Lilian Ikokwu: Breaking The Bias Of Upward Mobility For Women
Lilian Ikokwu’s experience in growing and optimising networks has increased the success rate of roles at the organisation she has worked in. The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of OVH Energy, speaks to Guardian Life about what it means to break the bias more than ever, the importance of mentorship and how sharing stories can help others journey.
Tell us a bit about your career journey.
I would say my career trajectory has been an interesting one. After I graduated, I worked in the oil and gas industry and tried different size roles, but I’ll say I have been laying the groundwork for my present career for years. Radical changes do not happen overnight. Thousands of seemingly insignificant blocks build a mansion; I believe the same thing happens with opportunities. Laying the groundwork and capacity building sometimes takes years; it’s backbreaking work that eventually pays off. Then, when the right opportunity comes along, you think to yourself, this is it! This is the moment I’ve been preparing for all my life and I can say with all confidence that this is how it happened for me.
What is your opinion on women’s level of progress in this industry today?
I am an optimist, so will I say it is progressing? Yes. But is it fast enough? I don’t think so. Across the spectrum, from client to agency side practitioners and through content creation to messaging, the business case has been made for the incredible upside to full female participation. It is proven that having women in leadership roles positively influences consumer representation. This should ordinarily be an easy decision, but if it is so obvious and simple, why hasn’t it been solved yet? Clarity on the root issues and a concrete plan to solve them are critical. For example, despite near-parity in entry-level numbers, women are outnumbered almost 2 to 1 by men in first-level manager jobs that are the bridges to senior roles. I strongly believe that levelling the playing field by dismantling obstacles that impede retention will increase female participation within this industry.
What drives you in the bid to succeed, and what are your challenges?
There is a dogged stubbornness that one needs to possess to succeed in this life, and this attitude has served me well. The truth is that the profession attracts more females at entry-level but in Nigeria, upward mobility is a major challenge due to the disproportionate duties a woman carries because of culture and non-supportive practices and this often results in a career break leaving few women at very senior levels to drive the change we desire.
What solutions would you proffer to this?
To put it simply, better policies and implementation of said policies are the solutions to this age-old problem. Also, support for female employees for professional development while on maternity leave and for re-assimilation to the workforce would be a major game-changer because that is a factor that inhibits many women in the workforce.
On #Breakingthebias, what would you tell other career women?
I cannot overemphasise the importance of continued education and having a solid network and I learnt this through experience. I recommend both to ascending talents. Sometimes it’s exhausting, but it is worth it. Continue learning, dabble in different things because you’ll never know if you don’t try, and that is the only way you keep learning. Even failed trials reveal helpful information and life lessons that would help you in your next phase, and this is something you can only gain by experience. Also, have both women and men as allies. You are only as strong as your network, and while this may sound cliché, it is the truth. I have also noticed reluctance in women to leverage their network. When this happens, I ask them, “why buy a fancy car if you won’t take it out for a ride?”
How would you say mentorship helps you and other women’s career and life-journey wise?
Personally, I believe mentorship is critical in life. Seeing someone that is where you want to be just has a positive impact on your life. Particularly as a Nigerian woman working in marketing, I appreciate the unique impact my visibility can have on fellow women pursuing careers in marketing, and I don’t take this for granted. Mentorship has helped me get to where I am today and I believe it can help other women not just with our careers but also in the journey of life. I am inspired by so many great mentors who have helped me on this journey; I hope that I can serve others as well. By sharing our stories, we equip each other with insight, and these are the most valuable gifts we can give ourselves as women as we continue to find our path in life.