HOW WOMEN ARE ‘CLAIMING THEIR SEATS AT THE TABLE’ AND FINDING THEIR VOICES IN THE ENERGY SECTOR THROUGH MENTORSHIP AND CAREER SPONSORSHIP

Hafsat had just completed the negotiation of her new job contract at one of the leading energy service companies in Lusaka and was excited about the journey ahead. On her first day, she was chatting with 3 male colleagues and sharing notes about the entire recruitment process. One of her new colleagues mentioned that he had gone through three rounds of negotiations before reaching an agreement on a number that worked for him to take on the role, and the other two lads affirmed that their experience was similar. Hafsat was shocked. She had pushed back minimally initially and when the offer was increased slightly, she quickly accepted it as she feared she would lose the opportunity.

Hafsat’s story is similar to a lot of young women in the energy sector. They join the sector and struggle to find their way from the inception because they have no idea what to expect; what opportunities to consider; how to negotiate for better pay, titles, or benefits; how to request for promotions highlighting their achievements in their jobs and much more. Another group of women, mostly entrepreneurs, struggle to raise funds as they do not have the network, or requisite knowledge on fundraising. Yet another group are in middle management positions in enterprises but struggle to climb up to leadership roles. Finally, there are the women in executive or leadership positions who would like to be on boards, or on high-level national or global energy committees but are unaware of the steps to take to realize these aspirations.

One thread that runs through most women’s career journey is the lack of career mentors or sponsors. The impact that having a mentor or sponsor to guide one through one’s career journey cannot be overstated. One’s mentor or sponsor can introduce and connect one to other women in the sector who can be reached for guidance, create avenues and opportunities to engage with these women to understand their journeys and avoid any landmines they might have faced along the way, and act as an advocate and facilitator for opportunities and access one ordinarily would not be able to take advantage of.

Some women have made this journey unguided, but some have noted that they made costly and avoidable mistakes. Some others explained that the journey took much longer than required with more ‘sacrifices’ made. Career mentors and sponsors have been shown to make this journey ‘to the top’ quicker and easier.

Mentorship is described by the Cambridge Dictionary as ‘the activity of giving a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time, especially at work or school.’ The person providing the help or advice is known as the mentor and the person being helped or advised is referred to as the mentee. Mentorship has been in existence from the earliest times. A simpler way to understand it is the apprenticeship relationship where young people learn a trade by shadowing the master artisan. Mentorship exists at different levels and aspects of life. From trade to family; from investing to public speaking; from career to academics, mentorship has proven to accelerate the success of mentees and open them up to different opportunities.

Some of the trailblazers we adore have emphasized the importance of mentorship in their life and career journeys. Steve Jobs mentored Mark Zuckerberg, Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey, Mahatma Gandhi mentored Nelson Mandela, and the list goes on. Indeed, Oprah was once quoted to have said this about Maya: ‘She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. Mentors are important, and I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship’.

To ensure that both parties gain from the mentor-mentee relationship, it is important that both parties clearly articulate their individual and common expectations and objectives from the beginning. For example, a mentor would need to be clear on what type of guidance and support she is able to provide and the way and manner she will be available to her mentee. On the other hand, the mentee will need to at least have a rough idea or plan on where she wants to go in her career and be proactive in seeking help and assistance from her mentor. It is only when the expectations for mentor-mentee relationship are clearly spelt out that the mentoring process can be effective.

For professionals and entrepreneurs seeking mentorship, a good starting point is to identify networks focused on advancing the careers of their members. In the male-dominated energy sector, the Africa Women in Energy Development Initiative (AWEDI Network) has become the go-to platform for career advancement for women. In addition to its many programs and opportunities to connect and grow women in the energy sector, the AWEDI Network Mentorship program connects mentees with mentors in the energy sector with the aim of giving the former accelerated career growth and support.

The AWEDI Network Mentorship programme was launched in December 2019 and so far, successfully matched 77 mentors and mentees from East, West and Central Africa across the energy value chain. The mentors are happy to guide their mentees to successfully navigate their careers in the sector as most of them wished they had such an opportunity earlier in their careers. We also see senior professionals seeking out more mature women to support them especially in non-technical areas of their careers. Beyond sponsorship, the network provides an avenue for other accomplished women in the sector to meet younger women whose careers they wish to sponsor. This means they direct opportunities to these younger women whom they believe have strong potential.

AWEDI Network was founded by Ujunwa Ojemeni, an impact-investing, energy and development expert with experience in the areas of opportunity maturation, financing and policy, and co-founded by Afoma Ofodile, a commercial lawyer that specializes in complex commercial contract negotiations, strategic business and project development transactions, corporate governance the establishment of compliance programs across the oil & gas, gas power and aviation sectors in Africa. The network continues to promote the participation and growth of women in the energy sector through its network of volunteers who drive its activities – mentorship programs, career sponsorship (acceleration), networking opportunities, professional development and leadership training for women at all stages of their energy careers and for female students at the secondary and tertiary levels of education.