You need family, friends to build career —Amina Oyagbola, HR Executive MTN Foundation and founder, Women in Successful Career

Amina Oyagbola has an LL.B from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Masters’ degree (LL.M) from Cambridge and Masters’ Degree in Business Administration (MBA), from Lancaster University Management School. She has worked in many corporate organisations like United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) before joining MTN, where she worked as Corporate Services Executive of MTN Foundation and Human Resource Executive. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, the founder of Women In Successful Career (WISCAR) speaks on her success story.


My journey to the top

Indeed nothing good ever comes without a struggle, without difficult choices and without pain. I have had my share of tough calls. I have had to balance the nurture of a young growing family with the needs of a growing career. I once had to go away for a whole year to refresh my education and reinforce my career prospects. Sometimes the choices were gut wrenching but I have been lucky to have a loving and supportive family. My husband has stepped in whenever I have had challenges and my children have been wonderful through it all.  At the end of the day, it is only in interviews like this that the story can be told otherwise the best metaphor for a career is a duck moving across a pond. On the surface, the duck serenely glides along seemingly without a care in the world. Beneath the surface, you see the webbed feet frantically paddling away.


Challenges career women are facing and how can they overcome them

As young women climb up the corporate ladder, they find it more and more difficult to overcome the tangible and intangible obstacles in their ways.  Without any guidance and support, they become confused, begin to feel isolated and suffer a loss of confidence in their ability to meet those challenges successfully. This either causes them to give up completely or just struggle along sub-optimally in relation to their true ability and potential. Access to strategic advice at those difficult moments could make a difference in maximising their unrealised potential and helping them progress their careers up the ladder on merit. There is also a wider angle to the problem. In a developing country like Nigeria, the larger society itself is struggling to cope with enormous socio-economic challenges, which affect women more severely and reduce their ability to enjoy equal opportunities for advancement. These include low levels of primary school enrolment, low levels of economic empowerment and low levels of political representation.  These factors aggravate the gender problems and highlight the need for practical and effective solutions to be found. Against such a background, it is clear that providing strategic career advice and support locally through mentorship would be a way of contributing to national development. That is how the idea of strategic and unique WISCAR mentoring came about.


Most defining moment of my career so far

There have been so many key moments both in terms of setbacks and achievements that it is almost impossible to identify one “most defining moment”. Down the years, whenever I have identified any challenges to be met, I have always unremittingly faced them. In most cases I have by God’s grace triumphed over such career and professional challenges. With each triumph I have always felt uplifted and invigorated. For me, the essence of existence is growth and to grow you have to overcome obstacles in your path. Life is a journey and full of peaks and troughs that is what I find defining; the identification of challenges, the planning, the struggle and, finally, the conquest, the triumph and the achievement.


Combining the home front with my career

The pursuit of career advancement and/or building and development of a business while managing a home is no mean feat. It is a herculean task indeed. No woman can hope to juggle career and family without carefully cultivating and appreciating her entire family and friends’ network. These would include both male and female. That support network group is the invaluable aid and comfort of every successful woman. Work and family are two core aspects of our lives and contrary to the general belief that they are different aspects of life; these domains are in reality, inter-related. The key is to develop a framework for effectively integrating your personal and professional life. There is however, no single formula for attaining an integrated or balanced life. It is a personal decision how one combines these domains and each woman must devise her own unique solutions and find an equilibrium that they can live with.


Secret of my success in the corporate world

Hard work and analytical thinking. It was Socrates who was reported to have said that: “the unexamined life is not worth living”. So, in everything that I do and at every stage of my doing it, I examine my motives (reasons for doing it), whether I am doing it the optimal way, and, whether the end result will be what I set out to achieve. One more thing I always examine is what the impact of anything I do will be on all the people around me (my people). These are the practices that ensure coherence, teamwork and problem solving. I would sum it all up as smart, rational, compassionate, hard work. Trying to ensure the good in all interactions not just for myself but also for others.


The work ethics of the average Nigerian

The average Nigerian is as ambitious, hard working and goal oriented as the populations of even the most supposedly hard working nations in the world. Most people would cite Germany and Japan as two countries with very hard working populations. What do those people have that Nigerians don’t? In brief, the answer is access to better education, better training and cutting edge equipment. The wards of the best hospitals in Europe, America and the Middle East are full of Nigerian doctors and nurses. Their services are highly valued and they have made astonishing achievements. The same thing goes for engineers, bankers, lawyers and all other professional or, indeed, vocational fields of endeavour. Many of the hospices and mortuaries of the UK have Nigerian staff and their work is highly valued.

All the foregoing show that Nigerians potentially have excellent work ethics and it is the environment in which they work that must be improved. They must be motivated not only by way of remuneration but also in the entire work-place experience that they are faced with.


Why I founded WISCAR

The concept of WISCAR was borne out of a desire to solve a problem I identified in my interactions with numerous young women at various stages of their professional careers. These encounters and discussions made it clear that most young career women in Nigeria and in Africa do not have access to proper guidance or support at critical points in their professional careers.  This gap affects their professional growth and development and often resulted in women with considerable potential dropping out of careers and not releasing their full potential.

WISCAR was set up to assist professional career women achieve their full potential by the provision of a structured, practical mentoring program conducted by a group of successful and experienced professionals, selected using the strictest criteria. WISCAR thus provides a framework for strategic guidance to engender in women the essential elements of success, to make informed career choices and to tackle professional challenges in a constructive manner designed to add value to their organisations and society at large. Our aim is to close the gender gap by helping to build the next generation of women leaders in Nigeria through intelligent planning and focused effort through mentoring to build a better nation.

WISCAR has made significant progress in the last seven years and has mentored ninety eight (98) young professional women who have gone through the intensive and unique 12 month structured WIN with WISCAR mentoring programme.


On women and politics

I believe that the answer to that question lies in the nature of the political terrain in Nigeria. In the first place, politics requires the outlay of enormous amounts of money. We must never forget that, up till now, most of the wealth in the country is in male hands. Further, politics is a total immersion endeavour. To participate, you will, most likely be called upon to totally forget family and children for very extended periods. Finally, those in politics are, by its essential nature, called upon to interact as members of an exclusive club with their close associates as members. They constantly eat, live and plan together for very extended periods. These are conditions that tend to keep women out. I am not advocating that women should remain out of the political mainstream. Clearly, however, adjustments have to be made; not only to the way politics is run now but also by the women who are interested in participating.


Advice to young women out there

Growth and success come at a price and every woman who must walk that path must embrace and understand the value of continuous personal development regardless of their achievements, must nurture relationships, have emotional intelligence, be focused, committed, loyal, have a volunteering spirit, be open to new ideas, be prepared to make certain sacrifices and seize opportunities, be ready to work hard and make a unique contribution.  Young women should remain committed, hardworking and continue to create value and enable organisations to improve their performance.