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Building in Heels: Nuggets from 12 Female Career Trailblazers Who Are Challenging the Status Quo

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global annual event that brings the world together on March 8th to recognise and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political contributions of women – while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality. this day and every day, we celebrate and honour the women who break barriers, make a difference and play a vital role across social, economic, cultural and political spheres.  By challenging societal norms, bias & inequality and even themselves, these women are paving the way for other women to thrive in their professional and personal lives. 

 For this year, the theme is #ChoosetoChallenge, and it reminds us that as individuals, we all have a role to play in challenging bias, questioning stereotypes and taking collective action for equality.

To celebrate this important day, at Career Masterclass, we asked 12 female career trailblazers to share their thoughts and insights on how they are challenging themselves to do more and be more as a professional women; and what they are choosing to challenge as a women who want to level the playing field for the next generation of professional women.

 

 

1. Aisha Nkiru Craig, Hybrid Banker, Barclays Bank UK

Aisha is a Corporate Governance professional by day and a beauty enthusiast, podcast co-host and small business owner by night. She currently works with one of the UK’s leading high street banks.  Along with her husband, they offer counsel to couples who are thinking about getting married and have also co-founded SuruLereLove, an online dating service for the discerning African single.

These days I try to focus on being more rather than doing more. I find that both generate activity, but where one is often activity for its own sake, and the other is purposeful, directional and developmental, leading to a greater sense of fulfilment and yields more sustainable workplace progression. My current goals for 2021 are to BE a healthier, happier, more centred version of myself and to bring my best to the work I do every day. 

The long term consequences of this will be greater opportunities for women to balance family commitments with career progression, and a potential increase in female executive level positions in the next decade.

Nkiru Aisha Craig

In the modern workplace, women are less likely to attain the top management positions because of the struggle to balance family commitments with career progression. The list is endless, from maternity to menstruation, and these can negatively impact female growth opportunities in a male-dominated environment. 

Recently, I have been championing the versatility of the female employee in my workspace by demonstrating excellence in a new hybrid role, that combines a 50/50 split between working remotely from home and in-branch, to deliver a tailored service to our clientele. The long term consequences of this will be greater opportunities for women to balance family commitments with career progression, and a potential increase in female executive level positions in the next decade.

 

 

2. Benita Adelore, Head, Human Resources Operations, AG Leventis Group

Benita Adelore has deep functional experience and expertise in Human Resources Strategy, Employee Relations and Leadership Development honed over a decade and a half of shaping multi-sectoral corporations. She serves as a staff counsellor and mentor to a cross section of employees and remains a champion of performance management. Benita continues to thrive at the nexus of corporate excellence, bridging generational knowledge gaps, and facilitating strategic problem-solving skills across the various business units within her current employ.

As a professional woman, you must understand that you have need clusters which if not properly defined and managed will hamper your productivity and your journey towards having a fulfilling career. The need clusters are Self, Family, Work, and your Community.

Self is the most crucial out of all the need clusters. Being a woman comes with a lot of societal pressure; however, what I feed my mind with and how I prioritise my wellness keeps me motivated to take on the other need clusters in my productivity map.

As a professional woman who wants to be more, I keep learning, I stay confident and believe in myself. I don’t hesitate to seek help and will accept my mistakes and learn from them. I strive to be a good example to others and empower other women I am privileged to meet along my journey.   

I am choosing to challenge the culture at the workplace. I believe women should be given equal rights as their male counterparts if they have the same qualifications and requisite skill sets. Phrases such as, “you’re a woman, you’re supposed to do this.” or “you’re a woman, that role is not for you” should no longer be heard by in this day and age. This is the time to speak up, be assertive and remember that our voices are always worth listening to.

 

 

3. Bunmi Adeniba, Marketing Director, Unilever HomeCare

Bunmi Adeniba is an experienced marketing professional and commercial operator with over 2 decades experience that spans across brand building, innovation design, and quality management system. She currently manages the Homecare division of Unilever and sits on the HomeCare Leadership Team for Africa. Bunmi is passionate about women empowerment and raising phenomenal leaders in the marketplace. She holds several formal and informal corporate coaching for mid-level and career starters.

I challenge myself by showing up fully every time, everywhere, being my best and giving my best, realising that I carry the responsibility to hold up a torch for the next girl who walks through the door, blazing in on merit. 

It’s showing up fully every time, everywhere, being my best and giving my best in the realization that I carry a responsibility of holding up a torch for the next girl who walks through the door, blazing in on merit. 

Bunmi Adeniba

I am choosing to challenge that we break out of expectations or any stereotypical character set for us to fit in or be accepted. It is okay to show up – the full package – inclusive of all the emotions that makes us who we are – emphatic, passionate and connected. We ought not be embarrassed by our emotions. Managing them well begins with owning them fully, then deploying them situationally and contextually. The energy expended on bottling emotions up, serves us all better when channelled to the actual work and the results we aim to deliver competently.

 

 

4. Dr. Chonnettia Jones, Vice President, Research at the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research in British Columbia

Dr. Chonnettia Jones has more than two decades of experience in science and health research, strategy and policy in the US, UK/Europe and Canada. Chonnettia is a long-standing mentor of emerging leaders and speaks publicly on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion.

 I’m drawn to challenges that will grow and stretch me. In fact, I’m learning that I thrive in conditions of change and uncertainty. At the start of a worldwide pandemic, I moved internationally to start a new job. Not only have I had to learn to live and work in a new country isolated from my family and friends, but I’ve had to establish professional credibility, virtually and relatively quickly, to make contributions in science and health research that will improve the health and well-being for people and their families during an unprecedented crisis.

I choose to challenge societal stereotypes of women and dominant notions of how women should show up or behave in leadership

Dr. Chonnettia Jones

I choose to challenge societal stereotypes of women and dominant notions of how women should show up or behave in leadership. My leadership style reflects my personal values – trust, authenticity, empathy and inclusion. I have developed an exceptional ability to make deep connections with people to find synergies, and to work through opposing views to find satisfactory compromises. But I am unapologetic for speaking up and challenging the status quo, using my platform to ensure that diverse voices, world views and experiences are brought to bear on decisions that will impact others, particularly those that are underrepresented and underserved. I also give back through sponsorship and mentorship, lending support to the next generation of women who are developing their own leadership platforms.

And, amidst it all, I somehow managed to co-author a book chapter on equitable partnerships in health research to solve societal challenges. It’s been trial by fire, but I’m looking forward to the future, and exploring ways to capitalise on the unexpected new opportunities that have arisen because of a crisis.

 

 

5. Foluso Gbadamosi, Executive Director, Junior Achievement Nigeria

Foluso Gbadamosi is the Executive Director, Junior Achievement Nigeria. Her career spans over 15 years in the Telecommunications, FMCG, Financial Services and Oil & Gas industries. She is also a Transformation Coach who helps individuals on the journey towards becoming the best version of themselves.

I challenge myself by pushing beyond the boundaries of what I consider my ‘comfort zone’ and taking on new challenges. I do this by getting involved in work, projects and programs that stretch me beyond my imagination. I take my Personal Development very seriously and I invest in myself by constantly learning. I also intentionally work on strengthening my strengths and using my energy towards being more productive by focusing on what needs to be focused on and delegating the rest. I also ensure that I network and talk with people who are going where I want to be or have been where I am; I get advice, tips and strategies from them.  Lastly, I make sure I share the knowledge I have with others, connect people and lend a helping hand whenever I get the opportunity to do so.

I challenge myself by pushing beyond the boundaries of what I consider my ‘comfort zone’ and taking on new challenges.

Foluso Gbadamosi

I challenge the underrepresentation of Women in Technology, the notion that life must be lived in a box and there is a standard template for success everyone must follow – especially women! It is very possible to be a successful professional woman, blazing her trail in a male-dominated field, who wears multiple hats successfully. I believe that life comes in seasons and we need to embrace each of these seasons as they come. I also know that it is very possible to be a multidimensional woman in and out of these seasons – following your passion and building the life you want to live as well.”

 

 

6. Fon Browndy, Volunteering Partnerships Manager, Wellcome Trust

Fon Browndy is a community engagement advocate working as a Volunteering Partnerships Manager at the Wellcome Trust. Fon cares deeply about social justice and is a member of a Race Equity Network as well as Anti-Racism Forum. Fon is also part of a Leaders of Colour Network aiming to support and advocate for social change

At work, I make a conscious effort to get involved in projects and programmes outside of my immediate role and often outside of my comfort zone. This is the best way to grow both personally and professionally. I actively try and build networks of people that I can work with, support and in the process learn from.

…by challenging and speaking up, we can hopefully drive social change and make the playing field a little easier for future generations.

Fon Browndy

I am choosing to challenge injustice and inequity when I see it and when I feel it. I am also telling my own personal stories more as this brings to life many issues for people who have no personal experience of racism and discrimination for example. It challenges the view that if you are successful / have a good job / above average salary / are well-travelled – things considered to be privileges it means that you haven’t experienced or can’t have faced discrimination. It also highlights the strength and perseverance it takes to be successful as a woman of colour. But by challenging and speaking up we can hopefully drive social change and make the playing field a little easier for future generations.

 

 

7. Hannah Awonuga, Global Diversity and Inclusion Vice President, Barclays

Hannah Awonuga is a Global Diversity and Inclusion vice president within the Financial services. She has been working for Barclays since she was 17yrs old and for the past 15yrs has spent time in the Retail bank, business and corporate bank before transitioning into Diversity and Inclusion in 2019. Hannah is a certified career coach and spends most of her time outside of work supporting young female professionals to grow and excel their careers.

“For me, it’s important to always reflect on my skills and abilities in order to keep growing and learning. I challenge myself each day to be better than the previous day and continue to learn from the amazing people I have around me.

I am committing myself to the challenge that if I don’t see women who look like me in senior positions, I will become that woman!

Hannah Awonuga

I am choosing to challenge the thought that if you don’t see it, you can’t become it. We often say that we don’t see women who look like us in senior positions. I am committing myself to the challenge that if I don’t see women who look like me in senior positions, I will become that woman! My goal is to become a role model and mentor to the young women who are coming up after me, my advice to them will always be, be fierce, be intentional and believe in yourself.

 

 

8. Kachi Tila-Adesina, Tech Lawyer and Founder, TheUpWomen

Kachi is a multi-faceted woman passionate about all-round growth, purpose and personal development. She’s an in-house lawyer in the technology space advising primarily on exciting startups and innovation. She’s also the Founder of TheUpWomen, a platform and membership community creating space for ambitious women to advance their careers and businesses.

 

I’m challenging myself to always put my best foot forward. As a professional woman wearing quite a number of hats, it can be a bit difficult to fully show up in the different ways necessary at work and in life. To do this adequately means I try to be intentional about prioritising what’s important at the various seasons in my life. I’m setting clear goals, managing expectations, delegating and accepting help. I’m also challenging myself to self-care as you can’t pour from an empty cup. So I’m making time to rest and recharge. I’m challenging myself to growth and to stay learning from the stories and experiences of incredible people around me. Finally, I’m challenging myself to cultivate and build genuine relationships and a supportive network because no woman is an island and together we can do much more.

I’m challenging myself to cultivate and build genuine relationships and a supportive network because no woman is an island and together we can do much more.

Kachi Tila-Adesina

There are quite a number of gaps I’m intentionally choosing to challenge. Generally, I’ll define it as the opportunity gap between where women are and where they want/ought to be in their careers and businesses. I strongly believe women have incredible potential and often only lack the connections, resources, tools, knowledge and opportunities to fully tap into this potential. Through The UpWomen — a digital platform and membership community  — my mission is to connect more ambitious women together, curate expert knowledge, share impactful conversations, opportunities and make space for more women to see what’s truly possible and fully achieve their potential. They can elevate their network, grow their careers and access more opportunities. They can influence policies and practices which trickle down to matters like pay gap, award gap and leadership gap. 

In addition and as a mother, I’m also choosing to challenge maternal bias. Women who choose to have babies should not be penalised in the workforce whether — outrightly or in a subtle way. I’ve personally challenged an organisation’s maternity policy because it seemed to either be a product of (unconscious) maternal bias or simply didn’t take into consideration their women who choose to have children. Finally, there’s the ethnicity bias. It’s important to me as a black African woman, that there’s more adequate representation, and stereotypes and biases are done away with. I choose to educate and challenge these where necessary.

 

 

9. Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde, Head of Brand and Reputation, Google Africa

Jola is the Head of Brand and Reputation for Google in Sub-saharan Africa. She is passionate about technology and its ability to unlock human potential and improve the general good. Working at Google, she has built relationships working in business development across various product areas and leading sales in Nigeria. She is now focused with her team on delivering Google’s commitments to drive economic opportunity in Africa by supporting entrepreneurship, job creation, education and gender equality. She is a strong diversity and inclusion champion, as well as a mentor, and advises on various programmes and boards.

I am challenging myself to do more and be more by strengthening my coaching and mentoring relationships more than ever – learning, unlearning and challenging myself to be an all-round better human. I am intentionally investing in the inner work – examining holistically “this woman in the mirror”. In addition to this, I am continuously learning – reading, listening to audio books (my latest hack), podcasts, masterclasses etc.

I am choosing to challenge the representation of women in STEM by being very deliberate about gender representation from scratch in our programs at Google especially those programmes that are perceived to be too technical…

Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde

I am choosing to challenge the representation of women in STEM by being very deliberate about gender representation from scratch in our programs at Google especially those programmes that are perceived to be too technical, being a role model for younger professionals and girls, sharing my story deliberately and encouraging them to pursue their dreams and be all they can be, as well as advocating, championing, sponsoring, celebrating female leadership in technology.

 

 

10. Obehi Ojeaga, Corporate Communications and CSR Manager, Oando Energy Resources

Obehi Ojeaga is the Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility Manager for Oando Energy Resources. Obehi is passionate about diversity and inclusion where she is a proud member of the Oil and Gas Council: Africa Assembly Women’s Council as well as the Africa Oil Week AOWomen, that aims to close the gender gap in the oil and gas industry.

I am of the opinion that you cannot challenge yourself without first setting clear goals. You must know what you want to accomplish before you can determine how to accomplish it. I am an ambitious and goal-driven woman and in the pursuit of my career goals, to gain the leadership qualities requisite for the actualization of my ambitions, I always ask the question “Am I doing enough; am I a good manager, co-worker, or employee?” These are my power gaps – gaps that robs women like me of what we need most to succeed which includes energy, confidence, clarity, commitment, connection, and influence.

I choose to challenge the barriers to an inclusive workplace; I choose to work towards a level playing field for younger women in my profession.

Obehi Ojeaga

I choose to challenge the barriers to an inclusive workplace; I choose to work towards a level playing field for younger women in my profession. Luckily, an increasing number of women are going into the energy sector, who just need the right nudge, I chose to help them find themselves in the workplace/sector. I don’t take the opportunity I have for granted. So, I choose to pay it forward. I get to sit on advisory boards for conferences in the energy sector, although male dominated, and I’ll continually champion showcasing high visibility of women at industry associations, conferences and events. 

 

 

11. Oyeyemi Aderibigbe, Senior Associate, Templars

Oyeyemi is a Senior Associate at Templars, a leading commercial law firm in Nigeria. She is an experienced business lawyer  with cognate experience advising international and Nigerian clients across different sectors on corporate and commercial law. Oyeyemi is a Non-Executive Director at the Baton Initiative, a social enterprise that works to equip young Africans for success via Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) based programmes geared at financial literacy, language proficiency and family wellness support.

I’m challenging myself not to “cancel myself” every time the state of play does not suit me. The pitch I make to myself daily is to never stop or settle. Starting out my career, my paradigm was that career success was a sequence of sprints and spurts of energy highs and I would not give myself permission to try again anytime it did not play out this way.  I have since learnt that career success is a marathon and to do more and be more, I must give myself permission, time and again to stay in the game no matter what. 

I have since learnt that career success is a marathon and to do more and be more, I must give myself permission, time and again to stay in the game no matter what. 

Oyeyemi Aderibigbe

There is a lot that we leave on the table as women either because we do not recognise what is ours, or we are too scared to ask and the environment as is, tells us we are not qualified yet. As I grow, I keep pushing myself towards redefinition and reiterating the fact that there is NOTHING that disqualifies a woman from leading, thriving, having money, owning her narrative or simply basking in her greatness. 

 

 

12. Shamraz Begum, Co-Lead of the Racial Equality Taskforce &  Global Co-Chair Multicultural Network, Natwest Group

Shamraz has over 19 years of experience within NatWest Group working in several leadership roles and is a trusted advisor providing coaching and consultancy to senior leaders across the bank to improve their effectiveness and strategic impact. She is on a mission to challenge inequality and build a better future, one where the richness derived from diversity is valued, an inclusive society where everyone is given equal opportunity – a society where everyone thrives.

Do you recall those awkward moments, shocked at the innuendo and the condescending comments, feeling sick in shock and embarrassingly laughing it off? That was me a few too many years back, but not now, not anymore! I make it my responsibility to stand up and call things out no matter how uncomfortable it is. I cannot, we must not ignore things that are totally not OK!  We must stand up to make a difference and challenge others to do the same.

We must challenge gender inequality and understand the intersectionality of the added barriers that come with racial inequality for women of colour.

Shamraz Begum

On what I’m choosing to challenge,  it’s making sure that all women are given equal opportunity to thrive. We must challenge gender inequality and understand the intersectionality of the added barriers that come with racial inequality for women of colour. Gender and Racial Equality must be intertwined in all that we do. Every woman of colour should be able to see herself when we stand up for Gender Equality. It’s every woman’s responsibility to come together to combine all our voices – now that’s powerful! Invest in each other and empower each other, relentlessly support another woman to see it and believe it! Sponsor a woman who does not look like you or cannot be seen amongst the women you champion! Empowered women empower women.