“The Network is driven by the desire to empower women in Ghana and beyond to increase their influence and participation in both local and international activities that will positively affect their lives.”
What happens when you bring together a network of c-suite women leaders from Barclays, Airtel and Nestlé Ghana? A year since launch, we caught up with three of the founders; Lucy Quist, Patience Akyianu and Freda Duplan of the Ghanaian non-profit organization the Executive Women Network to learn more about the Network’s vision ‘to inspire, empower and support women executives to be successful and influential both at the local and international level.’ [8 minute read]
Thomson Reuters Sustainability: As the founders of the Executive Women Network, could you tell us a bit about your individual professional journeys, with one key highlight or challenge you’ve met?
Executive Women Network: The Executive Women Network (EWN) is the brainchild of six female senior corporate executives with the bold ambition to create a platform for women to grow their professional skills and build important networks. The Network is committed to a progressive approach of enabling women to achieve their professional goals, preparing them to become more resilient, authentic leaders and nurturing them to fulfill their personal dreams.
The founding members – Maidie Arkutu, Pearl Esua-Mensah, Lucy Quist, Edith Dankwa, Patience Akyianu and Freda Duplan are of varied backgrounds – from Marketing and Brand management, Business Strategy, Engineering, Accounting and Finance and Media to IT.
Each of these African women, leading multinational, regional and vibrant local businesses have shattered the glass ceiling and are shinning the light for other women on the continent.
But the journey to the top came with some challenges. Two of the founding members share some of these challenges and how they defied the odds to get to the heights of leadership;
“The preconception that people with specialization in a field like Finance may not be as well-cut out for General Management roles as those with commercial backgrounds was one challenge I was well aware of and had to deal with from the outset by changing that mindset and demonstrating that being a professional in a field other than commercial does not in any way impact your ability to lead at the top.
Leading requires digging deep, bringing your people along on the journey, ensuring that they understand the vision and are motivated to go out there and win. And these skills are not function or gender specific”. Patience Akyianu, CEO of Barclays Bank Ghana.
“Having to demonstrate more capability or proving yourself more due to gender bias is one of the challenges I faced and many women face working their way up. This is getting better as the workplace is changing and in leadership globally many distinguished women at the top are consistently demonstrating that leadership has nothing to do with gender but rather the skills and ability to deliver, to empower people and to execute brilliantly.
In addition to delivering on your mandate, you overcome this challenge by being absolutely great at what you do and constantly investing in growing yourself”. Lucy Quist, CEO of Airtel Ghana
TRS: What is the Executive Women Network and why is gender equality at the c-suite level crucial to business success?
EWN: The Executive Women Network is a non-profit organisation of women in senior management and executive positions in private organizations and women entrepreneurs of well established businesses in Ghana with a vision to inspire, empower and support women executives to be successful and influential both at the local and international level. The Network is driven by the desire to empower women in Ghana and beyond to increase their influence and participation in both local and international activities that will positively affect their lives.
“Gender equality at the c-suite level is crucial, not only for business success but for the transformation of society as a whole. To make progress we need everyone on board. To be effective, we need both perspectives. Research suggests that companies led by women or with more women in leadership do comparatively better commercially.
Women bring different perspectives to leadership – they promote collaboration, are persuasive, flexible and more empathetic and these are important pillars for business and commercial success”. Freda Duplan, CEO of Nestlé (Coastal Cluster – Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia) and current chairperson of the Network.
Lucy – “Ability is not gender specific and as we promote gender equality in the workplace, we enable our people to tap into the richness of gender diversity. Equality promotes diversity of ideas which drives growth and overall business success. As leaders, we must actively promote equality at all levels in the workplace”.
TRS: It’s been a year since you launched, what are some of the key initiatives or results you are most proud of?
Freda – “It has been an amazing year with our membership growing from a base of six co-founders to more than 100 – comprising senior female executives in Ghana. Every day we are discovering new female executives at senior and mid-career levels who are making giant strides in their respective organisations sign up to the Network.
We have held a number of successful speaker series bringing together experts in different fields to engage and empower our members and quite recently, we partnered with CharterHouse, a leading events management entity led by one of our members to organise the National Women’s Summit – the nation’s biggest platform that brought women together, in commemoration of International Women’s Day to chart a course to empower more women.
In addition to these, we have embarked on a number of CSR related activities, the most recent being the announcement of a multi-year partnership aimed at supporting the SOS Children’s Village Ghana to improve the lives of vulnerable families in Ghana’s neglected neighborhoods.”
Patience – “Our influence is growing across the board and we are being consulted on pertinent issues in business, the economy and on women.
We continue to engage at the highest levels and our input around appointment of women to strategic positions in Ghana is shaping up. A clear example is my recent appointment to the Advisory Committee of the Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund (GIIF).”
TRS: How can men in particular lead on the empowerment of women as leaders?
EWN: Patience – “By demonstrating commitment to creating equal opportunity for both men and women to flourish. By creating the environment that promotes diversity and equal opportunities in recruitment, promotions, relocations and international assignments.
In addition to this, we need to be aware of the conscious and unconscious biases that many hold regarding the role of women in the workplace. The first step in dealing with this is becoming aware they exist and working to overcome or limiting their impact in our decisions.”
Lucy – “I would say men should create space for women in their teams at all levels but women should also believe in themselves and be bold in their ambitions.
Globally, women make up half of the world’s population so we all lose out if we leave more than half of our population behind. Empowering women at all levels in business and in society is the surest way to get to where we need to be.”
TRS: Africa is the youngest continent in the world in terms of demographics. What messages would you like to give to young people specifically about how they can contribute to achieving gender equality?
EWN: Freda – “Gender equality is crucial in harnessing the potential of every African – male or female. We must carry everyone along the journey irrespective of gender. Gender equality ensures we all win together.”
Patience –“For the world to function optimally we need the contribution of both men and women. We need a conducive environment for everyone to flourish and we can achieve that through the promotion of gender equality in the wider society.”
Lucy – “We need all hands on deck to transform our continent and create prosperity for all. To realise the full potential of our continent, we must empower everyone to realise their own potential – irrespective of gender”.
TRS: What gives you hope?
EWN: Freda – “I am encouraged by the fact that today there is equal opportunity in educating a female child in the same way as you would a male child. Increasingly girls in Africa can get to any height they aspire to in their education unhindered.
Today, when you interview for jobs, female candidates are doing extremely well, sometimes more than their male counterparts and it is encouraging that we have many more women rising to the top in business and in governance, not because of an affirmative action or quota system, but because they are exceptionally good at what they do.
That gives me hope!”
Patience – “When I see many women across the continent of Africa making it to senior leadership roles across board. When I see them thriving and shining the light for other young women to emulate, I am inspired.”
“I am deeply encouraged by the progress many African women are making not only in Africa but globally. As more women make it to top leadership positions at the highest levels, they inspire a new generation of women, who now see there are no limits to the heights they can attain, to go further.
I was in Kigali, Rwanda recently to speak to a group of young girls at the Gashora Girls Academy and I met a lot of young brilliant girls. One of them, an exceptionally talented teenager – Stella Ituze – had been offered scholarships by ten of the top universities in the US including four Ivy League colleges. She is spoilt for choice.
In 2016, a young lady from Ghana, Afua Ansah, became the first African to make it to the finals of the Scripps Spelling Bee Competition and was one of the top 20 spellers in the world –making it through to the top out of over 11 million participants globally.
When I see young ladies like Afua and Stella excel in different fields of endeavour, I am deeply encouraged. I am positive about the future of Africa.”