How Biola Alabi is Ensuring Women Take The Lead in Business

Three Nigerian women were named in the FT & HERoes 100 Female Executives list for 2018, in recognition of their tireless commitment to gender diversity and inclusion of women in the African workplace. Funke Abimbola, head of financial compliance in the world’s largest biotech company Roche; Bukola Adisa, Barclays’ managing director, head of risk and controls framework, design & execution; and Biola Alabi, the chief executive officer of Biola Alabi Media and Entertainment and the only Nigerian-based woman on the list, join the ranks of some of the world’s most powerful female executives from global companies such as Deloitte, IBM, Amazon, and Mastercard.

The annual list celebrates female role models who are working fiercely towards increasing gender diversity in the workplace and supporting the growth of women in senior business roles. “These lists have been created with one aim – to create gender parity in workplaces across the globe,” founder of INvolve and HERoes, Suki Sandhu, says. “The role models we’re recognising aren’t just those who have achieved success themselves – they’re those who are committed to lifting others with them as they climb, and ultimately fueling the female talent pipeline.”

Counter clockwise from top: Funke Abimbola, Biola Alabi, Bukola Adisa.

Alabi, who has been at the forefront of Africa’s business and media landscape for over two decades, is a highly-acclaimed Nollywood producer, as well as a vocal advocate for championing diversity and inclusion of women in the workplace through extensive networking and mentorship. She is also the founder of Grooming for Greatness, a leadership development and mentorship program designed to harness and develop a new generation of African leaders.

“I have always placed a strong emphasis on doing what I can to support and nurture talented women in business through mentorship and creating opportunities for others to excel in business and the workplace across Africa,” Biola Alabi says of her recognision the Financial Times’ list. “I am humbled and honoured to be recognised alongside so many outstanding female executives who are championing gender diversity and inclusion. Yet I am, also aware of how much there still is to do to increase the representation of women in business at all levels.”

In an exclusive interview with TheNerve Africa, the Nigerian businesswoman and CEO talks about the benefits and challenges in ensuring parity.

This recognition is due to your tireless commitment to gender diversity and inclusion of women in the African workplace and in senior business roles. What would you say your biggest challenge has been so far in ensuring parity?

Alabi: As someone that’s worked across the globe I think one of the biggest lessons that I have learned is that Parity means different things to different people in different countries. To truly achieve equality we need to make sure that women understand their rights, that they have options. We [need to] continue to reiterate, recreate and redefine what women can be and aspire to be, to make available opportunities that have been previously denied to women–these are some of the biggest challenges that we face on the road to parity.

You are the only Nigerian-based woman to be included on the global list. How have your experiences contributed to this and what advice do you have for young Nigerian women?

Alabi: I have been very fortunate to work across the globe on so many different projects and working groups; I believe that this is what made my experiences relevant globally. My advice to young people is to keep doing what they believe in and to make sure that they are each other’s keeper and lift each other up.  I truly believe that women have an amazing multiplier effect but over the years there has been a myth about female leadership in the workplace. My hope is that young women will stop perpetuating that myth by cooperating and collaborating in and out of the workplace.

What does feminism mean to you? Is there a personal experience that inspires you to contribute to the development of women and the younger generation and what can others do to increase the representation of women in business at all levels?

Alabi: Feminism means equity to me, the ability for women to choose from known alternatives, to be economically empowered. I’m inspired to do all I can to lift other women up due to the amazing mentors and female leadership I have had in my life.  Some of the my biggest career opportunities came from women that recognized something inside of me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. It’s so powerful the way women can lift each other up and help each other build confidence. There is a purity and authenticity that comes from that and I have been a huge beneficiary of these experiences. I want to make sure I give back and lift up more women.

You provide professional and leadership development opportunities for aspiring women in Nigeria and across the continent. What is your biggest focus in pushing Nigerians towards global recognition and what can be done to improve the quality of the work we produce?

Grooming for Greatness and the private mentoring I do has been not only for Nigerian women but also for women globally and Nigerian women also living in the Diaspora. Nigerian women have so many amazing role models that are operating globally. If you take a look at the FT & HERoes 100 Female Executive list, you will see that 3 other Nigerians were on the list although they are not based in Nigeria.  We also have women like Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, a two-time Minister of Finance for Nigeria, and Amina Mohammed the current Deputy Secretary-general of the United Nations. These are amazing role models. I believe that the female leadership we are producing is global quality, and what we need now is to make sure those stories continue to be told so that young women across Nigeria know that they have global opportunities.

If there was one resource that you wish everyone would read or view what would it be? And should we expect anything new from BAM in 2019?

One of my favorite books is “True North” by Bill George; it’s really an amazing book on how to follow your internal compass to become an authentic leader.  I use this in our Grooming for Greatness sessions with our fellows and it’s amazing to see how people transform and redefine success for themselves. This book requires you to do a lot of work internally. We are BAM are already working on our next movie for 2019 and working with a couple of exciting television series. I’m excited for 2019.

Alabi is currently a non-executive Board Member of Unilever Nigeria, and a member of the Advisory Board of the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. In the past two years, she has executive produced two of Nollywood’s biggest recent hits: Lara and the Beat (2018) and Banana Island Ghost (2017), and is also the Executive Producer of Nigerian food travel documentary-series Bukas and Joints, currently airing across Africa and in the USA. A World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, she was also named one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa by Forbes Africa in 2012, and the 2013 AABLA West African Business Woman of the Year.