Nigeria’s Access Bank promotes women into leadership positions
The Nigerian group has adopted a proactive strategy to promote the advancement of women within its ranks as well as creating targeted financial products for them.
How can African women break the glass ceiling that limits them in the world of work?
In Nigeria, Access Bank has been developing a proactive strategy to empower women within the company for several years.
The bank, chaired by Nigeria’s Mosun Belo-Olusoga, made 95 billion naira (€227m) after-tax in 2018 with a total balance sheet of €11.8bn.
- It has 350 branches in seven sub-Saharan countries and recently won the Africa CEO Forum’s Gender Leader Award in Kigali.
On a continental scale, the representation of women in management positions is a good marker of the remaining obstacles.
Compared to the rest of the world, the African private sector is in line with the global trend: women are largely under-represented in the hierarchy.
- According to Women Matter, a McKinsey report published in 2016, “[in Africa] women hold 14% of the seats in management, compared to 13% worldwide.
- The higher the number, the worse the figures: 5% of the Executive Directors are women (world average, 4%).” However, the firm that measured the performance of 210 companies pointed out, “Profits are generally 20% higher in groups where women are widely represented.”
The study did not explain this correlation. But for Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Director of Sustainable Development at Access Bank, there is one reason. “Women bring a good balance. In reality, they are more risk sensitive, able to concentrate better… In management, they get better results,” she said.
The drive to create over a third women leaders
Victor-Laniyan joined the group almost 11 years ago and has built up her expertise in these issues by starting in journalism.
- For three years, she wrote a column the daily Punch newspaper.
- She then joined the British group Cadbury, where she was head of Corporate Social Responsibility, which included gender equality.
In 2009, she was recruited by Access Bank to set up the sustainable development department. “We have established principles of sustainability, nine in all, and the fifth is dedicated to the empowerment of women,” she said. “Today, they were adopted by the Central Bank of Nigeria.”
- The latter requires, in particular, that 30% of the members of the management bodies be women.
According to a study by Nigeria’s Wimbiz (Women in Management, Business and Public Service), cited by the AfDB, the goal is still far from being achieved at the national level.
In 2014 — the deadline set by the Nigerian Central Bank — the association concluded that in financial sector companies, including banks, women held 16% of seats in management.
- But within Access Bank, women employees hold one third of these seats.
The establishment has put in place various measures to improve the situation. With the Access Women Network, women in the group, regardless of their position, are encouraged to network, with workshops and mentoring to help women at the beginning of their careers.
- “But we also need to involve men, hence the establishment of the Male Champions for Women, a group of men dedicated to these issues. We want to create an environment that is conducive to women’s participation at the highest level,” said Victor-Laniyan.
A large part of the exchanges and topics discussed concern the balance between private and professional life. The McKinsey report stressed that it was also important to think about flexible working hours, and the possibility of working at home to alleviate the “double working day” syndrome, which affects most women.
For some, it is not obvious that a woman’s place is at work and not just at home. “We live in a patriarchal society that remains male-dominated,” said Victor-Laniyan. Access Bank has taken measures to rectify this: strict pay equity and significant benefits. “It also helps to convince family members of their professional value,” continued the Nigerian leader.
Avoid the cultural pressures that still exist
Another strong point is a maternity leave policy that gives six months to women and two weeks to men, although this is not a legal obligation in Nigeria. Advantageous packages for fertility treatments are also available to all employees. Access Bank also funds programs that enable hospitals to improve their standards in this area.
- “In our society, a married woman who cannot have children will be under a lot of pressure, especially from her in-laws,” explained Victor-Laniyan.
The bank’s philosophy, which focuses on the advancement of women, also applies to the services it offers: since July 2014, the W initiative, (“W” as in “woman”) has included products or programmes specifically designed for women, such as the W Power Loan (see box), which address specific needs in three key areas: career, entrepreneurship, and family life, with, for example, loans, training courses, medical coverage, etc.
“As a financial institution, we have a critical role in society, based on trust. And trust must be earned,” she concludes.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.