How women in Nigeria’s financial sector are leveraging their unique capabilities for social change

2016 really is the year of the woman and Nigerian women are definitely no exception. The women supporting women agenda has gone beyond a hashtag and is finding real life expression in worthwhile causes. A prime example is the Women in Finance NG, a networking and development platform for women in Nigeria’s financial sector, spearheaded by United Capital’s Group CEO Oluwatoyin Sanni. Glory Edozien, Founder of Inspired by Glory, sat down with Mrs. Sanni to understand the objectives of the newly initiated platform and the general challenges and unique attributes of the women within the sector.

– An Interview with Mrs. Oluwatoyin Sanni Group CEO United Capital.

What is the Woman in Finance NG Platform and what does it seek to achieve?
Women in Finance NG aims to bring together women in the financial industry precisely with a view to harnessing what I believe to be our unique and extensive capabilities in order to become a force for positive change in our society. I believe that women in finance have specific capabilities. We are knowledgeable, articulate, versatile, financially savvy, respected, composed and rational. We have significant risk management skills because of the issues we have to deal with everyday. We are multitaskers and off course we have good people skills. Now if you look at that combination of attributes residing in a group of people, immediately, it imposes a specific responsibility upon you to harness those skills and use them in a deliberate fashion to effect positive social change.

But what are some of the tools the platform will use to harness and leverage on these unique capabilities you have mentioned?
The first and very important tool is that I want us to pursue the financial literacy agenda. Financial literacy is pretty low across Africa and even lower amongst women. Related to that is also the low level of financial inclusion amongst females. Financial independence is as good as a myth to many women. A lot of women have not been trained or prepared to take charge of their own financial affairs. So you find that there are women who are otherwise quite knowledgeable and exposed are helpless when it comes to managing their personal finances.

We will also be raising funding overtime from organisations and individuals with a view to deploying those funds to providing solutions to specific areas of need within our society that are related to the objectives which I have mentioned. We also hope to engage decision and policy makers. Since our mission is to be a force for positive change, we believe we can add value to policy decision making by speaking from the unique perspective that we have and speaking to issues that will help to develop our society economically.

In Nigeria women are at arguably 50% of the population. I have also learnt recently that one of the fastest growing demographic in the world are female millionaires, growing at 27%, but I am not sure that is exactly reflected in our society or across Africa. Going by a recent report by Mckinsey the Gender Economic Gap alone is responsible for about a gap of about 3 trillion dollars in global economic development. So when you realise that there is a significant gap that can be closed if women are included financially, if they have better financial information and if they are financially empowered.

People may ask, what about the men…when are we going to include the men. What is your response to that?
I will clarify that with women in finance what we want to achieve is positive change across all the segments of the society. But we are very happy to work with and for men as well as for women. For example, it isn’t only women who are financially excluded, a large proportion of our youth are also financially excluded. We have about 70% of Nigerians that are under the age of 30, a significant proportion of them do not actually have skills that they can sell and some do but are not gainfully employed. So we are not going to be focused exclusively on supporting and developing women. What brings us together is that we are women in finance. But we want to work to bring about positive social change in every way that our unique skills allows us to. The fact that we are women probably means that we will work better with women and we might understand women’s issues more and the share enormity of the gender gap makes a compelling case for us to work a great deal with women but we are not focused exclusively on gender issues.

We have talked about advocacy roles and other roles Women in Finance (WIF) NG will play but how will this evolve? In the next 5 years what would you like for Women in Finance NG to have accomplished?
Five years from now I would like to be able to trace significant improvement in levels of financial literacy and financial inclusion, first amongst our women then youth and the larger society. We’d also like to have become a distinct and recognised voice for development issues and development related issues at national levels and even spreading to other parts of Africa. Five years from now as a result of our activities, we’d like to see the level of representation of women at senior levels, first of all in the finance industry and across other leadership positions and areas of governance to be significantly higher on account of the activities of Women in Finance. We’d also like to see significant economic growth that can be attributed to what we and groups like us, and groups that have been in existence before us such as WIMBIZ. We essentially want to join hands with groups like that and be able to say that level of representation of females on boards and not just as non executive directors but also in executive management and leadership first within the financial industry and the larger private and public sector has grown appreciably on account of our efforts and activities.

We’ve talked about the broader agenda and the commonalities within WIF, but what are some of the common challenges that women in this sector face? OTS- There are some cultural attitudes that have grown over time that tend to think when you are discussing money and financial issues, you speak to a man. There is however no basis in truth for some of those assumptions. In many homes, women are increasingly trusted to be frugal and make money stretch further and to be more calculated and restrained in managing funds and allocating resources available to the family. So I think women are better money managers than the society gives them credit for. Some of the other challenges are the narrative and profiling that is contrary to the progress of women. Overtime, because of our original cultural attitudes there is a negative profiling and perception of women not only by society and by other women when they aspire for leadership positions but women also have negative perceptions of themselves, in terms of how they view their own chances and the roles that they aspire towards in the industry.

So sometimes coming together helps us to affirm ourselves. One of the things we will also be able to see when we come together is remind ourselves of the accomplishments of women that have gone ahead of us- CEOs and chairmen of banks that are acquitting themselves creditably in the business. Women like Chief Mrs Onikepo Akande who is the President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry and has brought significant impact to the activities of the Chambers in the last year or so. Chief Mrs Bola Kuforiji-Olubi who was the first Nigerian bank chairman, women who have been bank chairmen and are still active in the industry till today like the chairman of African Prudential Registrars who is one of my mentors, Mrs Chief Eniola Fadayomi.

Also our work within the financial sector is very demanding and it sometimes throws up conflicts between the demands of the work and family responsibilities and our social life. Again that has birthed some of these perceptions overtime such as you cannot be successful in the financial industry and also be happy at home. Which is a big lie. So engaging with younger women and making them understand that they can meet the demands of the job and still have a good work life balance. Capacity gaps also exist across the industry and sometimes inadequate opportunity for relevant training and skill acquisition. So even as we engage as women in finance, overtime we will work together to make sure we make available the right skills and attitudinal training that women need to be the best in this industry.

What sorts of relationships will exist between the members of WIFNG, asides from mentorship what other kinds of relationships would you like to see fostered within the platform?
We expect that there will be opportunities for peer to peer networking including opportunities for women to recommend one another as well as to sell and cross sell our products to each other on an open platform kind of basis. We will maintain a database of women who are in finance, where they are and what their skills and abilities are, in a way that when each of us has a gap within our organisation and we are looking to fill positions, we can extend the opportunities to one another. And that becomes an opportunity to help each other up.

Women in Finance NG also aims to build friendships, which are often overlooked. Due to the huge demands of our sector and the responsibilities of our specific jobs, a lot of us do not socialise enough. We all need to relate with others. We need to refresh, recuperate and revitalise ourselves. So those are some of the relationships that we see developing. Business relationships, personal relationships, networking links and mentoring relationships. I think women need relationships at the very least across three levels with other women. We need senior women that advice us, mentor us and sponsor us. We need peers that we share perspectives with and bounce ideas by and help one another. We also need up and coming women, that we ourselves can mentor. I think in every woman’s life these three levels of relationships at the least should be represented.

We’ve talked about challenges that women face but what are some of the mistakes that women in finance are making?
One of our mistakes is when we stop growing. We must never allow ourselves get to a level in which we think we know it all and there is no room to learn. We must be constantly hungry for more knowledge to develop ourselves. We underestimate and second guess ourselves and sometimes we don’t reach high enough. And these are not necessarily exclusive to women in finance. I am really talking about how women tend to behave in the work environment and in the business world. I think we don’t ask enough, whereas men do not seem to have much hesitance about making a demand or asking for what they want. Women tend to reluctant to ask for a raise or ask for a higher position or for a new job or simply to ask for help. We are afraid to ask other women for help because we think they are going to snub us or judge us, or expose our weakness. We are afraid to ask men for help because we think they are going to take advantage of us. So who else is left? We want everyone to think that we are on top of our game but meanwhile every human needs help. We need to get rid of some of these preconceived notions. Sometimes we are not assertive enough. We are not expressive enough in terms of stating our opinion and position. Sometimes instead of being firm and articulate we can get angry unnecessarily. Also thinking in life it’s either this or that. Many times in life some of the tradeoffs we are making are totally unnecessary.

What do you wish you knew when you started your career that you know now?
I wish I knew that you needed to ask. I wish I knew that you will not just get things because you were qualified for them or you had worked for them or deserved them. I wish I knew earlier that if you wanted something you need to ask, pitch and fight for your shirt, so to speak. I wish I knew that there was a place for you to be quietly effective and a place for you to project yourself. I wish I knew that earlier.

What’s the difference?
OTS-There is no difference but essentially I think you need to be able to do both. If you are effective all the time but you are not conscious of your personal or organisational brand then some of the opportunities will still pass you by, even though you are doing all the right things. I have discovered that it pays better to determine what you want to do and declare it. Even as an organisation, which is what we (United Capital Plc) are doing by supporting Women in Finance NG. Say ‘this is what we are about and this is what we are going to do’ and proceed to execute on those plans and then come back and restate that as we said, ‘we have done this’.

But if you don’t do that pre and post declaration and you simply do it, unfortunately many times what you started out doing and which you may even have done better than others gets unnoticed. Someone else comes and simply looks at what you have done, reproduces and brands it and you will be arguing till tomorrow that this is your initiative and nobody believes you. So there must be a balance. But I must emphasise that you must execute. Because if all you do is make a lot of noise and nothing gets done or what gets done is not of high quality, it would have been better to stay quiet.

What is your advice to women across the entire value chain of the financial sector?
My advice is don’t try and live someone else’s life. Live your own life. Take the time early enough to get quiet and determine who you want to be and where you want to go and go for it, don’t stop until you get there. Don’t get distracted along the way or abandon your aspirations because of a rumour or what happened to some else. Just live your own life and be happy living it.

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