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Gender Equality

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Women Leaders are the Key to a Sustainable Future – Jane Reindorf-Attoh

24 October 2018

“There is a direct correlation between women as leaders and a sustainable future. In many parts of the world, men are considered the ‘head of the household’ yet all over the world women are the foundation of the home.”

Jane Reindorf-Attoh, CEO of World Trade Centre (WTC) Accra in conversation with Sherah Beckley Editor, Thomson Reuters Sustainability, elaborates on her career journey and how she rose to success despite being one of the few female leaders across various industries. She explains the importance of women working at the c-suite level and the valuable attributes that they bring to the table.

Sherah Beckley: Could you tell us a bit about your professional journey to date, outlining a key turning point or challenge in your journey?

Jane Reindorf-Attoh: I was a career Human Resources Professional for many years before branching into operations and general management.  I have a M.S. in Management from the University of Maryland University College and a B.S. in Management from George Mason University in the U.S. –both with a concentration in Human Resources.  With that being said, the majority of my work experience has been in the U.S and primarily in the aerospace & defense sector.

Soon after I obtained my bachelor’s degree, I landed my first management role as an Operations Supervisor with a security company at Ronald Reagan National Airport in DC.

The pay was good (compared to what I made previously) but the hours were challenging because I was on call 24×7 and started most of my shifts at 3am or 4am. After two years, I decided to return to Human Resources.

Over the years, I worked in almost every HR functional area from Benefits and Recruitment to Diversity & Inclusion and Employee Relations; again primarily in the aerospace & defense sector therefore I worked with a lot of men, especially prior military.  That environment toughened me. I was relatively young and worked in positions that required me to advise managers and senior executives that were much older than I was.

I was the lead HR Executive embedded in business units that supported the intelligence agencies (CIA, FBI, DIA etc.).  At one point in my career, I was a Regional Human Resources Manager for a retired 4-Star Navy Admiral and the makeup of the executive team was mostly men (also prior military) which meant I dealt with a lot egos. Their expectations were high. I also worked for a VP who was the former Deputy Director of the CIA before coming to head an Intelligence Business Unit at the company I worked for.

By far, he was probably the best executive that I’ve worked for throughout my career. He believed that companies benefited from having women in leadership roles, supported the company’s Women in Leadership Chapter, and coached several women in the organization –including myself. When he resigned, he selected a woman to replace him.

Looking back, I can honestly say that most of the men I worked with didn’t care about my gender, they cared about my experience and demanded that I earned their respect – which I did.

I am not saying that discrimination does not exist in the workplace. It does. In fact the turning point in my career came when another female executive at one of the company’s I worked for shared her story of discrimination with me.

She expressed her frustration at being turned down for the most senior VP roles despite her experience and seniority – having worked for the company for over 20 years. She was white and felt the discrimination stemmed from her nationality, not her race or her gender.

This was the precise moment, which I decided to refocus my career aspirations from HR to Operations and from working in the US to relocating back to my birthplace, Ghana where I work and reside today.

Sherah: As the first female Managing Director of Ghana’s World Trade Centre, why is gender equality at the c-suite level crucial to business success? And what do you think the connection is between women as leaders and a sustainable future?

Jane: I believe that gender equality at the c-suite level is so important because it brings equilibrium to the leadership team.  In general, women have a different approach to leadership, which at times can be more effective.

Organizations which lack women in the c-suite are missing out on the strengths that we bring to the table, such as our ability to inspire others, compassion (or emotional intelligence), resourcefulness, and determination.

Also, diversity in any organization is important. It promotes innovation and agility which is a must in today’s competitive business environment.

There is a direct correlation between women as leaders and a sustainable future. In many parts of the world, men are considered the “head of the household” yet all over the world women are the foundation of the home. We are the gel that keeps the home together.

When we look at the sustainable development goals, at the house hold level, globally women are the main influencers in more than 50% of the goals.  We are overwhelmingly responsible for the care and feeding of the family, income generation, health and well-being and education to name a few. Therefore naturally women play a role in our ability to obtain a sustainable future.

In the words of the late Kofi Annan, “when women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.”

Sherah: How can men in particular lead on the empowerment of women as leaders?

Jane: I believe that women leaders cannot be successful without the support of men.  Just as a Managing Director or CEO cannot be successful without the support of his staff.  Some of the biggest advocates and mentors throughout my career have been men.

Men can lead in the empowerment of women by giving them a seat the table and a voice.

Men can also advocate for women in leadership roles (especially at the Board level) and speak up for equality.

Sherah: Africa is the youngest continent in the world in terms of demographics. What messages would you like to give to young people specifically about how they can contribute to achieving gender equality?

Jane: I find it difficult to give this generation advice on achieving gender equality because honestly, I feel they already get it –even more than my generation and the previous generations. The young men and women of today see each other as equals and this gives me hope that one day soon, we will achieve gender equality.

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