Challenges and opportunities for African women in leadership roles

By Leah Netabai

Founder of Avandis Consulting, Dr. Anino Emuwa, discusses the role of women in leadership.

Avandis Consulting, founded in 2015 by Dr. Anino Emuwa, is an international consultancy firm that specialises in strategy and financial advisory services for entrepreneurs and business leaders. The company has headquarters in France and a subsidiary in Africa.

Following Dr. Anino Emuwa’s achievement of a degree in economics from the London School of Economics, Emuwa began her career journey at Citibank, Nigeria as a credit analyst managing a portfolio of million-dollar multinational companies. 

After spotting many gaps in the market, Emuwa went on to complete an MBA at Cranfield School of Management, taking several modules in entrepreneurship, as well as earning a doctorate from Nottingham Business School. “I subsequently had the opportunity to live in several countries in Africa, working as an independent consultant advising smaller businesses,” says Emuwa, “I saw the growth of these businesses being stunted due to a lack of access to bank loans.” As a result, Emuwa decided to undertake research into overcoming obstacles to financing smaller businesses. “The intention was to work as a consultant with banks to help them improve their capacity for lending to smaller businesses, but I also found that these businesses required management development training as well.”

In 2015, Dr. Emuwa founded Avandis Consulting in France to specialise in strategy and financial advisory for entrepreneurs and business leaders alongside developing her portfolio as an independent director and international public speaker. From running seminars in Ghana many years ago, Emuwa “found women entrepreneurs benefited, not just from the content of the seminars, but from networking, collaborating and support from their peer group,” as a result, Avandis Consulting now organises seminars, CEO power breakfasts and international business leadership events in Nigeria for women leading businesses.

Dr. Emuwa is proud that, through her business, “women entrepreneurs and CEOs have seen value in the networks that we have created across the continent. We have several case studies of women entrepreneurs who have recounted how belonging to the network has helped them transform or grow their businesses.”

Working internationally, Emuwa recognises there are always challenges in business, with “women in business all around the world face barriers and Africa is no exception,” says Emuwa. “In Africa, there are more women in C- Suite, CEO and board roles than the global average, according to Mckinsey’s 2016 report of Women Matter Africa. Still, there are too few women in leadership positions and part of what we do at Avandis is working to ameliorate this problem.”


One barrier Dr. Emuwa believes women have traditionally faced is “a lack of access to informal business networks - these personal networks start early: from school through to university and onto the professional world.” Access to these informal business networks could provide “information, contacts and referrals to help fuel progression.” Other barriers Dr. Emuwa sees that African women face include “unequal access to finance, cultural norms regarding women entrepreneurships and difficulty accessing procurement contracts.” However, Emuwa sees “growing opportunities in Africa” and believes “having a positive mindset is important,” as well as ensuring a strategy is in place “to overcome barriers and focus on solutions to address client requirements”. 

For young African women looking to advance their careers, Emuwa emphasises that “preparation is key alongside networking and collaboration.” Being good at the technical aspects of a job is only one requirement for progression, “women need to be able to showcase their achievements and choose the right path that will lead to the C-suite (e.g. front office jobs). This is in addition to ensuring they have mentors and sponsors in their organisation and propose themselves for opportunities where they can develop new skills.” Emuwa also highlights that “networking outside their teams is also important. For women entrepreneurs, a mentor can be very useful as well as joining a network.”

However, Emuwa believes that “the onus is not only on women, organisations need to foster a culture where women will thrive. They need the right policies in place and use data to track how well they are doing with respect to gender diversity and inclusion. Gender diversity in leadership has been shown to correlate with increased performance of a firm and to have societal benefits,” says Emuwa who goes on to say that, along with overall business benefits, gender diversity is simply “the right thing to do for women to have equal access to opportunity.”

Looking to the future, Avandis is developing a dedicated platform for women leaders – founders, CEOs and Chairs – as well as others looking to rise through the ranks of an organisation. “The lonely-at-the-top syndrome affects all leaders, but this is even more true for women, who only account for 5% of all CEOs,” says Emuwa. “The intention for the platform is to unify and grow networks.” It is hoped that this will allow women leaders to network with their peers, to share situation, ideas and business solutions. The platform will be accessible to all women leaders, starting in Africa.

For more information on business topics in the Middle East and Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief MEA.

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