A 2018 report by consulting firm, Deloitte on “Women in the Boardroom” ranked Nigeria 10th out of 60 countries surveyed in the report. Nigeria has 21.2 percent of women represented in boardrooms in the country, (the first ranked country has 42 percent). Though this capped the effort of many women in Nigeria advocating for more women representation in Nigerian boardrooms, it proved the amount of work needed to be done to close the gap for more inclusiveness of women.

On Tuesday, Women in Management, Business & Public Service (WIMBIZ), a business network for Nigerian women in business, held its 13th CEO/Policymaker Interactive Breakfast series at the Wheatbaker Hotel, Lagos. The Breakfast meeting, with the theme “Hidden Figures: The Cost of Exclusion”, featured high-level discussions that examined how far Nigeria had gone in implementing policies that would engender women inclusion in politics, businesses and boardrooms.

The discussions were moderated by Biola Alabi, founder and Managing Partner of Biola Alabi Media, and featured panel sessions that had some of the country’s more experienced and diverse board room executives. They include Mr Paul Gbededo, Group Managing Director and CEO, Flour Mills of Nigeria; Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Representative, Nigeria and ECOWAS; Hamda Ambah, Managing Director/CEO FSDH Merchant Bank; Hakeem Muri Okunola, Head of Service, Lagos State Government.

Despite the report from Deloitte placing Nigeria 10th from a list of 60 countries, Nigeria has a poor record for women inclusiveness. In politics, Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of female representation in parliament, with 6 percent of its parliament members being women. In business, while there are more women heading startups and being part of workforces, they are scarce in areas that matter the most; boardrooms. Only around 12 percent of board directors are women in Nigeria.

However, while countries around the world have been able to quantify how much women exclusion costs their economies, Nigeria doesn’t have any definitive data on that, a point the WIMBIZ event moderator made yesterday. “There’s actually no data on the cost of women exclusion in business in Nigeria” Bola Alabi said.

Legislation for more women inclusivity and political will to make those legislations have been given as solutions to exclusion. According to Comfort Lamptey, UN Representative in Nigeria, who spoke at WIMBIZ, this is the only way to ensure that women are not excluded from places of power. “Legislation is key & an important starting point for more women inclusiveness. Legislation can’t happen without political will. It’s important to have leaders that believe in the inclusion of women in decision making” she said.

She also stressed the importance of giving women quotas in the ministerial cabinets for gender balance. African countries that have successfully done that include Rwanda, Ethiopia and recently South Africa. These countries all have at least 50 percent of their ministerial cabinet as women. President Buhari appointed only six women into his ministerial cabinet in 2015, much less than 50 percent of nineteen available cabinet positions.

Lagos state, Nigeria’s commercial capital would be the fifth largest economy in Africa if it was a country. It owes much of its success stories to women. Lagos state government has more than 57,000 women on its payroll, about half of its total workforce. According to the state’s Head of Service Hakeem Muri Okunola, Lagos state values the inclusion of women in its workforce. “There are 57000+ women in Lagos state civil service. This means that they are already positioned to rise…We realise the cost of exclusion of women from the government is high,” he said.

However, there are limitations to women inclusivity. For women, the road to the top of the pyramid, to “breaking the glass ceiling,” is harder. Women have to do twice as much as their counterparts, while also receiving few opportunities to do so. Hence, it’s good to have women in your business, but it’s also important they receive as many opportunities to advance their careers as men.

Flour Mills of Nigeria CEO, Mr Paul Gbededo told the audience at the event that companies should begin to set a target for women on boards because it has worked well for the country’s financial sector. At least 3 of the biggest commercial banks in Nigeria are headed by women. He also said fear is a reason why many women are not given opportunities. “The fear of failure is one of the reasons why many women are not giving opportunities in senior roles. Decision makers need to overcome this fear,” he said, advocating for companies to actively train women for higher positions.

“We (Flour Mills of Nigeria) have started a mentoring programme for women who work in the company; to be able to build their confidence and help them chart their career path in the company. We can’t afford to exclude women,” he concluded.

To emphasize the importance of giving women the same opportunities given to men, Hamda Ambah, Managing Director and CEO of FSDH Merchant Bank said “We hold women to higher standards than men in life. It’s important to allow our daughters to make mistakes and learn from them,” emphasizing the importance of giving businesswomen the space to learn from their mistakes.

WIMBIZ is a non-profit organization that has, over the last 17 years, implemented programs that inspire, empower and advocate for greater representation of women in leadership positions in the public and private sector.

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