• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

‘How women can thrive in male-dominated industries

‘How women can thrive in male-dominated industries

Nneka Okekearu is an Independent Non-Executive Director at the VFD Group.

She is a creative and dynamic leader with proven success in the management of catalytic projects on employability, diversity mainstreaming, financial inclusion, enterprise development, and highly complex customer relationships, and programs.

In this interview with BusinessDay, Okekearu shares her challenges as a female director and she advises younger women on how to navigate the industry and excel in their different roles in society.

Can you share some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in your role early on in your career, and how you overcame them?

That won’t be a tough one because I think the narrative that we want people to believe is that there are challenges there, but I see things slightly differently, in the sense that I believe that when you look for problems you will find problems.

In terms of challenges, I don’t think the challenges that I’ve had are challenges that my male counterparts did not have.

The only challenge I can think that women might have, especially in Nigeria, is the fact that we wear multiple hats, and because of this, we need to be very careful of which hat we’re wearing at a particular point in time and how long we have to wear it.

So, in terms of roles that a woman has, unlike a man, I would say that the challenge would be around the fact that first and foremost, as women who want to work and also have decided to have a family, they have to juggle those roles. So, the challenge, if at all, would be the fact that they must make sure that they’re able to be very effective in the workplace and effective at home.

I don’t think there’s anything called work-family balance, because balance means 50-50. It’s not possible. I believe sincerely that you can try and achieve work-family effectiveness.

So when you’re in the office, you’re very effective. When you’re at home, you’re effective. So the challenge would be around making sure that the children are well taken care of while you’re at work.

And it’s not a challenge that has gone away. So a lot of women are still struggling with that. So my advice to young people would be that you have to have support groups.

How have you seen VFD Group prioritise gender inclusion and empowering female talents within the company?

I think the first thing we will look at is that when we talk about inclusion; gender inclusion and empowerment, it’s a buzz phrase. People are getting extremely excited.

There’s no need to do that. I think if you go into an organisation and look at certain roles, that just gives you an indication of what’s going on.

At the board, there are three of us women. The leading HR is also a woman. If you’re looking at legal, there’s a woman there. So, VFD Group has not just talked, they’ve worked when it concerns gender inclusion.

As a woman who has achieved success, how do you balance ambition and self-care in your professional journey? Can you share any practices or rituals you’ve adopted to maintain resilience and well-being amidst the demands of leadership?

When you say rituals, I’ll speak from my understanding of what you just asked me.

The first thing would be the fact that I would like women, young women, to understand and accept that they are not jollof rice.

You know jollof rice is the only thing that makes everybody happy. So because you’re not jollof, you can’t make everybody happy. So once you realize you can’t make everybody happy,  you can be yourself. Once you have your goals in front of you and you know what it is that you want to do, do it.

Another thing I think I’d like to talk about is the power of writing down what we want. Write down what you want from a very young age. That’s what has helped me. I wrote down what I wanted from 18 to 40, and by age 39 I was already ticking things off my list.

Also, it is never too late to do what you want. Society has made us believe that you can only do things when you’re in your twenties or thirties, but this is not true.
What advice would you give to aspiring female professionals looking to thrive in male-dominated industries?

The first thing I would tell women, especially the young girls coming in now, is to realise that a boy and girl still have the same red blood inside their bodies.

Don’t think “Because I’m a woman,” but make sure you position yourself well, and this means you need competence and capacity.

If you’re an accountant and you have your ICAN, make sure to do your CFA, because very few people have CFA. So, at any point in time, when they bring a man and a woman to a position, you will not be found wanting.