Until yesterday when she was appointed as the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Aishah Ahmad was the head, Consumer Banking Division at Diamond Bank. She had responsibility for strategic retail products and customer segments including consumer banking, private wealth management, direct sales agent network with a customer base of over 5 million. Her professional experience spans 20 years and includes global financial institutions such as Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC -a member of Standard Bank Group, where she was responsible for Standard Bank’s private wealth business in West Africa, Bank of New York Mellon (UK), Zenith Bank PLC and NAL Bank PLC. A member of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) Associations – both globally recognized programs for investment analysts and portfolio managers, Aishah holds a M.Sc. in Finance and Management from the Cranfield School of Management in the United Kingdom, an MBA with a specialization in Finance from the University of Lagos, Nigeria and a graduate degree in Accounting from the University of Abuja, Nigeria. Aishah is passionate about global investing and promoting diversity & women’s (financial) inclusion; she regularly speaks on these topics and advises on the board of several companies. She is currently the Chairperson of the Executive Council of Women in Management, Business & Public Service, WIMBIZ (www.wimbiz.org); a leading women-focused not-for-profit organization in sub-Saharan Africa.
Did you set out to break the glass ceiling? What was your vision as a young woman to get to where you are today?
The ‘glass ceiling’ question is primarily asked of many women in careers perhaps because of the very obvious low levels of female representation in senior positions as well as the barriers that women still struggle with and naturally I must respect that. Having said that in my particular situation I was not conscious of any ceilings per se. My career story has unfolded one opportunity at a time, one job role at a time, one contact at a time and what has worked over the years has been a focus on doing my very best in the current job, working hard to be indispensable to my colleagues and bosses, being open to new opportunities and creating exciting projects within that role, essentially making my current job the best to be in. I am also fortunate to have worked in organisations and with people that have offered me opportunities and challenges, allowing me to bring out the very best of my talents, natural predispositions and skills.
How has being a woman impacted on you as a professional banker?
I must say that the global finance industry is light years ahead of other sectors in terms of representation of females across board. Thus, whilst there are indeed quite a number of men working in the industry there are a significant number of woman as well, both in line positions and core business functions such as credit, compliance, finance and business development. Financial services is also arguably much further along in its own evolution. Largely driven by meritocracy, gender effects are somewhat muted in finance as what is rewarded is achievement and output; and a strong producer, whether male or female usually gets ahead. Naturally, both sexes bring different things to the table and so navigating those differences in my experience has largely been about seeking to understand the unique capabilities within the team and harnessing and channelling these for the benefit of organisational goals. Research has shown that men and women bring complimentary advantages to work contexts. Interestingly, a 2011 Harvard Business Review study revealed that women at all levels were rated higher in 12 out of 16 competencies necessary for outstanding leadership. In the rare moments where sexism has surfaced either in rhetoric or decision making, I make an effort to call it out for what it is and encourage other women to do the same. That way we ensure that we are not unwittingly perpetuating work environments where such limiting mindsets thrive.
You have a successful career and family life; how do you maintain the work-life balance?
Another interesting question which is often primarily asked of women and not men and probably an indication of the strong effect of societal/cultural expectations on views on gender parity and gender roles in the home and in the workplace. For as long as juggling a career and making those hard but necessary choices remain the pure remit of the woman, we will always make work-life balance purely a feminine issue. This is one reason why the practice of enforcing paternity leave for instance, is becoming institutionalised in the global workplace – both men & women should be given the opportunity to make these sacrifices for their careers to even out the playing field. I am glad however that a lot is changing, I see more dynamic partnerships in domestic arrangements that lead me to believe that couples are increasingly making decisions that consider the needs of both careers and the household and not necessarily basing decisions purely from expectations on the woman as the primary caregiver. As more women increase their contributions as breadwinners and increasing reliance on women in double income households, they do have a greater influence in this type of decision making.
Credit: the Guardian