Women in Africa: this is how an MBA can impact your life

Four successful BSN female alumni reflect on how their MBA has influenced their lives – and are happy that overall, the number of like-minded African women is on the rise

Getting a top position in industry is not an easy challenge – especially for women. Something about a glass ceiling and the ‘old boys network’. However, times have changed and many women have shown the way up. For instance, Mabel Kenney-Hastens from Ghana, Kemi Makun from Nigeria, Dudu Nyamane and Charloom Laubser from South Africa. Equipped with experience, expertise, stamina and an Action Learning MBA from Business School Netherlands, they found their way to top positions in their respective countries.

South Africa: Women have overtaken men in MBA programmes?

BSN Alumna Dudu Nyamane MBA‘I sometimes think I wouldn’t have been approached to serve on corporate boards across industries if I didn’t have the kind of the MBA training I have,’ says Dudu Nyamane from South Africa. After over 30 years in the corporate world, she decided to leave in 2009 to pursue a consulting career in HR. Ever since, she has been serving as a non-executive director of companies in various industries like mining, energy resources, academia and IT. Next to that, she also chairs two trusts funded by overseas companies. What has the MBA brought her? ‘Professionally I feel I’m a better leader and mentor. I’m more confident at what I do. I can fearlessly tap into my years of corporate experience to empower others, and add value to the business think tank. My MBA has enriched my years of corporate experience and positioned me to tackle any business or leadership role competently and with confidence. Doors are opening much wider as I approach my years of retirement.’

Rewind to 2008, when Dudu graduated with her MBA. ‘I recollect there were three other women in my subset. Honestly, I seldom think of my gender. I guess I get preoccupied by the task at hand and gender issues then become secondary,’ Dudu smiles. ‘These days there are many women across different professions that do their MBA. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have overtaken men. In fact, they don’t even wait to assume a leadership role before registering for an MBA. They understand that to accelerate their career they need to be informed and equipped early on.’

BSN Alumna Charloom Laubser (middle)South African Charloom Laubser (62) recognises Dudu’s story. Charloom graduated with her MBA with BSN in 2003. ‘Our groups consisted mostly of women. I didn’t feel special about doing an MBA; for me it was about being sure that the theory was something I could practically apply to make Blue Mountain better.’

Charloom is CFO at Blue Mountain Hygiene, a company she launched herself over 25 years ago. The company supplies cleaning products and related consumables to the hospitality industry in the Western Cape in South Africa. Her eldest daughter is currently the COO of the company. Her youngest daughter did an MBA at a US Business School.

What made her decide to do the MBA back then? ‘As my background was academic and I was operating on “gut feel” most of the time, I felt that I needed more business-oriented exposure and input,’ she says. It proved a very sensible and effective decision. ‘The MBA made me more confident when discussing business strategies and opportunities with my husband and implementing changes and strategies. As a woman holding an MBA degree, I think you are taken more seriously. It allows you to make mistakes, make bad suggestions, incorrect decisions, without being regarded negatively,’ just like Action Learning “prescribes” without being regarded negatively,’ says Charloom. ‘To me, Action Learning was a great approach – I found it to be less threatening than the standard MBA approach of theory and tests and exams.’ 

Nigeria: Courageous women with an MBA have impacted the country politically, economically and socially

BSN Alumna Kemi Makun MBAFor Nigerian 38-year old mom, entrepreneur and recent BSN graduate Kemi Makun, the MBA influenced her life drastically. She is the Principal and Managing Partner in Allianz Solicitors, an Abuja-based law firm that specialises in all areas of Commercial law and practice. Kemi: ‘I can confidently say that my firm Allianz Solicitors is a product of BSN’s Action Learning MBA. I enrolled for my MBA with nothing; no job, no office space, no staff, nothing at all. I was operating from the boot of my car. My organisational analysis was written on a benchmark organisation. Every single Action Learning Project I implemented meant the birth of something new. Today, two years later, we are an established law firm with an office, associates and support staff, and we’re still growing.’

‘Nigeria is blessed with courageous women who have impacted the country politically, economically and socially. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of them hold an MBA title. Mrs. Nike Adeyemi, the founder of The Real Woman Foundation, who is a BSN MBA holder; Mrs. Babafunke Fagbemi, who is the Executive Director of CCPN, who holds an MBA; Juliet Chukkas-Onaeko, the former DG of Industrial Training Fund, who was my classmate at BSN, and a host of others.’

In present times, gender is not a barrier to career development, says Kemi. ‘More women are getting involved in business administration than ever before and are very successful too. I regularly come across women who are Executive Directors and CEOs. However, there is no doubt that Nigeria is a male-dominated environment. However, Nigerian women who have dared to make a difference have steered the course of history.’

Which is why Kemi advises more Nigerian women to do an MBA. ‘It is no longer business as usual out there. A woman who knows how to run a home, will appreciate the problems of running a business better. An MBA gives you the tips to manage people and other resources including the members of your immediate family. Never let your situation, position, age or gender limit you from pursuing your dreams. Always remember that success is not dictated by gender. Your knowledge and action determines how far you can go.’

Ghana: Negative perspective of women

BSN Alumna Mabel Kenney-Hastens MBAMabel Kenney-Hastens (43) is the CEO of Askbel Microfinance Limited in Ghana, and married with four children. She too graduated with her MBA from BSN earlier this year, majoring in banking and risk management. ‘It is obviously no secret, being engaged with my MBA studies has contributed immensely in the growth of my leadership skills; it has also broadened the scope of my knowledge in many diverse ways.’

Yet, getting there wasn’t always easy. ‘Before starting the MBA, I knew I would face lots of obstacles. Aside from my job, busy family engagements, social issues, and other responsibilities, add to that the national challenge of power outages, which have engulfed Ghana since 2013. Too often, the power outages lasted for 24 hours continuously – hindering my typing assignments, ALPs, or simply searching the Internet for information. Perseverance was what got me through it. That, and my philosophy that says, ‘I will not stop when I am tired, but I will stop when I am done, which is not often the case for likeminded Ghanaian women embarking on the MBA adventure. ‘Each year, many Ghanaian women enroll on MBA programmes, but only a few are able to complete it because it becomes too stressful for them to merge their workload and career development with their family life. Moreover, it is traditionally acclaimed by most cultural tribes in Ghana, that women need not worry themselves so much in pursuing a higher academic ladder. Some of these negative perspectives shun most women out of several higher education institutions, hence the women to men ratio is vast. Gender discrimination in the workplace still exists today; the “culture trap” often holds women back from pursuing an MBA.’

Mabel: ‘In Ghana, only few women are encountered in top-level positions in large companies. The inferior perception of women has to a certain extent put women in the workplace at a disadvantage.’ It’s a status quo that most definitely needs to change, according to Mabel. ‘Without promoting and fostering an accepting environment in which women can thrive, corporate bodies will continue to miss the unique leadership style that women can contribute to the growth of big organisations, and the nation as a whole. An MBA will help Ghanaian women to be independent and obtain leadership positions in the business world. We have to overcome the attitude of an inferiority complex and press on towards our goal, for a victorious crown. Someday our voices will be heard.’

South Africa: Increased opportunities for women in leadership positions

Juanita Bouwer from BSN is excited that our business school plays a role in the growth of our students, both male and female, by offering an affordable and flexible programme which contributes positively to work/life balance. ‘In the case of South Africa, there is a focused approach on increasing the percentage of women in senior management positions by means of employment equity and other gender equality programmes and scholarships.  This is imperative, as gender diversity in business plays a vital role in bringing different thinking and strategizing to the table thereby enhancing competitiveness.  The public sector has seen an increase in women in leadership positions. However, there seems to be a loss of gains in women in leadership positions made in the last year with a drop from 27% in 2015 to 23% in 2016, indicating challenges for the private sector. This increases opportunities for women in leadership positions and it is therefore imperative that women upskill themselves to face the ever-changing external environment.’

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