• Saturday, December 02, 2023
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Emefiele: When a Central Bank governor doubles as women’s cheerleader

2023 Presidency: Emefiele says, “I’m in a dilemma”

It was Christian Lagarde, current president of the European Central Bank, and former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who said that adding one more woman in a firm’s senior management or corporate board – while keeping the size of the board unchanged is associated with an 8–13 basis point higher return on assets.

Lagarde is also of the opinion – though riding on IMF research findings, that if banks and financial supervisors increased the share of women in senior positions, the banking sector would be more stable.

The IMF research has shown, for example, that if women’s employment equalled men’s, economies would be more resilient and economic growth would be higher.

Nigeria’s Central Bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, who turned 60 today, August 4, 2021, perhaps, shares more than Lagarde’s position on this one, having shown determination that women should not remain as benchwarmers in the workplace, especially the financial system.

And this is in line with the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP) which came into full implementation in 2012 and requires banks to devote 40 per cent of top management positions to women.

Since assumption of office as the 10th indigenous governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Emefiele has not back-stepped in his vision to run a “People-Centred” apex bank that would spur employment generation and support real sector growth.

Unfolding his 10 point agenda forty-eight hours after assuming office on June 3, 2014, Emefiele told the world that he would run “a central bank that is professional, apolitical, and people-focused; a central bank that spends its energies on building a resilient financial system that can serve the growth and development needs of our beloved country, Nigeria.”

And of course Emefiele pretty well understands that advancing the course of women would be critical in delivering that agenda.

There is an increasing push for women empowerment, and getting the female folks to take up leadership positions in different spheres of life and contribute meaningfully to the economy and society.

Principle 4 of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP) requires banks to take a practical approach to women’s economic empowerment that is appropriate for their business activities and operations through developing and implementing a women’s economic empowerment policy.

It further states that “as part of a bank’s wider Sustainable Banking commitment, a women’s economic empowerment policy should be developed and implemented to be consistent with CBN strategy and targets, for example, a minimum of 40 percent female representation at management and board level by December 2014.”

Even though Nigeria’s financial system still has a long way to go in meeting the gender parity as captured in the NSBP; Emefiele has been at the forefront of providing innovative ways of advancing gender equality and women empowerment – an important feather in his cap.

Under his leadership, the central bank has taken actions to advance equality in the workplace include training and skills development; increased employment and leadership positions for women, diversity and inclusion initiatives; support for female employees to balance work and family life through child care support extended maternity leave, et cetera; coaching and mentoring programme to increase knowledge and skills that are necessary for achieving our organisational goals and objectives.

These efforts have resulted in remarkable progress in closing the gender gap in the apex bank and has seen women represent 29 per cent of CBN staff. Today, 29 per cent of Directors are women, with eight departmental directors as against 26 per cent of staff and 25 per cent of directors in 2014. Similarly, three out of 11 board members are women, indicating 27 per cent.

Many pieces of research abound on the critical importance of gender equality in economic development.

For instance, a 2018 study by the IMF showed that greater inclusion of women as users, providers and regulators of financial services have benefits beyond addressing gender inequality.

Narrowing the gender gap would foster greater stability in the banking system and enhance economic growth and could also contribute to more effective monetary and fiscal policy.

The study also found that the gender gap in leadership does make a difference when it comes to bank stability, as banks with a higher proportion of women board members, had higher capital buffers, a lower ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs), and greater resistance to stress. Emefiele strongly aligns with the above findings and in his words: “You will agree with me that women make enormous contributions to economic growth either as business owners, entrepreneurs, farmers or employees of businesses.” But he is concerned that despite overwhelming evidence to support this, women entrepreneurs face numerous challenges to financing, owning and growing a business.

It is in recognition of these overwhelming challenges, that the CBN has developed various gender-responsive interventions that prioritise investments for women, thereby improving access to diverse sources of finances, such as the N220bn Micro Small and Medium-scale Development Fund (MSMEDF), of which 60 per cent is earmarked for women-owned businesses. There is also the very popular Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) and the National Collateral Registry, among others.

In the drive towards ensuring that more women are financially included in Nigeria, CBN has championed major activities and products tailored to accelerate women’s financial inclusion. Apart from the MSMEDF, the National Financial Inclusion Special Interventions Working Group (NFISIWG)was also inaugurated.

The NFISIWG has been a key element of the governance structure in Nigeria’s Financial Inclusion Strategy implementation, with its activities covering three key areas: women, youth and people living with disabilities. Under the working group, a sub-committee was established in March 2018 to address issues that hamper women’s access to financial services.

In 2018, the United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, observed that gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.

Emefiele believes that his statement is indeed a call to action and has not failed to provide a platform not only to reflect on the progress made but also raise awareness and renew commitment to advance gender parity and women empowerment.

Emefiele-led CBN has continued to leverage opportunities provided by the International Women’s Day, to push for women empowerment and reiterate the bank’s commitment to gender parity in banking.

In 2019 for instance, the global theme for International Women’s Day, was “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change” focused on innovative ways of advancing gender equality and women empowerment. However, the CBN adopted “Investing for Equality” as its local theme to strengthen the commitment to empowering women, which the governor strongly believes is an economic and social imperative.

For him, gender equality is a driver for growth and a prerequisite for achieving 2030 global development agenda – The Sustainable Development Goals- but progress in gender parity has been indeed slow.

“Although I recognise the efforts that have resulted in this remarkable progress, I want to remind us that there is still more to be done and I am confident that management will continue to expand the frontiers of gender programme,” he assured at that event.

Speaking also during this year’s International Women’s Day with the theme: “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal future in a COVID-19 World”, Emefiele challenged all stakeholders in both the private and public organisations to ensure gender development and equal opportunities are taken seriously in order to increase the number of women in leadership positions in Nigeria and across the world.

Declaring open the webinar which featured a paper presentation on “Positioning Women for Leadership in a Changing World,” Emefiele stressed that Nigeria’s central bank would continue to commit to promoting gender diversity in the workplace, empower women and increase their active participation in the economy.

He said the CBN recognizes the potential of female leaders in different organisations and the Nigerian economy at large, and therefore, has ensured equal opportunities for both male and female staff at all levels in the Bank.

He recalled, again, the CBN/Bankers’ Committee affirmative action on 40 per cent and 30 per cent representation for women in top management and boards of banks.

For him, unequal access to education, healthcare, finance and cultural barriers with gender stereotyping were some of the issues limiting the participation of women in leadership.

Read also: CBN’s decision to stop forex to BDCs changes dynamics

Emefiele continues to stress the need to put in place appropriate policies that support women rising to their full potential, coupled with the right investments in programmes and services to elevate women to leadership positions and gender parity.

Beyond the Central Bank, entire Nigeria’s financial sector, hitherto dominated by men is seeing a new era of women rising in leadership positions.

Interestingly, the gender gap in the sector is gradually being bridged with significant improvement in the number of women holding key positions and successfully driving growth in their institutions – a feat which is widely being celebrated.

As of today, six out of 23 commercial banks in Nigeria are run by women as chief executive officers.

Guaranty Trust Bank has Miriam Olusanya as managing director; Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe is the managing director of Fidelity Bank; Yemisi Edun is the managing director of First City Monument Bank (FCMB) Limited and Ireti Samuel-Ogbu, is the country officer for Nigeria/managing director/CEO Citibank Nigeria. Also, Halima Buba, is the managing director/CEO SunTrust Bank Limited while Tomi Somefun is the managing director/CEO Unity Bank Plc.

In 2015, Ibukun Awosika was appointed as the first female chairman of First Bank of Nigeria Limited- Nigeria’s oldest lender. Mosunmola Belo-Olusoga and Osaretin Demuren were respectively appointed chairmen of Guaranty Trust Bank and Access Bank in 2015.

As he celebrates his Diamond jubilee, Emefiele has also received several accolades for his immense contributions not just to monetary and financial stability, but a commitment to the real sector as he earlier promised.

In his congratulatory message, President Buhari said the CBN governor has delivered a patriotic service to the country at a time of stiff economic challenges, praying that his efforts will yield positive dividends for the generality of Nigerians to reap from.

The President equally wished him good health and greater service to the fatherland.

“As Governor of Nigeria’s Apex Bank, you have rendered selfless service to your country at a most challenging period of our economic development, and I salute your commitment, passion and doggedness.

As you continue to build on these achievements, it is my hope that your efforts translate to more positive results on the nation’s economy for improved living standards we envisage for our people,” the president noted.

Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the House of Representatives said Emefiele is one Nigerian that has been serving his country diligently and committedly as the governor of the apex bank.

The Speaker said Emefiele’s “track records are there for all to see, and that Nigeria and Nigerians are proud of him for his services.”

Gbajabiamila wished him many more years in good health as he continues to pilot the affairs of the Central Bank of Nigeria.