Feature: How Access Bank Takes the Lead in Empowering Women

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By Dorcas Omotayo

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“Don’t aim to break the glass ceiling; aim to shatter it”

Matshona Dhliwayo

It is no secret that women promote growth and impact diverse sectors of the global economy positively. For instance, in Nigeria, the informal sector is largely controlled by women and they have really made great impact in the lives of their dependent and families. On the other side, the formal sectors such as healthcare, finance, agriculture, e-commerce, education, among others, have seen tremendous transformation under the leadership of women. As such, women have proven to be a force to reckon with when it comes to shaping the economy, market trends and governance in the world.

Therefore, expanding the role of women in societies also expands the diversity of skills and viewpoints in both economic and political sectors. When women enter the workforce and compete on an even plane with men, there is a greater chance to see creativity and innovation from women. Greater gender diversity in workplace leadership has also been shown to increase organizational effectiveness.

However, with the impact women have on the economy, they have also continued to encounter certain obstacles and challenges that make it feel like the glass ceiling have not been totally shattered in the society. Challenges such as violence, gender pay gap, digital gender divide, informal work, lack of sufficient information, instability, low financial assistance, and underrepresentation. With these challenges, empowering women would be key in surmounting the multitude of challenges they face.

According to the United Nations Women; “Empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5, to achieve gender equality, and Goal 8, to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all; also Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal 2 on food security, Goal 3 on ensuring health and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities”.

Taking the lead in empowering women in Nigeria is Access Bank PLC, the leading bank in Nigeria by customer base which operates through a network of more than 600 branches and service outlets, that span three continents, 12 countries and 36 million customers. The bank has remained at the forefront of women empowerment by leveraging on its ‘W’ initiative as a channel.

The Bank pioneered women banking in Nigeria with the establishment of the Gender Empowerment Movement (GEM) in 2006 which later evolved into the ‘W’ Initiative, officially created in 2014. Such dedication to women empowerment has led to over 35% of its customer that are women.

The ‘W’ Initiative is a robust plan to provide women with banking solutions tailored to meet their diverse career and lifestyle requirements. It is a virtual community that aims to inspire and connect women to opportunities nationally and internationally, as well as give them a rewarding banking experience. In simpler terms, the ‘W’ Initiative offers women, from capacity building programs exclusive to women, to mentoring programmes, and maternal health services, all aimed at helping to build a bigger, stronger, and more sustainable society.

Included in this initiative is the access to loans and credit facilities; access to the ‘W’ community in which they can get insights concerning family matters and finance matters. In addition, ‘W’ community also provides women with access to information about several value-adding offers for the home, including specially discounted offers as well as freebies on health, beauty, and fitness.

Speaking on the Bank’s dedication to empowering the female gender, The Group Managing Director, Access Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe, said, “From the very beginning, at the heart of our strategy is support for women, helping them and connecting them to global opportunities. Our efforts have not gone unnoticed as evidenced by our numerous awards and recognition in the area of female empowerment”, he said.

Furthermore, the ‘W’ Initiative has also leveraged on partnerships with other stakeholders in the community. Most notable is its partnership with the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) in 2018, to launch LSETF, designed to empower women in the state. The initiative, with a total loan portfolio of N10 billion, was made available for businesses that women hold at least 50per cent ownership share.

Other programmes of the ‘W’ Initiative under the leadership of Ayona Aguele-Trimnell, Group Head, Women Banking at Access Bank Plc during the pandemic include the introduction of the W Webinar Series, implementation of a 90 days moratorium and extension on all existing loans to Women owned and managed SMEs without penal charge, introduction of the bespoke business debit card and creation of an e-commerce enabled website to enhance the digital presence for female owned businesses.

Another laudable project is the Womenpreneur Pitch-a-ton Africa Campaign last year where female owned businesses across Africa had the opportunity to access finance and world-class business trainings as well as mentoring opportunities.

Other programmes are the provision of skills support to 75,000 women in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) across the country, transformational workshop have also been held in Abuja and Port Harcourt for 350 female entrepreneurs. Equally, there was a breast cancer awareness campaign and screening for women in Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt.

The Initiative also supported the  ‘Citation’, a new flick by Kunle Afolayan, the support is in a bid to address Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria.

In 2019, the ‘W’ Initiative partnered with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs on the 50 Million Women Speak Project with ECOWAS designed to empower women in business across Africa on skills required to build sustainable businesses.

As a leader in championing gender equality and social inclusion in the financial sector, Access Bank can boast of the best of female professionals within its organization who have become leaders in their niches and occupy strategic management positions. Also, the bank has incorporated a maternity leave policy that gives six months to women working in the organization.

No doubt, the Bank has been committed to championing female empowerment, with a focus on information sharing, capacity building, and increased access to finance to grow and expand their businesses.

Dorcas Omotayo is the Features Editor of News Wings NG, Lagos, Nigeria

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