Abiola Bawuah: women must strive for equality not equity
With a standing ovation and nonstop applause, Abiola Marufatu Bawuah, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO) of UBA Ghana, gracefully stepped onto the stage and was crowned as the 2016 Chartered Institute of Marketing Ghana (CIMG), Marketing Woman of the Year.
The awards which remains one of the most competitive and prestigious events to reward marketing excellence in the country, is in recognition of Mrs. Bawuah's excellence in strategic marketing in the areas of market insights, people management, corporate reputation management, CSR, and sound marketing management that set her apart as a corporate achiever for the year 2016.
With a majestic walk to the podium where she thanked her team including the bank’s board, she urged women to strive to be better and stronger in order to reach the heights expected of them. To her, there is no substitute when it comes to achieving success: it is all about hardwork.
“I felt good, celebrated and above all very humbled. Hard work pays and no matter how you think people are not looking, somebody out there is paying attention and so we should put in our very best,” she says.
“Our energy has been revived from the top. There is a new direction and already we have begun re-strategising from 2018 through to 2020. We will continue to support our customers, build our employees who are our most prized asset and partner government projects as we have done in the past,” she adds.
Strive for equality not equity
But the real message from her to women is simple: there is the need to attain equality and not equity. In an interview with the Business and Financial Times (B&FT) on Monday, she was emphatic in her charge to inspire women to attain equality and not equity when it comes to men.
“It is not about the wig, the beauty or the bag: they have nothing to do with the work or your progress. We can cheer you on for holding a Gucci bag but it has nothing to do with the progress you have to deliver. That is the simple message.
You do not need to be permanently in excuses; that is what is keeping us behind and pushing us back and that is why I dedicate my award to women out there who do not play the women’s pity card and beauty.
Let us go for equality, not equity. Equality means that whether I am married or have kids, it should not affect the job. We should be able to put in as much as the men are putting in and not to ask the men to see us as ‘we should understand’,” she says.
To her the rules should not be bent “because I am a woman or I have to come to work late because I am looking after my son: that is equity. No matter what is happening in my house, nobody should know. No male has come to me to tell me ‘I am not coming to work because my son is sick’, no male has come. But the women come in plenty and that is equity,” she notes.
Despite her crowning moment in the past week, there was no air of entitlement around her. While others might prefer to take a day or week off or still be in the celebratory mood, to Mrs. Bawuah it was business as usual.
At 7:30am, she was in the office to begin her day and meeting after meeting meant I was given a few minutes and right after my interview, she was on the move and not even a minute was spared to receive congratulations from her team.
“I think that sometimes when you think you are successful; it is actually the beginning point. We are going to take more strides, conquer and take more territories. As at last year, UBA was number five and we seriously hope that we will take number four position,” she adds.
Since her arrival at UBA almost half a decade ago, and at her constant urging, several women, who hitherto were comfortable with a back seat role to the men, have risen through the ranks and are now leading several departments, units and branches.
“That message has been clear to my staff and more and more are taking up leadership roles unlike earlier when they were shying away. If you look today, my head of human resource is a woman, unit heads are women, including ICT, financial, FMCGs, beverage and most of my branches are headed by women and they deliver.”
She explains that if women strive for equity instead of equality, then they will always be left behind. “Your boss is not your husband; he is your boss and needs results. I have kids. You must put yourself as being equal to a man. I do not need to know about your family, take care of that, figure it out.
Impact of award on society
She explains that with this award her actions must have a positive impact on society.
“If you have been made marketing woman of the year, how do I contribute to society, how do I live up to the responsibility? There are quite a number of things on my table but I will reach out to my marketing man of the year [Ebenezer Asante, CEO of MTN] so we agree on something. But it will certainly be in reaching out to people in business,” she adds.
Mrs. Bawuah comes with enormous experience in retail banking and marketing. She holds a BSc in Actuarial Science from the University of Lagos, Nigeria, and a Legum Baccalaureus (LLB) with honors from the University of London, a diploma in Marketing from GIMPA and an EMBA (Finance) from the University of Ghana.
In addition to these academic laurels, she has numerous leadership qualifications from Harvard Business School, Columbia, University of New York, INSEAD and Institut Villa Pierrefeu in Switzerland.
She has worked with Standard Chartered Bank as Head of Sales; with CAL Bank as Relationship Manager; and with Strategic African Securities as an authorized dealing broker as well as with the then Bentsi-Enchi and Letsa; now Bentsi-Enchil, Letsa and Ankomah law firm as an investment officer.
In 2012, she was made Executive Director at Zenith Bank Ghana; having previously held positions of General Manager, Marketing and Group Head, Retail Banking after which she joined United Bank for Africa (UBA) Ghana Limited as Deputy Managing Director in 2013.
In less than a year of joining UBA in 2013, she was elevated to the position of MD/CEO, with two firsts: being the first indigenous CEO of a Pan African Bank and the first female CEO to take the helm.
This is a position she has held until today and under her tenure, Mrs. Bawuah has seen the profits of the bank increase by incredible margins. The bank's deposits within the four years she has been at the helm of affairs rose from GH¢350 million to the GH¢1billion mark and by 2016, deposits have reached GH¢3billion.
Her year-on-year growth in PBT (Profit before Tax) was 134percent in 2016, and grew balance sheet by 55percent highlighting key focus on profitability following a difficult 2015 year.
In 2015, Mrs. Bawuah was adjudged the overall Banking and Finance Female Personality of the Year 2014 at the National Women in Finance Magazine (NWIF) awards ceremony held at the International Conference Centre in Accra.
The awards ceremony also saw her being awarded female banker of the year; while UBA’s innovative female tailor- made product for discerning women, RUBY, was adjudged the product of the year.
Mrs. Bawuah was recently celebrated by Woman Rising, Ghana’s leading network of Women Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders who released a comprehensive & inspiring list of the Top 50 Women Corporate Leaders in Ghana featuring 50 leading corporate women from various business sectors aimed at recognizing the outstanding achievements of women in the development of the Ghanaian economy and inspiring the next generation of globally minded women business leaders.
Prior to taking over, UBA was ranked 17th in Ghana but currently the bank ranks among the top five in the country.
The UBA brand embraces a need to constantly anticipate the changing needs of customers and innovates to meet their expectations. At the recently held annual Group UBA CEO Awards Night, Mrs. Abiola Bawuah was chosen in the special enterprising award category of Business Leader extraordinaire; one who defied all odds and opened up new opportunities for the bank. She was described by the GMD, Kennedy Uzoka, as “a relentless CEO able to break barriers, extend the horizon of targets and motivate, inspire and encourage others.”
She was the visionary behind the single financed Ghana Road Fund, the major road project in Ghana, where she won a major government deal in 2016, the Ghana Infrastructure Fund.
As a responsible financial institution, the MD/CEO of UBA leads the team to deliver secured digital solutions by creating an appropriate balance between providing exceptional customer experience and meeting risk and regulatory responsibilities.
She volunteered her time this year to serve for one day at the Osu Children’s Home after which she donated a month’s supply of New Born baby milk, diapers and cases of water.
She was also a final judge/panellist at the just concluded season finale of the ‘Business Pitch’ competition which features young upcoming entrepreneurs attempting to pitch their business ideas and innovations to win funding.
She is married with three children and volunteers as a motivational speaker to various churches, religious bodies, NGOs and women’s groups.