I thank the organizers for reminding us of the importance of this subject and why it should be part of the organizational culture, and with leaders held to account. Sometimes, the problem is not about the absence of policies and programs. It is about how some persons are wired. You know, there is an African proverb that says “What the child says or does, he/she has heard and seen at home”. So, while this remains a global issue, we must admit that some relics of the African culture stand in the way of female empowerment, and any organization operating in this environment must therefore go the extra mile at driving the required changes.
I grew up with 5 remarkable sisters and my mother cut me no slacks. I am married to an accomplished business leader, who enjoyed my support while growing her business. And I have 3 daughters who took to science and engineering and have started climbing their professional ladder. While in the employment of ExxonMobil, about 50% of my direct staff were women. I must confess that over the years, all these women have made me a better professional and leader, given their rich and diverse opinions. My point: every serious-minded person/organization should therefore view this subject as an imperative for success. It is not gratuitous.
How do we nurture female employees into leadership positions?
I will share my experience while in ExxonMobil Nigeria. It was inexcusable that after several decades of operations, the number of female employees ‘at the top’ was insignificant, so we needed to deploy a deliberate strategy to alter the trajectory. We set up People Priorities Teams.
- These teams were to work with the various Employee Development Committees across the organization to:
- Identify potential positions and focus on identified female candidates
- Tracking their career, including deliberate assignments, within and outside the affiliate
- Analyze performance assessment outcomes to ensure fair assessment
- Ensure Workplace adjustments across work locations to eliminate any potential barrier to women taking up positions (example in Operations offshore)
- Education of the workforce to eliminate the perception that certain positions are exclusively for men.
- Introduction of policies/programs (for example, flextime guidelines) with a deliberate focus on women with family commitments ensuring they could still get work done without any fear of penalty.
- Introduction of a rotational practice that allowed women to work across company locations while maintaining primary work locations to be able to keep family commitments.
- Identification and assignment of coaches/mentors
- Appointment of qualified women to the company leadership Council/ Board
- Galvanizing female employees through the Women Interest Network (I served as one of the advisers). WIN created a buddy system, informed candidates on employment opportunities, and launched a campaign for young girls studying Science and Engineering.
These and other efforts grew the participation of women in management.
In conclusion, let me go back to an African proverb which says: When sleeping women wake, mountains move. Let’s keep the dialogue going, ensuring that there is no ‘leaky pipeline’ on the way.
Mr. Udom Inoyo