Leadway Assurance Canvasses Work-Life Balance

Leadway Assurance Company Limited has called for an increase in work-life integration among women, in order to ensure organisational growth and personal development.

Speaking at a special event to mark the international Women’s Day (IWD) the Director, Human Resources, Leadway Assurance, Kunbi Adeoti, noted that work-life integration allows the control of different components of life in a way that provides control over managing the boundaries of work and personal life.

Adeoti, reiterated the need for every woman to effective strike a balance between work and personal life, in order to help women remain an invaluable asset to family, community and the country.

She said: “For us at Leadway, we recognise the environment in which we operate because we have women in our workforce, and we understand the pressures that they face economically and culturally

“We need to make these women understand how they can navigate in such a way that they balance their lives and become productive both in the home front and in the workplace.

“It’s no longer about work-life balance, but how to integrate between the job and other aspects of life, because we are aware that the work itself is evolving. It is no longer restricted to one location or being in the office.”
In her remarks, the Managing Consultant, Thistle Praxis Consulting, Ini Abimbola, noted that the country has gone beyond just the conversation of giving opportunities to the women.

She stated that women are standing up to take up opportunities, while commending the number of women that voted during the elections and those that were voted for.

Abimbola, added that like other countries, there was need to go beyond talking about these opportunities to ensuring that we make them available.

According to her, “We can look at this year’s theme in two different ways: How to have a gender balance where fifty per cent of our country’s population as men become our strong partners in pushing the gender conversation; and in terms of our lives as women, mothers, wives and career women, and the need to talk about how to (balance all that for) better.

“We have a country that is growing, we are talking of having more women in the Parliament, represented in government and across the boards of private organisations, so when we talk of balance for better, we are looking at balance across board.

“Hence, we are not just looking at work-life balance but work-life integration, how to integrate every aspect of our lives so that at the end, we become better persons, better employees and better citizens of the country.”

Female Executives Launch Advocacy Group for Women in Manufacturing


L-R: Executive Director Personal Banking, Access Bank, Victor Etuokwu; Executive Vice President Unilever Ghana Nigeria, Yaw Nsarkoh; CEO, Thistle Praxis Consulting, Ini Abimbola and CEO Lafarge Africa, Michel Puchercos at the launch of Women in Manufacturing in Africa (WiMAfrica)

As part of efforts to strengthen and inspire women in their chosen career especially in the area of business, Science and Technology, an independent non-partisan organisation, the Women in Manufacturing in Africa (WIM Africa) has been birthed in Lagos.

Speaking at the ceremony, the Ogun state Commissioner for Agriculture Mrs. Adepeju Adebajo who pioneered the idea while she was managing director of Lafarge Africa Plc said WIM Africa will inspire women to grow, learn, share and inspire each other for the growth of the manufacturing sector.

Another founding member of WIM Africa the Director of Communications Public Affairs and Sustainable Development, Lafarge Africa, Mrs Folashade Ambrose-Medebem said that WIM Africa will ultimately encourage girls to take keener interest in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects in primary and secondary schools as a way of growing the pipeline of women that take up careers in the manufacturing sector.

The Executive Vice President Unilever Nigeria and Ghana Yaw Nsarkoh said, “Africa stands to benefit tremendously if more women are empowered to hold leadership positions in manufacturing and other sectors. The manufacturing sector offers opportunities for women to make their contributions to its development and the continent as a whole.”

The orgainsation believes that while cultural biases and misconceptions have been driven by both men and women, the onus is on women to challenge the status quo through consistent excellence in their chosen fields.

WIM Africa hopes to inspire and attract more women to the manufacturing sector through advocacy, mentorship and direct support for worthy causes and initiatives.

Growing CSR spend amidst poor consumer satisfaction

In engaging with the publics and its customers to get goodwill, companies use different platforms and strategies. One of such is the execution of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects and programmes. Many Nigerian organisations are also not left out in this regard.CSR

Although many corporate entities have been executing CSR projects and programmes over the years, some public relations and CRS experts have argued that such programmes and projects couldn’t be truly classified as CSR efforts. To them, such projects, when executed are geared towards further boosting an organisation’s profitability instead of providing answers and alleviating problems in a given community. At best, they argue that such projects could only be better described as philanthropy or giving back to the community.

It is often said that most of the firms only execute programmes that give them immediate returns and media mileage. When such efforts do not yield such fruits, they are usually not willing to commit further resources into them for continuity.

Recently, at an event meant to reward companies committed to CRS programmes and projects in Nigeria, the award promoter noted that Nigerian businesses should be commended for its commitment to CSR projects, as CSR spend has grown by about 1000 percent in the last decade.

While speaking at the annual SERAs Awards, Mr. Ken Egbas said about N47.8 billion was spent on CSR programmes by Nigerian firms last year. According to him, when the award started eight years ago, only N600,000 million was the aggregate one-year spend on CSR.

He maintained that CSR has become a critical part of businesses in Nigeria because organisations now know that they need it to survive and gain mileage in society.

Ironically, within the last one decade that CSR spend has grown by about 1000 percent, there had been increased complaint of poor services and product satisfaction by end-users. Yet, an organisation that is truly committed to corporate social responsibility should know that it starts from within the organisation in terms of the quality of the services and products it offers the market.

Asked to examine the CSR sector in Nigeria, Lead Consultant/CEO, ThistlePraxis Consulting Limited, an organisation committed to sustainable CSR issues, Ini Onuk, said that she would rather attempt to describe the pulse of the sector at the moment because although there are indeed many organisations with intent to do CSR, they are largely misled or ill-advised and as such they are still stuck with philanthropy and charity.

She disclosed that her company has substantially contributed and invested in awareness, information resource and elevated the discourse of CSR to promote its international tenets and principles as well as its proper integration into organisational strategy.

“But in spite of this, there are very a few organisations that are retroactively integrating CSR but do little or nothing to report their activities. This is because they want to shy away from a false perception of increased scrutiny and expectations, which may be accompanied by more demands from stakeholders.”

She said, “In addition, CSR is still the most popular concept and this makes sustainability a more holistic approach of competitive value and social responsibility, which are inherently the same but practised across public and non-profit sectors, more distant. Due to the absence of regulation on practice spend or even reporting, CSR is yet to attain the needed level of compliance to drive widespread impact.

“At the moment, only the financial services subsector is adequately regulated by CBN through Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP). Other key sectors begging for regulation include oil and gas, manufacturing, logistics/transport/haulage, service delivery, telecoms, etc.”

In summary, Onuk argued that while CSR is growing very slowly, it is still far from its potential due to the size of the country’s economy and relevance of the business environment across the continent and in the world.

To her, what is required to maximize the potential in the sector is a national framework on CSR to guide organizations, across public, private and non-profit sectors, on a minimum compliance level and reporting standard in order to mobilize substantial contributions and impact to sustainable sevelopment.

And with the acclaimed growing spend on CSR projects and programmes but poor services, products and customer satisfaction, Onuk felt that what is not being taken into cognisance by Nigerians, including media professionals, is determining how much organisations really spend on CSR projects.

According to her, “That is the only sensible explanation for the purported increase in spends, yet dwindling impact and lack of improvement on service delivery across board. From our independent observation, we have ascertained that many organisations inflate their spends on CSR to lobby for tax rebates, compete for awards albeit in an almost non-structured industry and promote their brand reputation and goodwill. What is seemingly amiss is what the media – as whistle-blowers and report readers – must assist the industry to reconcile”.

Also speaking on the claim of growing CSR spend in Nigeria in the midst of poor consumer satisfaction, Principal Consultant, Integrated Indigo, a public relations firm, Bolaji Abimbola, said the organisers of SERAs Award must have data to back up such the claim. He noted that though CSR is about doing good, it should definitely not be at the expense of the quality of goods and services delivered to the customers.

He argued that there was no amount of CSR project that could help project good public perception and image for any company offering poor services to its customers, noting, “I think it is a case of misplaced priority for organizations to neglect their core responsibility to their customers or consumer by delivering poor value and quality service and spend heavily on CSR.

“From a strategic PR point of view, I think it is better for such companies to redirect such investment into ensuring that their customers are satisfied first before thinking of buying goodwill through CSR.

“This is because when the chips are down, the customers will not stick with you based on the amount you invest in CSR but rather based on the quality of service that has been rendered vis-a-vis competition in the marketplace. This is not in any way to undermine the importance of CSR as a veritable PR tool to seek, win and sustain public goodwill”.

On why Nigerian organisations place more emphasis on community development above customer satisfaction, which should be the primary reason for setting out, Abimbola noted that he would not want to jump into hasty conclusion because what was seen from the outside might not be the true reflection of what the companies were doing internally to ensure customer satisfaction.

“For instance, we may not have the figure/value of what a telecoms company is investing in service upgrade and improvement to ensure better services, but some of us are privy to the CSR spend,” he said. “It may be erroneous to then conclude that they are actually giving more attention to CSR than customer satisfaction.

“You may be shocked that the CSR spend may not necessarily represent one per cent of the spend to improve quality of service unless we are advocating that companies should completely jettison CSR until they achieve the impossible 100 per cent customer satisfaction”.

On his part, another Public Relations Practitioner, Mr. Lekan Babatunde, felt it incongruent to have CSR growing while the primary service of organizations to its customers was ebbing. He noted, “For me such situation will always have an adverse effect on the company in the long run. This becomes evident at the brand’s moment of truth. This is the critical time when the consumer takes the decision because he experiences what the brand is or offers first hand, unmediated.

“He becomes rational and follows his heart based on the experience he has with the brand. So, if the CSR budget goes up and the primary service to customers is neglected, it portends a bad omen for the brand or organisation that indulges in such unhealthy habits.”

For him, while it is good to be CSR-compliant, organizations must not take customer service for granted. “It should be its reason for being. It is when the business survives and continues to be in business that CSR becomes profitable and beneficiaries can enjoy it the more.

“Customer service is a primary responsibility expected from organizations to its customers while CSR is secondary. You do not put a cart before the horse. It can’t and would never work that way,” Babatunde said.

Women need to increase in professionalism— Ini Onuk

IniIf you as a woman were asked to count the stars on your crown that tell the story of each woman you have helped to come up the ladder, how many stars would you have on your crown?. . . This powerful question was posed to me by Ini Onuk, Executive Secretary of WIMBIZ (Women in Management and Business), during the recent interview she granted me.

WIMBIZ was formed to encourage and facilitate the interaction between women corporate executives and entrepreneurs. The organization’s overriding vision is “to be a catalyst that elevates the profile of women in management and business.” This vision was born out of a desire to assist women in dealing with the manifold challenges they face in the workplace. WIMBIZ seeks to enable women in business to fulfill their potential and be meaningful contributors to economic development. They also aim at improving the success rate of female entrepreneurs and increasing the proportion of women in senior positions in corporate organizations.

As Executive Secretary, Ini Onuk oversees the formulation of overall policies, strategies, plans and budgets; advises the Board of Trustees and carries responsibility to deliver the WIMBIZ vision.

Ini is an excellent speaker, passionately authentic, willing to tell her story. She is also the author of two books: The Eagle’s Dance (2010), in which she uses her own “painful and almost intolerable” early experiences to show that each of us can be an eagle by “persever[ing] through all odds” and the soon-to-be-released Break the Alabaster: Release the Fragrance, reflections about “the woman and all her gifting.”

I am grateful for organizations like WIMBIZ and courageous women like Ini. I share their goal of advocating for gender equality. This week, I invite you to join me in learning from Ini about the valuable work WIMBIZ is doing.

What are some major challenges women currently face in the workplace?

First, despite the equal intake of women and men at the entry level of most organizations, very few women make it to the top. The glass ceiling is a reality. Organizations may not actively discriminate against women, but they do not adequately understand or address the challenges that women face at work. The result is the loss of a critical highly skilled portion of the workforce.

We also have to deal with a patriarchal society that still sees women more as wives and mothers and small time business owners than as a strong economic and governance force.

Can you give us some specific examples of issues that organizations are not adequately addressing?

Yes. In the past several years we have met with several CEOs and other policy makers to hear directly what they thought to be the critical issues for women in management and business. We also hold periodic meetings to discuss solutions. One key need women have is to be able to work flexi-hours. Another is for daycare facilities within organizations. A third is additional opportunities for training.

From your perspective, what training do business women seem to need most?

I’ll say Leadership and Corporate Governance; for small businesses, Finance Management, and Entrepreneurial Skills. Most women-owned businesses are unable to access funds for bigger business opportunities as they grow, because the women who started them did not understand the importance of putting proper structures in place from the word go.

Also, women need to increase in professionalism. If you are at home, be at hometry not to bring work home. If you are at work, try to ensure that you give your best at it. And do away with being overly emotional in the workplace. Men respect intelligent women who know how to be professional and not sentimental.

Has WIMBIZ been able to offer any training opportunities?

So far, we have partnered with Fate Foundation on trainings for women entrepreneurs. Plans are currently underway for our leadership training series early next year. Of course, we hold our Annual Conference, and we have established a mentoring program that provides informal training at an individual level.

With a view to increasing our ability to offer more for women, WIMBIZ cooperates with other women’s organizations. We are the Nigeria hub for the Africa Business Women Network (ABWN). The ABWN seeks to link businesswomen’s associations in several African countriesNigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana and Ugandato raise the profile of women in the private sector, highlight women’s contributions to economic development, and provide global networking opportunities through the Vital Voices Global Leadership Network. In addition, ABWN member organizations participate in the Corporate Ambassadors Program, which brings the world’s most powerful business women to Africa to do training and networking.

Can you give a recent example of an event ABWN put on for the Corporate Ambassadors Program?

In November 2009, ABWN provided us with Corporate Ambassador Kathy Reiffenstein to attend the Annual Conference/Corporate Ambassadors Programme. We also had a few international business women attending from the U.S. and Ghana. We hope to increase that number this year, as ABWN recently linked up with NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) in the U.S. We are eager to explore new opportunities.

These young girls can learn to focus on the bigger picture.

How can a woman maintain work/life balance as her career and family grow?

This is an ever-present question. We have used it as one of our Roundtable discussion topics. We have also addressed this issue of maintaining balance under themes like “Sustaining Success,” “The A-Z of Self Development” and “Empowered or overpowered?”

Personally, I think you can never really balance things 50/50, but women are good at juggling. We can and do juggle responsibilities of work and home. We must give the best we can where we are at any given point in time.

What do men need to understand, and what can they do to support their women to success?

It is extremely important for every woman that the man in her life supports her vision, her dream, her ambition. A woman who has the support of her partner/spouse is easy to recognize because she is all out and ready to conquer the world. Once a man realizes that the woman’s success is not in competition with his, life becomes easier for both of them.

On the other hand, I have heard a lot of women say your partner/spouse is key to a woman’s success and I could not agree less. Women need to know that getting to the helm of their careers is determined by the level of their aspirations.

What will help women to break through the “glass ceiling”?

Hard work. . . . Focused self development. . . . Professional restraint of emotions in the workplace. . . . Resilience. . . .Taking risks; for example, being willing to consider riskier and unconventional positions.

What do you mean by riskier and unconventional positions?

Very few women would be seen as being able to work on an oil rig or to become the head of a shipping council, for instance. We also need more women in construction, real estate and other related industries.

Can you give an example of women who are finding success in the workplace by taking on this type of position?

Yes. More and more women are now owners of fishing trawlers.

Do you have any parting words to offer to women in the workplace?

Gender mainstreaming, even though loudly talked about, is still not going to happen if we don’t get up and make it happen. We have to work twice as hard to get what we want and where we want to go. So we must clearly define our desires and our valuesand then chart a clear path. And let me say, practically

If you as a woman were asked to count the stars on your crown that tell the story of each woman you have helped to come up the ladder, how many stars would you have on your crown?

It was Madeline Albright who said, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women. Strong words to consider! Thanks to you, Ini, and to the women of WIMBIZ for joining together to help women “come up the ladder” to success. Your work is an inspiration!