She is a Woman – Experiences of Women in Leadership
Women have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis, as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, community organisers, and as some of the most exemplary and distinguished national leaders in the fight against the pandemic. The crisis has shown both the necessity of women’s contributions to the growth and development of society and the disproportionate burdens that women carry.
The eighth strategic imperative in the Framework for Advancing Women’s Financial Inclusion in Nigeria is to “Build a culture of women’s leadership and staffing in financial institutions and other key agencies.” To explore this theme, EFInA interviewed three distinguished women in Nigeria fintech/financial sector leaders who rose to notable heights:
- Bunmi Lawson is the pioneer CEO of Accion Microfinance Bank and EdFin Microfinance Bank (the first specialized education finance bank in Nigeria).
- Agnes Tokunbo Martins was the first female Director of the Banking Supervision Department and the first female Director of the Other Financial Institutions Supervision Department, both within the Central Bank of Nigeria.
- Faith Adesemowo is co- founder and CEO of Social Lender, a digital financial services solution based on social reputation on mobile, online and social communities.
These women discussed the gender discrimination and inequalities they experienced due to the patriarchal perception that they were the “weaker sex”. These deeply rooted gendered perceptions led to underestimation of their potential and capabilities. Therefore, despite their skills and knowledge, they were required to put in extra effort just to prove their capabilities.
“… I have been overlooked for positions just because I am a woman, and while no one is perfect, the men eventually chosen had more flaws than me so it could only be they felt men have more time, don’t get pregnant, etc. There is pressure to work harder and perfectly so that it is very clear who excels. This adds pressure on women and makes them seem to be too competitive and “loud”. Yet we have to speak out and up for women and ensure that more women take the leadership roles they deserve” ……. Bunmi Lawson
“As a woman, people tend to under-estimate your abilities in the erroneous belief that we are the ‘weaker’ gender. Therefore, sometimes you constantly have to prove your ability and volunteer for tasks that ordinarily would not have been given to women. Suffice it to say that we live in a patriarchal society where men are seen as having the natural ability to be leaders. I believe I realised as a young aspiring woman that I needed to double up my act and put in the extra effort to be successful and be prepared to go the extra mile” …. Agnes Tokunbo Martins
Despite these challenges, these women have succeeded and risen to greater heights in Nigeria’s Fintech/Financial sector. These women shared that they have applied continuous learning, innovated, and adapted to their environment with mentorship support and a positive mindset to succeed in this sector.
“Over the years I have had to keep knocking on doors to have my voice heard. Having a male co-founder has helped with some partnerships I pursued. It has also been challenging balancing my personal life with work and trying to start a family. Again, this helped me see first-hand how the work environment can be improved to help with more female inclusivity” ……………. Faith Adesemowo
In summary, there are important issues that need to be addressed for the inclusiveness of women in leadership roles in the Nigerian financial sector. These include but are not limited to increased access to education and skills development for the girl childhood development and encouraging girls to be ambitious and aspire for leadership roles.
“Key challenges include access to education; more women need to get the training and the skills required to effectively perform in this high-pressure environment. Support infrastructure including access to childcare so that it is easier to balance personal life and work life. Be sure to choose a supportive partner” …. Bunmi Lawson
Women should actively seek opportunities to help them succeed and be resilient to failure. If there is an opportunity, go for it. We should always strive to be equipped with the skills and competencies required for such opportunities when they arise. We should endeavor to be the best possible by continuously and constantly updating ourselves in good practice and innovation in any field of choice and not be too shy to show it……. Agnes Tokunbo Martins
For this 2021 International women’s day what we can do is acknowledge that there are existing gender biases and inequalities that women struggle within their respective workplaces, then we can show solidarity in raising awareness that girls and women face gender discrimination and work together towards understanding and addressing the drivers of the persisting gender inequality in our communities. These women have made some notable words of encouragement for 2021 International Women’s Day:
“This is the BEST time to be a woman. The challenges will not go away overnight but it’s time to embrace them” ….Faith Adesemowo
“Dream big and believe in yourself. You can do it and do it well. I don’t know about having it all but do focus on what makes you happy and what legacy you want to leave in society and the world at large. Don’t let anyone limit you”..…Bunmi Lawson
“I would encourage women:
If you have an opinion, express it,
If you have a contribution, make it,
If you meet with a challenge, conquer it,
If you see an opportunity, grab it.
Have a big vision, prepare for it, and then go for it, surrounding yourselves with the right people and having the right attitude, bearing in mind that with God all things are possible” ……Agnes Tokunbo Martins
“I choose to challenge unequal access to quality education by the girl child
I choose to challenge unequal gender access to finance especially in low-income households
I choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements” ..….. Bunmi Lawson