Ogbue: Organisations Must Promote More Women Leaders for Inclusive Future

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Mrs. Funmi Ogbue is the Managing Director, Zigma Limited and President, Women in Energy Network. In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, she explained why organisations should promote more women leaders and create a culture of conscious inclusion saying the move will go a long way in building the desire, insight and capacity of people to make decisions for an equal and inclusive future, among other issues. Excerpts

Women seem to have been relegated to the background in the country, in what ways do you think they can be given a voice?

Women can be given a voice if more economic opportunities are opened for them. Economic opportunities for women is important not just because women can earn money for the home, but because such opportunities empower them to impact the entire society. Additionally, as women have a dual role of raising a family the more technology becomes available to them the more they can explore more economic activities that can provide that flexibility for them to work from home, have flexible hours and cottage manufacturing. Another step that can be taken to give women a voice, is to improve the access for girls to education. It is obvious that women are under-represented in the roles that are growing the fastest; notably STEM and roles most susceptible to disruption by automation. If we don’t intervene, the imbalance will accelerate further. There has been a lot of advocacy by non-governmental organisations to fight the root causes of gender inequality in education. However, more conscious effort on the side of federal and state governments is required. A third way will be to address violence against women and girls in the country. Many countries have adopted progressive legislation on violence against women but many laws are not enforced as the public are largely unaware of them, and structural weaknesses in police and judicial systems deny women access to justice and render laws ineffective. Remedies will include improved legal systems, institutions, and services. Another way I think women can be brought to the fore, is that people in top leadership including female-folk, must ensure women are not left behind in the work place. While women and men enter the workforce in roughly equal numbers, women fall behind in promotions from the very first step on the management ladder. As leaders, we all need to demonstrate this is a business priority by what we say, what we do, what we measure and how we lead. The single most powerful thing an organization can do to promote more women leaders, is to create a culture of Conscious Inclusion; building the desire, insight and capacity of people to make decisions. Lead, think and act with the conscious intent of including everyone. At the dawn of the 2020s, we can’t remain rooted in the past. We must hit the accelerator to build an equal and inclusive future.

What strategic role do you think women can play in energy value chain?

Various studies suggest that the energy sector remains one of the least gender-diverse, with sparse female representation in technical and field roles. Women currently represent a fraction of the oil industry’s workforce and are even scarcer in engineering and other technical fields that are the lifeblood of the sector. If you narrow that down, you find that women constitute less than 20 per cent of the workforce in Nigeria’s oil and gas and even smaller percentage in terms of women CEOs. Despite this uninspiring statistics, we must not lose sight of the strategic roles women are already playing in the energy value chain. The few women that are top of the industry have been outstanding women professionals contributing immensely to the energy security of this country. When the barriers that prevent women from having equal access to energy and economic opportunities are removed, significant productivity gains are unlocked. Women can contribute to transforming of the energy sector in their roles as energy entrepreneurs, innovators and decision makers. I think that integrating more women into all levels of the energy value chain will lead to more effective and efficient energy initiatives, have greater return on investments and expand opportunities in the sector. Women tend to take more nurturing and long term in their decision-making abilities vis a vis short term considerations. There should be deliberate policies of government to encourage women content in the award of contract and tenders. If the many barriers to entry in the corporate market for women is removed, it broadens the space for job creation and community development.

Considering the fact that women are underrepresented in the energy sector, how do you close the gap?

It is very simple. More women should be promoted to leadership positions in the sector where their authority and influence can have a substantial impact on the industry’s future. There should be an increasing number of women working the government on the regulatory side of the industry, on boards of government parastatals. Governments at all levels must promote women leadership in the energy sector by appointing more women as heads of agencies, parastatals and institutions at sectional, regional and international levels. Private companies can also embrace gender sensitive policies to attract and retain and more importantly attract the benefit of having the perspective and value that women bring to the table. I believe that, as we make the transition to cleaner and more technologically advanced systems, diversity in approaches is critical to driving the inclusive solutions we need to navigate change. If private and public sectors are truly committed to economic and social transformation, they need to come to the table to ensure women are equally represented across the energy value chain. Leaders; women and men alike in the sector, need to gather and explore the causes of the gender gap and assess what can be done to accelerate the participation of women in the rapidly modernizing energy sector. Where women are unable to take up roles, women-owned businesses in the sector need to be given priority in the award of licences for oil blocs, oil lifting, gasoline supplies (DSDP) and other support services in the sector.

Since you co-founded WIEN this year, what efforts have you been making to ensure that women are equipped with the required capabilities to win projects and have access to funding opportunities?

It may interest you to know that WIEN is a network of highly accomplished women across the entire energy value chain with the willingness and capacity to support Nigeria’s vision to deliver power, energy and prosperity to the citizenry.

Our key pillars of focus include but are not limited to the following; Identifying projects and initiatives that will close the energy gap; Spotlighting women owned businesses and women in leadership; Providing a pipeline through which women with capacity could earn leadership positions and Supporting education of the girl child in STEM subjects. As a way to achieve some of these goals, we recently held a breakfast session as part of activities to commemorate the 2020 International Women’s Day. Following that, we were hosted by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, the Group Managing Director of state-owned oil group, NNPC as well as Senator Mohammed Sabo Nakudu, the Chairman at Downstream Petroleum Sector Committee. Our efforts through the visits have started yielding results as all these state actor we engaged, committed to encouraging greater women’s participation in the energy industry by appointing a point person between their offices and WIEN and committing to partner with us to get their female staff to become WIEN members, as well as support our future programmes. We are partnering other non-profit organisations, and the private sector to create sustainable solutions and inspire change. We are proud to highlight women, stories, and projects that are making a difference and creating opportunity for more women in the sector. Over the next few years, WIEN expects to impact thousands of women in the country. To cushion the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown and also maximise the opportunities brought by the pandemic, we are working on hosting webinars and virtual events to provide our members with networking, educational, and leadership development opportunities.

What has been the impact of some of your programmes you have been championing on your members and women in general?

WIEN and its members are doing a lot collectively and individually to join hands with NNPC and the Nigerian government to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. As the leading women’s association in the energy value chain, WIEN has pledged to donate test kits and lab equipment as well as boost the testing capabilities of government, all of which we are currently working to deliver. Our members through their individual companies are making donations in consignments of medical consumables, logistics facilities as well as providing free food items. For instance, Zigma Limited which I lead as the Managing Director has been working on supplying medical equipment and doing advocacy for “clean hands” We have been devoting a greater number of our time to strive for more women participation in the energy space. Through WIEN, which is gaining strong momentum and impact in Nigeria, I am looking at championing more programmes devoted to empowering women and strengthening women-owned SME’s in the energy sector.

You run the Support Our Troops Foundation, what influenced its establishment and how would you describe the impact on people over the years?

Support Our Troops (SOT) is the first-of-its-kind charity organization in Nigeria we set up to essentially help to call attention to the sacrifice of soldiers in the frontline, their widows and orphaned children. SOT has been working to draw attention to the sacrifices of soldiers and their families, as well as join hearts with the Nigerian military to protect the territorial integrity of our dear country. It is endorsed by the Ministry of Defence and works closely with the Nigerian Armed Forces. Through the foundation which was founded in 2012, SOT has reached out to hundreds of widows and orphans in the barracks through a variety welfare packages. Through innovative solutions, initiative and determination to empower these widows to become economically self-sufficient. Through SOT, we have started pioneering a micro-credit solution that will improve financial inclusion for hundreds of military families. I see this model as an alternative way to financing greater number of women and efforts are under way to expand the model to more widows and orphaned children.