Nkiru Olumide-Ojo: ‘Including men in gender conversations helps greatly’

Nkiru

Nkiru Olumide-Ojo holds two decades of experience in Strategic Marketing and Corporate Communications Management, looking after multinational and national brands in Nigeria and some African Markets. Her work experience spans across various sectors including Financial Services, Aviation, Telecommunication and the Oil and Gas sectors.

An expert Reputation and Crisis Communication Manager, she currently works as Regional Head of Marketing and Communications at a financial services Group in South Africa. Nkiru holds board level experience having sat on the boards of Stanbic IBTC Trustees Limited and CMC Connect Burtson Masteller.

A frequent Conference Speaker, she was the immediate past keynote speaker at Google Nigeria’s 2019 International Women’s Day celebration. London Advertising Week, Africa Public Relations Conference, and Standard Bank’s Blue Heels Women’s Programme are some of the conferences where she has spoken.

Over the past couple of years, Nkiru has had several recognitions such as Leading Woman in Marketing and Communication in 2016, Marketing Personality of the Year 2017, NIPRO’s top 40 under 40(2008), Brand Journalist of Nigeria’s Award for Leading Marketing Personality amongst others. She holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing Management from the Kingston University Surrey, London, alongside a Post-graduate Diploma in Management/first degree in Biological Sciences, and many professional trainings.

Nkiru is the published author of the Pressure Cooker- Lessons From A Woman at Work. A female enthusiast, Nkiru is keen to see women develop leadership skills and is the Founder of a female social development organization, the LightHouse Women’s Network. Nkiru is married to Olumide and they have two children.

In this interview with GuardianWoman, she sheds more light on the activities of the LightHouse Women’s Network as the organisation holds its annual conference today in Lagos.

You were once described as a person of many parts – tell us what that means?
I’m not entirely sure what the person who was describing meant, but I do strongly believe that everyone has the ability to express themselves in more than one way if they choose to and I do so -wholeheartedly. I’m a wife and Mum. I run a social development agency focused on women, I’m an author/writer and I work at an organisation doing marketing and corporate communications.

Tell us about the LightHouse Women’s Network and why you set it up?
The Lighthouse Network was an accidental baby, one that I’m delighted happened.

As an outcome of my personal frustration trying to be the best mum/wife/daughter/daughter-in-law, church worker/friend and more- I was struggling with many bottles dropping- I kept putting my hands up to ask questions at every female gathering I attended- I felt the answers I was getting weren’t assuaging my needs and so I started expressing myself via a column called the PressureCooker.

The outcome of this column was tonnes of questions coming through- I didn’t have the answers (as I was obviously still searching myself). But I realised I could find the answers within my network- I started bringing women within my network together annually to answer these questions- it’s been six years now and we have made it more formal with various signature activities impacting the working woman and the girl getting ready for the workplace.

Give us a peep into the Network and some examples that have worked for some women that others can learn from
We are five principal players with five diverse board of trustees, cutting across three generations- Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, Bunmi Oke, Olumide Ojo, Eniola Edun and Temitope Jemerigbe. Because impact measurement is important to us, we only embark on specific projects and taking on numbers we can deliver on. We have three signature activities- our “Getting the Girl Ready for the Workplace” project – which we carry out in polytechnics and other higher institutions. The CEO Roundtable where we have senior executives glean directly from a CEO and our Standard Mentors Connect Project. For all of these, we follow through to gauge progress participants have made and our virtual group helps foster continuity. We are so far from where we’d love to be, but we are making progress.

You mentioned the column you kept which you said became a book, tell us some of your personal struggles that you shared in your book
I talked about the maternal wall- and what I call mummy guilt- the one you feel as a working mum who is away from her children. I talked about why sponsorship is so important for women, I talked about the boy’s club, my faith, the error of not managing your boss well and the one dearest to my heart, lessons from failing- specifically about not making moments of failure monuments of failure, rather to learn from it.

What informed the analogy of your book with the kitchen pressure cooker?
Definitely the pressure I was feeling as a working young mum- I consistently felt like I was being boiled in a pressure cooker!

Do you think it would be proper for employers to give working mothers some concession at work?
I do think so for it would improve productivity- and I’m not talking flexible work hours alone, I mean things like breastfeeding room or even crèches, if the company can afford it. The physiology of breastfeeding is such that the mom does need to express breast-milk during work hours and you’d agree the bathroom isn’t the best place. It would be brilliant of the organisation if it can include a crèche to help both get the mothers’ hearts at rest and get more out of them.

As workplace readiness is something the Lighthouse focuses on, what do you think are the top three skills required for the girl to succeed in the workplace?
. Communication – The ability to understand what is being said as well express yourself clearly, confidently-
. Thinking/Problem Solving Skills – the real reason corporates are set up is to solve problems- you’ve got to have the ability to think up solutions. Having the right attitude- completely non-negotiable, as this is a basis for learning and growing within organisations

What in your view precludes women from advancing in the workplace?
I believe sometimes we stand in our own way- I mean our beliefs- that some roles are unattainable and therefore we limit our ambitions. I can assure you if we took a poll of 100 girls working in an office, only 10 per cent are aiming to be CEOs of that organisation- the rest don’t quite care.

The maternal wall also manifests itself in ways that makes the career trajectory a bit uneven as we do take off maternal time. I think in some industries-the boys club still exists- a club where males think some roles are exclusively theirs.

How do you think we can curb the above?
I think by instituting policies in this regard. Some sectors have strong policies requiring businesses to achieve gender-balance in management and this same policy has ensured balanced representation in some countries. Rwandan government has a balanced representation of both genders, with young females holding very interesting positions. Most importantly, I think including men in the gender conversations helps greatly which is why our signature event this year is themed: Views From The Other Side and we are having four generations of men discuss the woman and the workplace. It is our view that only when they know what the issues are can they support wholly.

How have you been able to maintain the work-life balance?
I have a work like integration approach- where I have structured work into my life. Structured because it does have a specific time allocated to it all day round, similar to how I have structured the many other important things in my life- each then takes its order of priority- faith, family, work, socials, but then again there is an art required in the blending. Lastly, I think the frustration comes from trying to do all at once! Some things will have to take a backseat at different times.

As an example, my social life took a back- seat once when I had a fast-paced work, really because I had to balance other facets- I made up for that way later.

What’s your advice for women who are still struggling with it?
Having a good home support system, a supportive spouse. I meet working girls everyday, who have what I think to be the strangest hang-ups such as, “I like to do everything in my house myself,” “I don’t like my in-laws.” I think both are strange hang-ups if you work because you can reasonably outsource the first in order to spend more time on another equally important thing or the latter. Your in-laws can serve as a support system for your children rather than strangers.

With your busy career, how helpful and supportive has your husband been?
My husband works as well and has females in his team, added to myself, his sisters, he does have full “consumer insights” and is fully supportive of the working woman.
Mention some of your favourite female authors.

Brene Brown is my latest hang-up, I’m currently lapping up every book she has written and can’t get enough of her- her authenticity in embracing notions people typically wouldn’t want to talk about completely inspires me-vulnerability and shame. A few of the obvious -Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Attah. Their way with words and the ability to keep you suspended from reality days after you have dropped their books. Otherwise, I love my good old John Maxwell, Norman Vincent Peale- I always have their books around me.

How has mentorship helped to shape your career and lifestyle and how are you helping to mentor younger women?
I actually am a product of many mentors/teachers- bosses, pastors, leaders who have been instrumental to my all round growth – my husband Olumide Ojo, Ephraim Osunde, Funke Felix-Adejumo, Yomi Badejo-Okusanya are the ones for whom I have pulled out a seat to be directly mentored, otherwise, I have been mentored informally by many, especially my bosses and pastors. In return I do have structured mentees assigned from the Lighthouse Women’s Mentors Connect.

Who are the women you admire and why?
Funke Felix-Adejumo-for her uncanny wisdom, Sola David-Borha for her many accomplishments delivered with amazing humility, Mo Abudu, for being many things having made a detour from a corporate life.
Arianna Huffington for being many things after Huffington post. Then a few of the obvious- Oprah for making giving so intrinsic to success. I could go on.

Aside writing what are your other interests?
Poetry (sorry I know you said asides writing) but poetry is a new exploratory ground for me and I’m embracing it. I love comedy festivals and stage performances- I love a good laugh. I’m also exploring a few outdoor sports, I haven’t liked any as yet, but then again, I haven’t been consistent- I’d be a bit more confident to speak around these shortly.

Tell us about growing up, family life.
I grew up in a small family in Port Harcourt.
My dad worked in Total and Brossette before he set up his own business, my mum worked in First Bank before resigning to look after the home. My father it was who instilled values for the workplace in us. Till his death, his first question during his daily call was “ I hope you got to work on time?’’
We grew up in an area called D/Line, with neighbours as close friends, a children’s club on our street and an Anglican church nearby. I loved PHC, with our sharp wits and mouth. I often say PHC imbues you with some natural confidence.

What’s your personal style and what are your favourite colours?
Classic- I’m not given to trends, as I’d like that my look remains timeless. I love colours, I find black so boring and constantly needing to be “brightened up”.

I therefore only wear it to work, once it isn’t a work function or environment- I express myself in bold colours.

What’s relaxation for you?
Sleeping.

Your life’s mantra?
You don’t walk so lightly that you don’t leave footprints- make sure your footprints make a good impact.

Advise for younger women trying to climb the career ladder
You can. There’s also a God factor- he causes “time and chance to happen.’’ You should pray to “be lucky.”

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