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Last word: A woman’s place is in the boardroom

By Funmi Adebayo
Posted on Tuesday, 9 October 2018 10:26

Being a Britgerian, as I like to call myself, I have noticed something quite peculiar. In London, one of the most important financial centres in the world, there is a stark lack of senior female presence, not to mention black female presence!

But I’ve found in Lagos that the story couldn’t be any more different. When I have arranged meetings in Nigeria – whether it be with banks, asset managers or insurance companies – I have been struck by how many women I’ve come across. These women aren’t silently taking notes in the corner or waiting for their male colleagues to take charge of the conversation. They are powerful women in positions of authority who speak confidently about their subject matters and are respected by the people in the room, regardless of gender.

Across the financial services industry in Nigeria, women are represented on both the board and at management levels. You’d be hard pressed to find a Nigerian bank that doesn’t have a woman as a key decision-maker. Each of the top five Nigerian banks has female representation, both on the board and in management. Moreover, First Bank of Nigeria and Guaranty Trust Bank have female chairs, Ibukun Awosika and Osaretin Demuren, respectively. The same can’t be said for Britain, which does not have a female chair or CEO for any of the top five banks, in spite of initiatives such as the Women in Finance Charter.

Inclusion of women in the workplace

Even when you look at finance roles in government, it’s astonishing to compare the two countries. Nigeria has had two female finance ministers in succession, one of whom was Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, seen as one of the most powerful African women in the world. The current minister, Kemi Adeosun, started her career in the City of London, but I can safely say could never have achieved equivalent seniority in Britain.

Britain has had absolutely no women occupy the role of chancellor of the exchequer and few in the cabinet, while in Nigeria women have long enjoyed roles in a litany of ministerial offices. Nigeria has also had a female acting central bank governor, Sarah Alade, in addition to regular representation of women on the central bank board.

The realisation of all of this has been both exciting and paradoxical. I’d have expected that Britain would be much further ahead in female representation than Nigeria. Questions such as ‘Is feminism African?’ still circulate in the Nigerian media, not to mention the criticism Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received for her essay ‘We should all be feminists’. Nigeria is also still battling with deeply entrenched gender-based issues such as female genital mutilation and the fact that marital rape is still legal. That being said, when I look at Britain’s suffragette movement, which was largely fought on the right to work as men do, women never had to fight for this in Nigeria. The fight has been more about the societal role of women in the home.

The inclusion of women in the workplace and in senior roles has been empirically found to achieve better corporate performance. A report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute in 2016 found that companies with at least one woman board director produced a better return on investment than those with all-male boards. I wonder if the presence of women in such senior roles in finance and the sector’s relative success in manoeuvring through the 2008 economic crisis could be seen as proof that women should be given their dues for their influence in such roles?

Norwegian researchers Øyvind L. Martinsen and Lars Glasø found that ‘women are better suited for leadership than their male colleagues when it comes to clarity, innovation, support and targeted meticulousness’. That could be a factor in why the Nigerian banking system has more successfully dealt with crisis upon crisis than those of Britain or the western hemisphere in general. One example of this is that Kemi Adeosun was the first finance minister to address the removal of ghost workers from the federal payroll, demonstrating a transparency that we haven’t seen from her predecessors.

It’s time Nigerians take stock of the empowering role of women in one of their key industries and unleash the power of women for society at large. Maybe tackling corruption and bringing forth economic progress could do with a female touch.

Women’s leadership could be a factor in why the Nigerian banking system has more successfully dealt with crisis upon crisis than that of Britain

This article first appeared in the September 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine

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