Accelerating Progress with a Women’s Month Fireside Chat.

In honor of Women’s Month, Her Network, supported by BAT West and Central Africa convened a Zoom fireside discussion on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, to highlight the significance of investing in women, accelerating progress, and promoting inclusion in all aspects of life.

The event, themed “Empowering Women: Accelerating Progress for a More Inclusive World,” recognized the contributions of women from many sectors around the world who participated in the conversation about women’s achievements, progression, and empowerment.

Keynote speaker Ruth Owojaiye, Head of Regulatory Engagements, BAT West & Central Africa, began the discussion by presenting her thoughts on women’s advancement and inclusion.

Women have a knack for multiplier effect. She has that inbuilt thing about her that helps to shape the world around where she is,” Owojaiye said. “Women should not be relegated to the background. We must invest in women because women have a way of bringing things to the table that helps shape the environment.”

Owojaiye spoke about the obstacles and opportunities that women face in the workplace, highlighting the need to break down barriers and research potential employers. She also emphasized the need of women being change agents in their businesses, actively aiding and mentoring other women, and working toward a more just and equal future. She closed by emphasizing the significance of advocating for oneself and fostering inclusive environments for women’s professional development.

Panelists Omobolanle Olowu Area Head of Security, BAT West & Central Africa, Solape Akinpelu CEO, HerVest and Yvonne Alozie Obi Director, Global Diversity & Inclusion, Standard Chartered Bank also shared their thoughts on accelerating progress and what it means for a more inclusive world.

Led by moderator Adaoha Njemanze, the discussion flowed to the concept of ‘accelerated progress’ in the context of gender equality, with Solape and Yvonne discussing the challenges and importance of career development for women, particularly in Africa. 

They highlighted the significance of financial capital, access to resources, and job opportunities, as well as the need for financial literacy and gender-transformative approaches to address systemic barriers. They shared their personal experiences and emphasized the importance of personal agency, resilience, and community support. 

The challenges are layered, and so are the solutions too,” Akinpelu said. “There’s overwhelming evidence that gender-based discrimination is a key driver of poverty. We should design frameworks that build personal agency, starting with community.”

Addressing gender barriers in the workplace: “How do we make sure that people leaders are creating inclusive environments for their teams?” Alozie Obi asked.  She highlighted the significance of male allyship, raising awareness about unconscious biases, and creating an employee resource group to help women navigate challenging environments. “Some women want flexibility; some women want to do jobs that matter more than they want the flexibility.”  She concluded

Building on the conversation, Olowu shared her career journey from law to banking and her transition to security, emphasizing the importance of having a career plan and taking initiative. She also emphasized the significance of interest, guidance, a supportive network, tough skin, and continuous motivation. 
“Please take advantage of any network that comes your way. Whatever skillset it is you have right now, hone and develop that skill set,” she said. “Stay dedicated to the impact that you want to achieve or make in your own space. At some point, you’re not going to be doing this for just yourself, you’re going to be doing this for others.”

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