“When you get to the top it’s important to send the elevator down. It’s a privilege to have opportunities to give back and enable young minds to prepare to navigate the challenges of their career and life.” This viewpoint by the Founder of Women Inspiring Impact Network (WiiN), Folashade Ambrose-Medebem, established the purpose of the recently launched #AskFola Mentoring Session.
The inaugural event, which took place at the American corner, Yaba, Lagos, had in attendance, young, female undergraduates from the University of Lagos who spent two hours listening with rapt attention as Fola shared important nuggets and wisdom from her over 20 years of corporate experience with them.
Fola currently serves as the Communication, Public Affairs and Sustainable Development Director for Lafarge Africa Plc. Prior to her current role, she worked in finance, project management, strategy and management consulting for FTSE 100 companies like PwC, Diageo, Ford, Ministry of Finance and Department for International Development in the UK, rest of Europe & Nigeria.
Here, the difference between haves and have-nots is social background. In the United Kingdom for instance, whilst only 7% of students attend private schools, this 7% produce 54% of Chief Executives and 70% of Finance Directors. The private schools which groom students in clubs for aspiring lawyers, accountants, investment bankers etc, reinforce the advantage students whose parents are lawyers, accountants, doctors etc. already have. When students without privileged social or financial backgrounds are female, the barriers to them entering and rising to the top of professions are considerably multiplied.
Fola founded WiiN; a platform designed to drive opportunities for impact by encouraging women to speak up, implement career winning strategies and to inspire, empower and advocate for women to win in their careers. Entering, excelling and rising to the top of the most attractive professions require more than natural talent or academic qualifications. Equally, women from modest socio-economic backgrounds are poorly represented in these professions especially given the poor quality or total absence of career guidance services in schools and universities.
With WiiN, Fola intends to bridge this gap by creating opportunities to coach and mentor young women sharing her experience with them so they can avoid career pitfalls and succeed in their given careers. As an experienced leader who has worked in different countries, she has excelled in an environment where in addition to gender, her race was a barrier she had to also overcome repeatedly.
Whilst women earn roughly 50% of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees, only 12% of STEM jobs are held by women. Even though we lack figures on gender representation in select professions in Nigeria, it is very evident that there are very few women at the top of Nigerian accounting, law, manufacturing etc firms. Equally, women from modest socio-economic backgrounds are poorly represented in these professions especially given the poor quality or total absence of career guidance services in schools and universities.
A Nigerian woman, Folashade Ambrose-Medebem is doing something about this through the organization; Women Inspiring Impact Network (WiiN). Folashade; a qualified chartered accountant who excelled in an environment where in addition to gender, the race was a barrier she had to overcome. Currently the Director Communications, Public Affairs, and Sustainable Development at Lafarge Africa Plc., She qualified as an accountant in the UK, got a job in the highbrow consulting firm PwC and moved to specialize in strategy.
“Make sure the experience is never lost; seek constructive feedback; trust your intuition; let your work speak for itself,” were among the nuggets Fola shared that afternoon as she talked about her career journey.
Responding after the program, Adesola Ologun, one of the mentees says the meeting with Fola has fired her up to keep going against all odds. “It has given me the impetus to push myself and go the extra mile for what I want despite all the challenges in the country. You only see what you want to see, and being a source of inspiration to other people is what I now see” Adesola says.
For Kabirat Osilaja, Sociology undergraduate, great ideas give birth to greater ones. “You need someone to share your ideas with; someone that can motivate and put you through and cheer you on through your career milestones. I learned that in anything you are doing, attitude is key which will make you go anywhere you want; I learned about seeking mentorship from someone who is knowledgeable and confiding in people that can move you higher,” Kabirat who is already an entrepreneur says.
Chemistry Education undergraduate, Esther Alomaja reckons that youths should not allow the challenges they face deter them from pursuing their vision. “I have learned about going out of my comfort zone to pursue my ambition and being flexible rather than staying on my career path alone so that I can have an edge over others,” Esther says.
Such positive outcomes are what WiiN aims to provoke, Fola says. “After sharing my story, and career experience with them, I am pleased they are inspired and motivated. Some of them are already speaking up and demanding more. This is an instant impact and I am pleased to see their renewed passion and drive to succeed.
“I had a wonderful time at the #AskFolaSession answering their questions and assuaging their fears about what the future holds. I always believe we are more powerful than we believe we are, so it was a pleasure to coach these young minds!
I am especially happy to be working in a socially responsible organization like Lafarge Africa which encourages its employees to volunteer in worthy causes that make a social impact. This allows me to take on the WiiN project confidently, knowing I can make a difference in my unique way” she concludes.