years back, did you ever imagine having a leadership role in your chosen career?
To be frank yes, because I was trained to understand that wherever I find myself and whatever I do, I can be the best and beat the existing best, and if you are going to be the best, you will have to attain that peak position; that means nothing should be able to stop or hinder you. Don’t forget, being a Christian and my background, the way we grew up, you will understand that even from the Bible, God expects you to demonstrate excellence.

Any gift that God has given to you or what you are doing, you must do it to him as if He is your boss or supervisor. That’s the driver for me; delivering value, even when nobody is watching, because God can see you in everything that you do. So, if you take it that way, you have to be the best in whatever it is that you do.

Really, I believe in merit and if you continue to put in your best and you are delivering excellently, even if that particular institution does not acknowledge your effort or reward you, you will still get rewarded somewhere.

As a female leader in the sector, what are you doing differently?
So, basically, I think that a leader is a leader and a leader is different from a manager. A manager is just a work, but as a leader, it is the work and the people doing the work. So, as a leader, you show empathy not to the detriment of getting result, because the moment you demonstrate empathy, the individual involved understand the fact that when you are insistent on result, it is because results need to be delivered; it has nothing to do with anything personal.

Now, as a female, it is easier for you to be able to show empathy than your male colleagues, because of the way you are made. Naturally, females are mothers; they have a caring nature and also have that internal thing; they just know things naturally. So, as a female in a work place, you need to bring your A-game to the table. All these qualities and things that God has given to you naturally, you need to be able to utilise them effectively to achieve your result in an ethical and responsible manner.

While a male colleague can just talk and just be interested in the outcome of a meeting translating to result, a female from the same meeting will be the first to observe if that your colleagues that is expected to deliver that result is having a bad day; if something is not balanced or there is a problem somewhere and the person is not even able to concentrate.

The moment you identify that easily, you are able to take that assignment off that person’s plate; either transfer it to someone else to do or do it yourself if you can take it on at that point. Once the team delivers a good outcome, then you come back to engage properly with the individual involved.

So, for me, it is about teamwork; it is about identifying on the team who is in the best position to deliver. It’s not necessarily the best person on the team, but may be the person is the one in the best frame of mind at that point. The person who is the smartest on the team may not be in the position to deliver that result at that point; you don’t keep pushing and insisting. That’s why you have a team. So, my leadership style is one that is laced with empathy and not with detriment of the outcome.

Are there obvious benefits of having women as leaders in an organisation?
So, I think that having women as leaders helps the organisation to grow better, because it give you some level of balance. When I was talking about how my leadership style being different technically from a male colleague, I was talking about demonstrating empathy; I was talking about easily identifying issues.

As a female in the room that has those characteristics I mentioned earlier, you bring that balance and make the work place an easier place for the employee to deliver results.

Also, as a female, you understand the fact that there are peculiarities that we cannot run away from or deny that happens to women, so you know that you can easily identify if a colleague is being very moody at a particular period; you know it could be hormonal. You are not forcing on that colleague at that period because you understand the situation.

It’s not like you are accommodating non-performance or you are accommodating laziness, especially if that colleague is someone who is hard-working. But you understand the fact that this person is going through something and you need to take it easy.

Women bring balance, they are more careful; they are more risk averts than male colleagues. Men tend to take risk more than women; women tend to be more careful. They want to weigh things carefully before taking decisions. In my opinion, this is not separating men and women, but I think this is something I have seen happen. I also think that having women in leadership positions also helps to inspire everyone.

So, if you are an organisation that is merit based and female colleagues are doing well and they deserve to be promoted and you’re promoting them, it shows that you are demonstrating that you encourage meritorious behaviour throughout the organisation; anybody working there understands the fact that you don’t need to play eye service. Just do your work, be responsible; follow the laid down principles and procedures of the organisation and you will find your way to the top.

So, it is inspiring when you see women being able to achieve things and it’s because women are multifaceted. A woman is the wife, the mother, the aunt, the sister… she is the leader in the place of work. The natural multitasking capability of women in a workplace helps an organisation to achieve a lot more within a shorter time frame.

What do you consider the most significant barrier to female leadership in Nigeria?
I think it’s the individuals themselves, because many times, we tend to underestimate ourselves and limit ourselves may be by the many things and the biases that we have heard about women not being able to attain certain heights, or about us being part of a patriarchal society. So, it is first in the mind.

We first need to conquer our minds to see if there is a height we can get to. I am first a human being before being a female. If the guy beside me who is a human being as well can get to that height, then I can also get there.
As a leader, do you sometimes experience any form of resistance from men? If yes, how do you deal with it?

To be fair, it depends on the set up. In some places, ‘yes’ and in some places ‘no’. In a professional set up like the workplace, you use your expertise and knowledge of the subject matter to deal with the issue, so nobody can deny; they can pretend, but somehow, they will cave in.

One of the things I think is also important is our approach to things. If I’m put in a position to lead people (male or female), I will not come like I am here to lord over you; I will try to demonstrate a democratic approach. Even if I know where I am going, I will use that my democracy to lead you to where I want to end in a smart manner.

How can women navigate power structures?
Women should apply emotional intelligence when navigating power structures, because then you know how to engage with different stakeholders and know what is important to them. In the end, you achieve your result.

How can women develop their leadership skills?
I think that as women, we need to do a bit more in terms of developing ourselves. It is one thing to be an expert and know our jobs and it is another thing to also be able to socialise and navigate around. I am not a social animal myself, but as a leader, you need to have a combination of these things.

Women need to understand that leadership involves a 360-degree approach. It’s not just about those on top of you, it is also about those beneath you; your peers and your ability to be able to engage and navigate around different stakeholders in a way that is value-added. So, people actually need to attend leadership trainings and network. There are different platforms and avenues that are available virtually, locally and internationally that people can key into to develop themselves further.

Another important thing for every woman, you need to be truthful to yourself; you always need to do an analysis or a review of yourself. Who truly are you? Why are you in this world and why are you in your profession? What legacy do you want to leave behind? You need to review who you truly are.

What strategies can work well to promote gender inclusion in the workplace?
We need to create an open wok system. When I say that, I mean, let people be able to relate and make contributions at work regardless of their gender, because gender is not before value; value is before gender. If you’re adding value regardless of your gender, it should be acknowledged, recognised and rewarded.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Be you, give a true review of yourself. Who truly are you? You can deceive everybody, but can’t deceive yourself and you can’t deceive God. What is your purpose in life and what are you doing currently towards achieving that purpose? What legacy do you want to leave behind? The moment you continue doing that inward review on a periodic basis, it will help you to improve. Know your personal values and let it align with the values of the organisation; it’s not first about the money, but the value. When you do these things, money will surely come.