To ensure more women are represented at the management level, Lafarge Africa Plc has introduced an inclusion programme to actualise such aspiration. Director of Organisation & Human Resources, Lafarge Africa, Fidelia Osime, speaks with Kunle Aderinokun on the inclusion programme and addresses issues that border on the place and role of women in the workplace

Lafarge Africa introduced an inclusion programme that is aimed at giving 35 per cent of representation to women at management level by 2030. Currently speaking, what percentage of this number has been achieved?

One of the first things I must say is that in LafargeHolcim, the diversity target in terms of gender is now 30 per cent. So, 30 per cent by 2030 at management level is the target and today in Lafarge Africa we are at the leadership team level at 36 per cent. So I must say that we are doing well here in Nigeria and tracking quite well too at the global level.

So what is the driving force behind this programme?

The initiative behind the programme actually came from the Group. I recollect that when I first joined; it was just being put forward. It was recognised that we did not have many women at management levels, and, research has shown that where you have women at management levels an organisation tends to do better. I am sure that you will agree with me that there are characteristics that women have but men do not have and also, that men have and women do not have. So it is good for us to be complementary and to actually balance things. So it is always good to have the insight and to make sure that you have other people’s views. This is one of the things behind the diversity programme in LafargeHolcim globally.

Is the inclusion programme only targeted at women on management level or are structures in place to accommodate less qualified women who are unable to attain management level within the company?

Let’s remember that there is a pipeline in the business; which we call the talent pipeline. For women to get into management positions, they have to be coming from somewhere within the system. We don’t consider recruiting and bringing people in from outside as our first option, but we want to groom our people through the system. This way, they turn out to be well-rounded people with full understanding of the values, people and the culture of the organization as they move into the management cadre.

Yesterday, for example, we were gathered together at Protea in Ikeja, celebrating International Women’s Day. It was an in-house event where we had women from Ashaka in the North-east, Ewekoro, Sagamu and Lagos in South West, our Mfamosing plant in Cross River State. We had about 60 women from across the business – a lot of them engineers. I was particularly touched with the participation of the only female engineer we have in Ashaka.

These are not all women who are currently at management level, but they are women who have got potential. We deliberately look out for women and develop them through the system. The importance attached to this is such that at each point, we try to know where the women are and what they are doing. We pay attention to them, so that they don’t drop by the way side.

Are there processes to ensure the continuity of the programme?

Oh! Yes, for sure. When you talk about processes, we have some excellent models. It’s not just the diversity programme, it is a general procedure around talent, which is not just focused on women but on all employees. It is about constantly checking to be sure that we have good talents in every facet of our operations. Where we realize that we have good talent, we want to keep an eye on them and make sure that they run through successfully.

We have mentoring programmes where we identify the women as well. We know that women have some challenges particularly when we send women to the plants. There are challenges because the cement plants are male dominated: they are very masculine in nature. If you have been to the cement plant before, you would see that. And so, we look out for the women and try to ensure that they are very well looked after. Of course we do care for the men, we also make sure that the men are well taken care of.

Globally there is a gap in payment between men and women. Does it apply in Lafarge?

Not in Lafarge Africa, but we do know that in a number of countries, in the UK for example, that exists, and, I know that some legislations have been put in place which comes into effect. So from 2018, it will be almost a criminal thing for there to be the pay gap between a man and a woman doing the same kind of job. We do know that in some places, that gap is as high as 20-25 per cent, but in Lafarge Africa, we do not do that.

I remember vividly that we measured that as one of the qualifying factors when we were applying for the GEIS (The Gender Equality International Standards) Award. And so, we had to look at all women and men in the organization and compare their salaries. With due consideration to some factors like time of joining, experience, performance, we found out quite honestly that there is no difference between the men and the women. In Lafarge Africa, I can say for sure that we do not discriminate.

What are the major challenges or restrictions being faced by the company as a result of the programme?

Of note here is the peculiarity of the industry in which we are involved. It is not just in Nigeria but worldwide, there is a shortage of female engineera. So you find out that even in North America, there have been programmes that have been put in place to encourage female engineers. It is therefore expected that in the plants we need female engineers. If there are no engineers then there is a limit to what we can do.

In the non-engineering functions, for example, sales, marketing, HR, accounting and communications, we have women. In the plants, we have challenges and it gets even more challenging because of the fact that the cement plants are located in remote areas. So where we have women who are in the plants, then we need to go an extra mile for them because the remote areas are not always attractive even for the men and, sometimes a woman is there and her husband says “this is not working for the family”. So those are some of the challenges we face.

To promote work and family balance, Lafarge has provided childcare support within and near company sites. What is the nature of the support and how many women are benefitting from this?

The nature of the support is, like you said, child care. What we do is to pay the child support fees. If an employee has a baby between the ages of 3 to 18 months, and the child is put in a crèche which is around the office, we refund the crèche fees. It is important to note that this applies not only to women but also to men whose wives are not in the organization. If they provide the receipts, we also reimburse them because we are an all-inclusive organisation.

What other support programmes are provided for working mothers in Lafarge Africa?

For mothers, we ensure that for the people who return from maternity leave, the general practice of giving one hour time for 3months is maintained. Also, we have a programme that allows women who go on maternity leave for 12weeks to have their annual vacation which is another 5weeks in addition. So it is not maternity leave less annual vacation. So any year you have to go on maternity leave, you also have your 5weeks. If you want to add it to the 12 weeks or if you want to take it separately it is entirely up to the individual.

The other thing that we do also to make sure that we encourage and support the men is the introduction of paternity leave as well.

Cuts in: for how long?

Three days

What has been the impact, positive or negative of the inclusion programme on the company’s performance?

A point to note is that it is a journey that we have just started so it is a bit difficult to say this is the impact on the company’s performance but what I must say is that for me, as an individual and the company’s HR Director, it is something that gives me a lot of joy to go into the plants and see the women. When we look back, there is a world of difference between what we had a few years ago and where we are at today.

I remember sometimes ago, we identified a lady who is an engineer with a lot of potential, amongst men. To make sure she grows and actually becomes successful, we identified another business within Lafarge outside of Nigeria where there is a female quarry manager and we sent her there for some months. Today, she has come back, continued to do better and has been promoted.

Our mentorship programme could be internal or external. When we realize a woman needs the affirmation of another woman to encourage and support her, we do just that and the results have been wonderful.

Assuming a successful inclusion of 30 per cent of representation to women at management level by 2030, are there any plans to increase the percentage after 2030?

For us, achieving a target is not the end of the world. We will not get there and say that’s it. We will continue building on the successes and if we get to a 100 per cent then why not?

What processes have been put in place to bridge the skill gap to make women more viable for management level position?

For the women, it is really important that we identify them and we try to find out exactly what it is that is keeping them from achieving their potential. Sometimes a woman has challenges; her child is sick, her husband is ill. We make sure we support her through the process.

Those are some of things that we actually do to support them. But in terms of the skills and competencies, we give the men the same opportunities we give the women. But sometimes it is about women-to-women mentoring and shadowing a woman who has gone ahead and has been able to achieve success particularly in the kind of industry in which we operate.

Generally how will you describe the current position or status of women in the scheme of things in Nigeria? Have the women arrived?

No, the women have definitely not arrived. I always say this is a journey and I think women need to be given more recognition. It’s not about saying women are responsible for women affairs but it’s about saying there are women who can do great and excellent things, there are women who are brilliant.

I must say that in the banking industry, we are getting a lot more women coming up. There are at least two women who are chairmen of Banks, there is a woman who is the president of the CIBN. We are beginning to get some women CEOs but that is happening more and more in the private sector.

In the government, what we have seen is some steps forward and some backwards. So, where are the women? What kind of recognition and encouragement are they being given? If we want to see the women succeed, there has to be some encouragement and affirmative action to make sure that policy just does not exist on paper but that something is actually being done to make sure that the women are actually part of everything happening in society. Not just things that have to do with the girl child, international women’s day, maternity, child abduction and girl brides. There are much bigger things which I think women need to be involved in. So there is a long way to go, I must say.