Born in the year 1840 in Besease in the then Ashanti Empire and notably, a male-dominated generation for that matter, there were fewer things women in those days could say or do to contribute to their family’s development, let alone to talk of a nation or an empire.
I should note that life as a woman was way more difficult in those days as compared to now. I mean, it was a generation where women were only considered suitable for the kitchen and child making. Whatever potential any woman thought she had, did not matter.
To be fair, women were not even concerned about knowing what their potentials were because knowing it or not did not make any difference. That was the generation that Nana Yaa Asantewaa rose from to become a generational icon in nation-building.
This thought makes me wonder, what if Nana Yaa Asantewaa with her kind of charisma and strong will power was in today’s generation as a woman leader in financial industry? I can only imagine the revolution and fight she would have mounted to bring about fairness and equality to women in the financial industry today.
As women in today’s financial business world, we owe it to posterity to make the future more conducive for women to succeed in business,especially for those who would desire a career path in corporate finance.
The totality of today they say is a collection of series of decisions. It sounds paradoxical, but it could not be far from the truth.I saw myself as an entrepreneur who could make a significant impact in the lives of individuals and their financial dreams.
I went througha period of uncertainty turbulences. Looking back at Yaa Asantewaa, I quizzed myself, what warranted her audacity to call and lead men to a bloody war that would eventually lead to the freedom of the Ashanti Empire.
I saw one thing –“the contradiction of fear.”I knew that Yaa Asantewaa, like all other human beings, also had her fears considering the duration that took her to decide to call on men for war finally.
She must have been terrified with questions such as ‘what if I fail, what if no one gave me attention, what if I am disregarded? Which were all possibilities given the kind of generation they lived in.
However, I also decided to go contrary to my fears, and today the contradiction of fear is what has given birth to Credence Micro Credit; a leading micro-credit institution that is providing tailored financial solution to suit every need varying from business loans, personal loans, group loans, S.M.E loans, and business advisory services to its clients spanning over five years.
I did not believe it because I did not think I was good enough to demonstrate sound leadership. To some extent, that delusional thought was as a result of the difficulty I had seen women go through in their quest to rise to prominence as leaders, especially in the financial sector.
If one has misdiagnosed a problem, then one is unlikely to prescribe an effective cure. This is the situation regarding the scarcity of women in top leadership in finance.
Despite years of progress by women in the workforce, they now occupy a small percentage of all managerial positions in the financial sector. Within the c-suite, they remain as rare as hens’ teeth.
Consider the most highly paid executives of companies, those with titles such as Chairman, President and C.E.O., only a few are women.Ghana has only 37/275 parliamentarians as women as per current records,with less than 30% being Ministers of State and MMDCE’S.
The situation is not much different in other industrialized countries. Globally women constitute a small percentage in senior management positions ranging from 3% to 12% .
Even those women who rose steadily through the ranks eventually crashed into an invisible barrier. The executive suite seemed within their grasp, but they couldn’t break through the glass ceiling.” Times have changed; however, the glass ceiling metaphor is now more right than wrong.
I think the biggest challenge facing leaders today is the changing world that wants a new type of leadership ranging from control to empowerment, from competition to collaboration, uniformity through to diversity and self-centered focus to a higher moral purpose.
In recent years, we have seen advancement in how gender is discussed and its effects on how women in leadership are perceived, especially in the financial sector.
Women who have chosen entrepreneurial route are demanding financial inclusion at all levels. Something I believe Yaa Asantewaa would have done should she have been in this generation as a woman in the financial industry.
As the role of women changes in Africa, the financial sector has its work cut to catch up with the acceleration of women in entrepreneurship. Increasingly, women in Africa are seeking to create wealth for themselves and start their businesses.
Ghana, for instance, tops the global ranking of women ownership of businesses with more women owning businesses at 46.4% compared to 57 other countries globally, a Mastercard Index of women’s Entrepreneurship revealed. Additionally, a few of the banks in Ghana have female C.E.O.s – ABSA, Standchart, U.B.A., International Commercial Bank, and Merchant Bank.
Much has been documented about women as the client or recipient of financial services, but what is the current reality for women who are in leadership and tasked with making the financial decisions?What is to blame for the pronounced lack of women in positions of power and authority? And finally, what would have Yaa Asantewaa done differently if she werein our shoes now?
There are opportunities as well as challenges of how women are uniquely positioned to succeed in this sector. Ordinarily, women are good with spending as compared to men such that businesses owned by women survive because women hold in high esteem a great sense of accountability, especially monetarily.
I have an example to buttress my point; I spend with caution, always checking my expenditure against income. Due to this, I have cultivated the habit of using my cash card instead of handling cash to help me monitor my spending.
Since most women do well with handling or being in-charge of money, I encourage more women to gather courage just as Yaa Asantewaa did and venture into entrepreneurship, especially in the financial sector.
I will attest to the fact that it was a tough decision for me to become an entrepreneur. It was not easy especially when I had to transition from being an employee to an employer (CREDENCE MICRO CREDIT). I remember all the people I spoke with discouraged me and made me understand that the journey could be rough except my mother and my pastor, who encouraged me to embark on the journey, and gradually, it has yielded good fruit.
How did this come about? I have always had the desire to own a bank andI knew that I inevitably had to start from somewhere, subject myself to time and process and keep hoping that I shall rise through the ranks to become a bank .This, to me, I believe, is the most significant sign of leadership; that is,being able to see the far future in the ‘now,’ otherwise known as ‘vision.’
Many believe that bias against women lingers in the business world, particularly when it comes to evaluating their leadership ability. To my surprise, I found out there was one significant assertion:Women score lower on ‘’envisioning.”
I could not have disagreed more.As women, our everyday life is like that of a leader, full of visions.Cursory looking at Yaa Asantewaa,I believe shesaw something in the far future that others could not see. She saw freedom in slavery; she saw peace in war, she saw prosperity in adversity, and today we all are witnesses to the fruits of her vision.
It is satisfying to note that by that same sense of seeing the far future in the ‘now’ and turning an idea into a formidable business venture, women stand the chance of driving the success of any business venture as long as they are willing.
I have by this inspiration already started mentoring and empowering women for leadership roles through Credence. I hope that I shall be able to reach out to as many as 70% of the young populace with a special focus on ladies within a decade.
What is the growth behind Credence? A phrase you will hear over and over again in the business world is: “if you are not growing, you’re dying.”Our successful growth strategies under the auspices of my very self as a woman who hasimbibed in the ‘can-do’leadership attitude of a woman with a warrior’s (Yaa Asantewaa )heart has helped increase our portfolio and revenue by 20% and 25%, respectively.
For women who aspire for top leadership roles, routes exist but are full of twists and turns, both the unexpected and the expected. The challenges women usually face are gender, gender diversity(equality/dynamics) at work, sexual harassment, power dynamics, the social construction of gender, marriage & parenthood, etc. but in all these, we should have standards and values and also be firm on our vision knowing the case of Yaa Asantewaa was not different.
Furthermore, there are different types of discrimination that women who aspire to rise to the pinnacle of leadership in the financial industry have to endure. Notably, amongst them is sexism. It is unfortunate how women are discriminated against, and their competence is doubted because of gender. Our culture has made it difficult for women to be acknowledged as the geniuses they are without referencing their gender. I implore women to challenge the notion that sex is the only thing differentiating them from being in a position of power.
The question is, what is behind this discrimination? In my opinion, it is essentially a set of widely shared conscious and unconscious mental associations about women, men, and leaders. Study after study has affirmed that people associate women and men with different traits and link men with more of the traits that connote leadership.
It is a challenge for some men to submit to the leadership of a woman. Typically in some cultural settings in Ghana, men in these cultures have been oriented with a sense of female inferiority complex. Hence, their hatred for and difficulty in accepting the leadership mandate of a woman over them is not a secret affair story; it is well known. With this, I speak of my encounters over my years of serving as the C.E.O. of Credence Micro Credit. I have had to at least more than one or two occasions deal with such unsavory situations.
The socio-cultural challenging perspective for women in leadership, especially in our part of the world, is a re-echoing one indeed. But I believe we would be utterly dishonest if we blame all of these unfortunate woes on everybody but ourselves as women.
Without mincing of words, the moral and value tenacity of some women who aspire to rise to sit on essential tables in the finance industry is, if not weak, very questionable. Some of the perceptions that society has cultivated for women are partly women’s fault.
For example, there is this unfortunate social mantra that posits that as a woman, “use what you have (your body) to get what you want,” which includes positions. Hence, the notion that every woman who has risen to whatever level that is above average in especially the finance industry has had to fulfill this misguided “social scriptures.”
It is sad to note that in as much as it is not entirely true, it is also not completely false. As women, If we are looking forward to correcting these mental misconstructions about women in leadership, we must have a high sense of morality and defend our sexual honors.
Additionally, there are issues of leadership style by Female leaders. They often struggle to cultivate an appropriate and effective leadership style – one that reconciles the communal qualities people prefer in women with the argentic qualities people think leaders need to succeed,for example, when your mannerism lacks a sense of authority.
I have stopped trying to become everyone’s friend. Leadership is not synonymous with socializing, and the earlier we get this, the better.
To further appreciate the above point, I must drum it aloud for women to avoid the thought of competition. The unfortunate notion that women empowerment advocacy has created in the minds of some women is the thought of competition with men.
We, as women, must understand that we are unique, geniuses, and whole: Fighting, demeaning, disrespecting and competing with men, will not add an ounce of greatness to us.
It is said among the Akans (an ethnic group in Ghana) that “when you try to learn some else’s dance, it is either you miss dancing itor risk hurting yourself.” Some women’s sense of competition with men has led to the loss of their uniqueness.
They were wanting to prove a point or show how much better they are than men has led to the loss of many unique leadership qualities, making them uncherished by their team or employees. If you are good, you need not prove yourself, people will notice it.
Yaa Asantewaa did not have to prove the men of her days nothing. She instead worked closely with them for what she could envision, and she got the followership. We need to work with men to complete each other and not to compete. Just be you and allow your uniqueness to speak for you. Let us avoid creating the impression that we are at war with men.
In conclusion, my advice to all the women in finance out there is that if we start acknowledging what the real issues are, we can solve them, and it is not hard if we are committed to doing it. Dedication, consistency, hard work, integrity, and Passion are our best bet to whichever level you are aspiring.
The writer Adeline Quarshie (Ms.) is the C.E.O of Credence Micro Credit at East Legon/Akweteyman in Accra.
Source: Adeline Quarshie