Author, Mentor, Public Speaker and Corporate Executive, Nkiru Olumide Ojo is the multi-faceted superwoman who has held the hands of many young career women trying to juggle finding their feet and achieving growth in a typically male-dominated career world.
As one who has risen through the ranks with numerous awards to show for it, Nkiru understands first-hand, what it means for a woman to win regardless of all the odds society has stacked against her. And for this, she has developed a template which she shares through her female social development organization – the LightHouse Women’s Network, her weekly podcast – For the Working girl and her social media platform – @nkiruolumideojo.
A one-of-its-kind support network, the Lighthouse, which prioritises sponsorship, mentorship and access, is Nkiru’s way of ensuring she lives her passion of empowering young women for career readiness. This week, she speaks to Konye Chelsea Nwabogor on her work experience across the continent and the need for a HeForShe movement.
What have you been up to since the Pressure Cooker?
I have been doing various things, still working in financial services on the continent. My work involves helping the country teams stimulate demand for the brand through various actives including social impact management.
Alongside this has been the work I do at the Lighthouse Network, one that I remain so passionate about – which is a marketplace readiness project for young women.
Until we moved virtual following the pandemic, my team and I used to go into various public universities or technical schools to teach marketplace readiness to final year students.
Your work experience has taken you across the continent. What have you noticed are the key issues facing ‘working women’ across?
Indeed it has, I have enjoyed travelling across the continent and meeting many delightsome women – I don’t think I was particularly surprised on my trips to see that our issues are pretty much the same- access to opportunities, a lack of representation in key roles, being able to find the right support system, birthing times being in dissonance with career growth bursts, I think the most bothersome is still speaking with a small voice.
Do you think working women are getting sufficient support?
If you take a comparative view of how many women are being supported vs how many women need to be supported, I would say no, there still is a gap that needs filling.
We need more HeForShe.
What more do you think can be done to get women into the board room?
A lot. If you look carefully everywhere that true inclusion has occurred, it has been though deliberateness, of policies, of actions by the leaders. Rwanda remains the only country on the continent with an equal representation of both gender in the parliament – only a policy could help them get there. The banking sector in Nigeria has made good progress with inclusion at management levels, but only because of the deliberateness of leaders within that sector. So first adjust the policies to include the gender.
I remember sitting in my first board role ever feeling quite intimated unsure of what foot to put forward, I didn’t want a repeat so between that time and the next, I upskilled myself in every lingo of that organization, its books everything. Between that and the support of the board chair, I’d say my contributions were significant, therefore upskilling is an important to do. Being deliberate about upskilling women with the right skills to fill the gaps.
Have you ever experienced gender bias, please share your experience?
To be fair, I have been fortunate to work in multinational organizations who have been quite gender neutral. I’d never forget though, the constant assumption when I worked in aviation. A few years back, every time I told someone I worked ‘in the airlines’ and mostly men, they would ask me, “What routes do you deal” so the assumption was that I was cabin crew not the captain of the flight. This must have changed but that’s as close as I have ever got with gender bias.
Your book The Pressure Cooker: Lessons from a Woman at Work is focused on issues related to women and the workplace. Why the gender related focus?
Between my personal experience and insights from other women, I really wanted every woman to know that behind all those suits are working women with pretty much the same challenges.
Research has shown that women need a little bit more handholding to get to the top.
Another insight I have is that a lot of the things that hold us back as women aren’t always external. They are internal too, so helping us get out of our own way was another objective of the book
So when and how did you become a career coach?
It was one of the outcomes of the pandemic, I thought to myself to make formal through a certification, the support I already provided more women. I have always thought that using a system and structure gives you a better outcomes.
What would you say is the impact you have had on the women you have coached so far ?
One of them is a successful tech entrepreneur today, another is at top management in her organization, same for another.
To be fair, I think my best coaching work has been in helping a young girl who had been battered by workplace wounds to build emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is one of the most underdiscussed issues for women at work in my view.
What questions do they usually want answered?
How can they get ahead in their career?How can they get sponsors or mentors? How can they demonstrate their competence at work? All the way to how can they express themselves beyond their work?
Let’s talk about the light house Network.What sets it apart from other female career support programs?
I’d say access and support. Even though people have passed through our mentorship programme, they still have access to the people, the programme and benefits. I’d add a support network, I recall a young lady who had joined us from the UK who got connected to another person in the UK for the internship she was seeking
Despite what these support groups want us to believe, some people are strongly of the opinion that the whole women supporting women trend doesn’t exist. What’s your take on that ?
Only self-aware women support each other. If you aren’t self-aware, this would only remain a hashtag for you.
If you could advice other female coaches/mentors on how best to handle a mentor/mentee relationship, what would you say?
Tell your story often, another woman may find herself in there. I remember listening to a leading lady talking about how she had struggled to find a support system when she was having her babies and eventually ended up leaving her children at her parents and being a weekend mum only, for months. When I asked her why she never told her story- she said she never thought to tell! Tell your story, another may find herself in there.
Give. You aren’t a great leader until you have raised another leader/leader. Give but keep boundaries still as the human nature is wired towards nonstop taking.
Why is it important to have women in leadership and senior positions?
Research has shown that an organization with women inclusion in the decision making/board rooms, had more improved outcomes than those who don’t.
Do you believe a work life balance is achievable for family women who also want to advance their career ?
I think everyone should go with their life flow as practical as they can. Sometimes, it’d be a 60-40 in favour of work to life. I have found that unless you have debilitating personal habits, the seemingly imbalance is only for a phase.
What are we expecting from you next ? Another book perhaps?
I have since written a personal branding book, I had seen the many misrepresentation of brand building and felt drawn to correct the notion. Brands are beyond logos and headshots. Brand building is about value building.
I do plan another fiction, but between schooling, working and running the LHN, I am going to need some good time to achieve this.
My true north is in social impact, specifically in capacity building. I am wired to see potentials instead of gaps there is a lot we can do to support economies across the continent if we build capacity. On my wish list is to have a HeForShe Club, a club of men who are committed to sponsoring women. We do have patches here and there but it’d be powerful to know that we have a ‘pool’ of them, even better, we may be able also to get views ‘from the other side”