Blog: Woman at the top – advice from a female MD

Dr Amy Jadesimi

Every now then I get to talk to some really successful women who are happy to share their advice and experience of working at the top of their industry.

A short while ago I spoke to Dr Amy Jadesimi a Nigerian born Oxford educated women who is managing director of Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL), a Nigerian infrastructure company founded by her father.  Jadesimi is managing a $300m 20-year infrastructure project which will provide services to the offshore oil and gas industry in Nigeria, with the aim of providing jobs for Nigerians in order to retain more benefit from the country’s oil industry.

In the spirit of campaigns to inspire young women such as Miriam González Durántez’s Inspiring Women campaign and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In campaign, the website has a section that says ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, I thought I’d share what Jadesimi had to say.

What challenges do you face as a female MD in a male-dominated industry?

Dr Amy Jadesimi: I think, over the years, the narrative that women tell themselves and what the world has [told itself] about women in senior positions in any company has changed and become more sophisticated.

So on the one hand there’s this idea that women don’t help each other, that women don’t collaborate; that has gone out the window. I have had a lot of support from women and women’s associations.

There is a recognition that diversity leads to an economic benefit. Education of women, hiring of women, promoting women increases a company’s bottom line and a countries gross domestic product (GDP).

So on the one hand I have seen an increasing amount of support, but on the other hand I am in an industry where you are talking about multi-billion dollar projects and you are overwhelming surrounded by white men, so coming in as a black women you are going to get people’s attention. Very, very rarely – it does happen – the negotiation goes south just because I am dealing with somebody who is just not comfortable talking to a women, let alone a black women, at this level.

Maybe once in five years it has happened. But even that is getting rarer. As a woman you walk into the room and people are not going to know what to expect, or they are not going to expect much, and so there is a lot of pressure on you to perform, to dress a certain way, to project a certain way; you are not going to get the benefit of the doubt. But in my experience of meeting other women who are MDs, directors of boards, they are used to that so they tend to perform quite well.

Any fault or flaw or show of emotion will be remembered and exaggerated. Whereas if you do perform well you may not get extra credit, I don’t think they will necessarily think ‘well, she did a brilliant job.’ By out performing the men in the room you may only get a B but at least you’ll get the job done.

I have noticed what is distinct about women is we are not so interested in being known for being brilliant, for getting the A+ by being seen as being responsible for being a great success. I think we are more focused on just achieving the goal and building an industrial village, for example. It is helpful, I think, to have a women who is more focused on achieving the objective than on taking credit for achieving the objective.

What advice do you have for other women?

Dr Amy Jadesimi: My advice to anybody, but women in particular, is take your time to figure out what you want to do and then put all your time and energy into doing it. Whether that is having a career, not having a career, being in business, being in banking, being in non-profit.

Whatever you do, particularly if you are a woman, there aren’t going to be many positive examples. There may well be a lot of people who tell you you can’t do it or have negative ideas, not because of any personal animosity towards you, but just because they are not used to it. If you are a woman and you are going into a field where there aren’t any other women around you need to be really clear on your vision and you need to be really sure of yourself and stick to it. You are not going to have that many people who are able to encourage you because what you are doing is out of their realm of experience.