Mrs. Mosun Belo-Olusoga,Chairman of the board of Access Bank is one woman you cannot forget in a hurry. A woman who exudes humility, professionalism, intellect and quiet leadership. She is one of the boardroom leaders featured in my new book, “50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS.” In this extract, Mrs. Belo-Olusoga, the amazon fondly called “Aunty Mo” makes a case for more women in the boardroom.
There is this notion that there are not enough women in corporate boardrooms in Nigeria. That is true. You have but to look at the statistics. The paucity of female membership on boards is obvious. Occasionally, you perceive the “she-is-a-woman” sentiments. There was a time I sat in a meeting where we deliberated on the choice of the candidate to fill a crucial vacancy. Two persons were equally qualified, a man and a woman. I did recall one of our bosses saying the position should be given to the man at that time, for no superior reason other than he was a man. That illustrates the subtle sentiment against the woman in the workplace.
For a long time, I used to be the only woman in the boards I sit on. In ARM, I was the only woman. In Magnum Trust Bank, it was just me alone. On the board of Premium Pension, I was the first woman board member. I used to be the only woman and in fact the first woman on the board of Access Bank. I was the first female executive director in GTBank. However, the situation is improving. It is getting better. For instance, on the board of Premium, female membership has moved from zero to one, and from one to five in Access Bank. It could only get better with time, at least in banking where for the first time we have three female chairs of FirstBank, GTBank and Access Bank. That is a marked improvement.
There has been an institutional adjustment for women to get to these leadership positions. Kudos must be given to Lamido Sanusi, the former Central Bank Governor who set off the process in the banks when he asserted that he wanted a third of the directors to be female. He empowered a lot of women in the apex bank by promoting them to executive positions. Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also tried to correct the gender imbalance by appointing a lot of women on the cabinet. Legislating a gender quota is laudable. It may work. But it takes a while to institutionalize, because a typical Nigerian man is egocentric. Only a man who is confident of his own masculinity will not feel threatened by any female but rather see her as a colleague and not a competitor. We will get there, I believe.
That more women need to come out of their shell is imperative. The response has been progressive. Women are coming out and becoming less of a recluse. But are women putting themselves in strategic positions? That is the flip side. More opportunities are coming up now. Those opportunities have to be met with being prepared. If women are ill-prepared when those opportunities arrive, they will move to the next person. The next person could be a man. Gone are the days when it was enough to say “my work will speak for me.” In today’s world, you also have to speak out for yourself. I remember when I was in Continental Merchant Bank. I took some documents to an executive director at that time called Mr. Yaro. He had signed and I was leaving when he said: “What is your name?”
“Mosun Belo,” I replied.
“I don’t know you but I know your work,” was the reply. Typically, that is how women operate. They don’t know us. They know our work. If nobody knows you, it is less likely you will be called when a big opportunity arrives. People have to put a face to your name to put you in mind. It is simple psychology. If you have met me before, the moment you hear my name, my face will appear before you mentally: the woman with chubby cheeks that wears glasses. If you don’t know me, things remain impersonal. If something big happens, my personality will not register in your consciousness. Just a flicker of remembrance and then the interest dies. So, women need visibility to be able to assert themselves. Competence is good, it is fundamental, but visibility is key for people to recognize that “okay, she is there, let’s give her a chance.”
Generally, women are not as aggressive as men. We are more accepting, reluctant to break the inertia. What’s more, we tend to be a little bit more religious about it too. We are apt to say: “Maybe it’s not my time.” I believe in God. I believe what is mine will always be mine. I am very content. But that doesn’t mean that I do not work hard. I work hard. The situation can be better. It can also be a lot worse. Truly, my gender has never been a disadvantage to my upward mobility in my banking career. I had been lucky with the organisations I worked with, namely GTBank and Access Bank. In GTBank, there was no gender discrimination. Your sex is of no consequence at all. What you have in your brain is more important. That a woman has to go on maternity leave would jeopardize neither her salary nor promotion in GTBank. Female staff members get duly promoted because they were not rated for the period they were around only, but for the whole year.
Increased women participation at the corporate hierarchy is for the good of the society. Aside competence and expertise, women bring other salient value-added qualities to boards: compassion, empathy, inspiring confidence in others to talk to you, good listening skill—women are very good within this range. By our configuration, women are nurturers. We are builders. Society benefits if more women are in leadership positions, particularly in the banking sector. Women, generally, are more loyal and more honest. While there are instances of female employees who committed fraud, statistics shows that more frauds are committed in banks by men than women. Boards guide the affairs of companies. They provide leadership. They provide direction. They provide guidance to management as to what they are supposed to do.
Extracts from: “50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS—Lessons On Corporate Governance and Strategy”. Order: 08033445125 or [email protected] or on Amazon Books