In a field dominated by men, many women have been excelling in their various roles. AirtelTigo, one of the leading telecommunications companies, recognises and values the contributions of women to its business. In a move to embrace equity, the company is highlighting some women whose impact on the organisation has been significant.
Cynthia Degbor Akafia, Legal and Regulatory Director at AirtelTigo, shares her path and valuable contributions to AirtelTigo, how mentorship influenced her career, and her dedication to empowering other women.
Cynthia Degbor Akafia is an experienced and seasoned legal practitioner with a multi-disciplinary background in Law. Presently, she is the Legal and Regulatory Director for AirtelTigo. Born in Accra, she is the first of four children.
Cynthia began her education from Bishop Bowers Primary School in Laterbiokoshie, continued to Holy Child School, and then to the University of Ghana for her Bachelor’s degree in English & Linguistics.
With an interest in Law, Cynthia did her post first Degree, LLB, at the law faculty of the University of Ghana, then proceeded to the Ghana School of Law, and was called to the bar in 2011.
Prior to joining Millicom Ghana Limited, Cynthia gained extensive internship experience at Kudjawo & Co, AB & David Law, and Reindorf Chamber. While at Kudjawo & Co, Cynthia was instrumental in the Due Diligence process for the acquisition contract of Millicom Ghana’s Telecommunication mast by Helios Towers, only to return to Millicom after becoming a lawyer.
After Law School, Cynthia joined the reputable law firm of Minkah Premo & Co, and quickly rose to the position of Head of Corporate and Compliance within six months due to her enthusiasm for dealing with compliance issues and exceptional organisational skills. She also doubled as the company secretary and acted as secretary to over 50 Boards of Companies in and out of Ghana.
Before Law School, Cynthia worked on various legal and policy reform issues at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). She also served as the Programmes Coordinator of the EU Women’s Programme, where she worked to increase women’s participation and representation in Parliament; a platform that encouraged women to unleash their political ambition. This programme was sponsored by the European Union. Additionally, after obtaining her Bachelor’s degree, Cynthia had the opportunity to serve at the Linguistics Department of the University of Ghana as a National Service Person.
- How did you end up in your role as Director for Legal & Regulatory?
Prior to the merger of Millicom Ghana Limited and Airtel Ghana Limited, I was the Head of Legal and Company Secretary at Millicom Ghana Limited, a position I rose to within a year of joining the company. Upon the merger of the two companies, I was made the Head of Corporate & Commercial transactions until the position of Regulatory Director became available, and I challenged myself again acting in that position for a year. I was confirmed subsequently. I currently wear two caps, as the Legal and Regulatory Director and the Company Secretary of Airtel Mobile Commerce.
- What do you think helped you get so far in your career?
Taking up challenges. Not resigning myself to setbacks, my journey through law school, and not settling in my comfort zone. My family has also been a great inspiration, most especially my husband who has been a strong support, and I am eternally grateful. I also embrace diversity and its challenges, e.g., through law school.
- What do you see as the biggest barrier to embracing equity of women in the economy, especially in Technology/STEM (Science, Technology. Engineering. Mathematics) and what more needs to be done?
The fact that women and men are not equal is first. Biologically and even physically, women’s bodies are not built like that of men; hence, some things cannot be handled by women even when they challenge themselves to it. The fact is that women will become pregnant and give birth to children, not only once, and that also has so many challenges that a man does not face. Base on this, affirmative action should be taken every time in considering roles/positions for women and in dealing with women in all spheres of life.
- Has mentorship played a role in your career?
Yes, I have been mentored by women in leadership positions at my various workplaces throughout my career. My employer and mentor at IEA is the current Electoral Commission Chair of Ghana. I also belong to Mentoring Women Ghana, a women-mentoring group who take up mentorship of young ladies from tertiary institutions every year.
- What is the most important message you want to send to young women thinking about their careers?
I will summarise this in three points:
- Do not limit yourself to what you can do. Open yourself to improving yourself, you can afford it.
- Network, this is what will open opportunities for you – both local and international.
- Avail yourself to mentoring and training.
- On the backdrop of 2023’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Embrace Equitys’, do you think society is embracing equity? In your line of work, is equity something we are inching closer to?
With the increased realisation and education in recent times, policies are being developed in that line. Back with Millicom, HR recruited an expectant mother as she was qualified for the job. I also believe there is more room for improvement, especially in taking affirmative action when it comes to women.
- At your level, what actions do you take toward gender equality in your workplace?
I ensure that equal opportunities are given to both male and female employees. If a female qualifies to occupy the position that was previously occupied by a male, she should receive the same renumeration and benefits that come with the position. I was also very instrumental in the creation of the mother’s nest as the Diversity Implementation Committee Chair with Millicom Ghana Limited in 2016.
- What advice will you give women struggling in a male-dominated industry.
Always give off your best, especially because other biological factors work against us women. Go the extra mile. You will be rewarded if you do your best.
- What positive changes have you seen regarding women in the workplace since you started your career?
Honestly, I have witnessed the company embracing gender inclusivity in the workplace. An example is the opportunity given an expectant mother. Even the opportunity to form the Diversity Implementation Committee some years ago was a good initiative which birthed the mother’s nest, and has even impacted on the WFH policy that COVID-19 brought to bear.
- What three values govern the way you live your life?
Integrity, virtuousness and discipline are the principles that guide my life.
The AirtelTigo International Women’s Day Profiling campaign spans over a month, and is aimed at celebrating women in their respective workplaces. The campaign is designed to recognise and highlight the significant contributions made by women to the growth and success of the company. Through this campaign, AirtelTigo aims to promote gender equity and encourage women to strive for excellence in their careers. Overall, the campaign seeks to promote gender diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.