Marilyn Loden first used the ‘Glass Ceiling’ metaphor in her 1978 speech. The Glass Ceiling refers to an invisible barrier that prevents people of a particular demography – women in this case – from advancing to the top of a hierarchical corporation. Marilyn Loden might be the first person to name it, but the Glass Ceiling has existed much longer than we think in every society.
In Nigeria, a fundamentally patriarchal society, we have witnessed a gradual emergence of women in leadership positions. These women fought to the top of the hierarchy, breaking the Glass Ceiling. In this article, we’ll discuss the lives, careers, and achievements of the fantastic women changing the narratives. Let’s begin!
DR. NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA.
Renowned Economist and current Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a force to be reckoned with.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was born in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria, to the family of Professor Chukwuka Okonjo. After studying Economics at Harvard University, she earned a Master’s Degree in City Planning and a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Okonjo-Iweala worked at the World Bank in Washington DC for 25 years, first as Development Economist, then in 2007 as Managing Director of Operations.
Before working at the World Bank, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was the first woman to serve as the Finance Minister of Nigeria. She served for two terms (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) under the administrations of Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. After her first term as Minister of Finance, she served for two months as Minister of Foreign Affairs, becoming Nigeria’s first female Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In June 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari nominated Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Nigeria’s candidate for Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Okonjo-Iweala made history as she was appointed Director-General on the 15th of February 2021. She officially began her career as the Director-General of the WTO on the 1st of March, 2021.
Due to her background in Economics and International Development, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala spent 30 years working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America, helping to bring developing countries out of poverty and helping them achieve sustainable development. She also chaired the board of Gavi, the vaccine alliance that has immunized 760 million children globally.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is happily married to a supportive husband, Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon from Abia State, Nigeria. They have four children together.
Nigerian billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist Folorunsho Alakija is another woman who inspires many women to challenge the status quo and dare to be more. She’s an astute businesswoman in the oil, real estate, and printing industries.
Alakija was born on 15 July 1951 to the family of Chief L. A. Ogbara of Ikorodu, Lagos State. When she was seven, Alakija traveled to the United Kingdom to study at Dinorben School for Girls in Hafodunos Hall in Llangernyw, Wales. She then proceeded to Pitman’s Central College in London for her secretarial studies.
After completing her secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London, Folorunsho Alakija returned to Lagos to begin her career as an Executive Secretary in Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos, Nigeria, in 1974. Afterward, she became the Executive Secretary to the Managing Director of FinBank, now FCMB (First City Monument Bank).
After her 12-year career in the banking sector, Folorunsho decided to give in to her passion for fashion design. Arming herself with a certificate in fashion design from the American College in London and the Central School of Fashion, she returned to Nigeria. She launched her fashion label, The Rose of Sharon House of Fashion, in 1996.
As National President and lifelong Trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), she left an indelible mark, promoting Nigerian culture through fashion and style. Folorunsho Alakija also believes in giving back to her society; she established her Non-governmental organization, the Rose of Sharon Foundation, to empower widows and orphans. In 2020, Forbes ranked Folorunsho Alakija as the richest woman in Nigeria, the second most powerful woman in Africa after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Folorunsho Alakija is married to Lawyer Modupe Alakija of the Adeyemo Alakija family. They have four sons.
A Nigerian businesswoman, motivational speaker, author, and mentor to many, Ibukun Awosika was once a Chairman for First Bank, Nigeria, and is a Binance Global Advisory Board member.
Ibukun Awosika was born in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. After completing her primary and secondary education, she proceeded to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where she graduated with a BSc in Chemistry. She also has postgraduate and MBA certificates from the Lagos Business School and IESE Business School – University of Navarra.
Ibukun Awosika started her career during her NYSC (National Youth Service Corps Service (NYSC) in Kano State, where she worked as an audit trainee in Akintola & Co. (now Deloitte). She then became Showroom Manager at a furniture company, Alibert Nigeria Ltd. She later established her own furniture company, SOKOA Chair Centre Limited.
In September 2015, Ibukun became the first female Chairman of First Bank Nigeria. In 2020, she won the Forbes African Woman Chairperson Award.
Apart from being an astute businesswoman, Ibukun Awosika is passionate about issues concerning women. She is a co-founder and past chairperson of Women in Business, Management, and Public Service (WIMBIZ). An ordained Pastor and founder of the Christian Missionary Fund, Ibukun, through this faith-based organization, works with hundreds of missionaries spread across Nigeria to change lives by providing medical, educational, and other supplies. In addition to her fantastic work, Ibukun Awosika is known for organizing several personal development programs aimed at helping people become the best versions of themselves in all areas of life.
Ibukun Awosika is happily married to Abiodun Awosika, and they have three children.
CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a renowned Nigerian writer of novels, short stories, and nonfiction. She is considered a prominent author whose work attracts a new breed of readers to African literature.
Adichie was born to the family of James Nwoye Adichie in the city of Enugu in Nigeria. After her secondary education, she studied Medicine and Pharmacy briefly at the University of Nigeria. When she was 19, Adichie left Nigeria for the United States to study communications and political science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published her first collection of poems (Decisions) in 1997 and a play (For Love of Biafra) in 1998. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book in 2005. Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), was awarded the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the AnisField Wolf Book Award. The story was later adapted into a movie. Chimamanda’s third novel, Americanah (2013), won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a known feminist who uses her works to inspire women worldwide to break free of societal gender strictures enforced to subjugate women. For this reason, she’s a role model to the girl child.
Adichie has been awarded sixteen honorary doctorate degrees from Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Edinburgh, Duke University, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, and the Catholic University of Louvain, where she received her sixteenth in a ceremony on 28 April 2022.
On 30 December 2022, Adichie was made the Odeluwa of Abba. She is the first woman to receive such an honor.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is married to Ivara Esege, a Nigerian Doctor, and they have a daughter.
Mosunmola Abudu, popularly known as Mo Abudu, is a Nigerian media mogul, philanthropist, and former Human Resources Management Consultant.
Mo Abudu is from Ondo State, South West Nigeria. She was born on the 11th of September 1964 in Hammersmith, West London. Mo Abudu has a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management from the University of Westminster in London. Abudu was also awarded by the University of Westminster with an honorary doctorate of Doctor of Arts in 2018 in recognition of her contributions to the broadcasting industry in Nigeria.
Mo Abudu launched EbonyLife TV (ELTV) in 2006, first aired on Multichoice’s DSTV channel 165. Ebony Life TV became one of the most-watched channels on DSTV. Abudu established Ebony mLife Films in 2014, and she produced movies like; The Wedding Party, which became the highest-grossing movie of all time in the Nigerian Movie Industry. Other movies she made are The Wedding Party 2, Chief Daddy, Òlòtūré, and many others. In February 2020, Netflix signed a deal with EbonyLife TV to create two original series.
Mo Abudu is nicknamed the Oprah Winfrey of Africa because she’s the first female filmmaker to give prominence to African stories. She’s keen to retell our stories and set Africa on a global platform.
Mo Abudu was listed on Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women for 2021. She has a son and a daughter and was formerly married to Tokunbo Abudu.
It’s 2023, and it’s impressive that a new generation of women is emerging in leadership positions in Nigeria. From politics to activism, traditional rulership, and the entertainment industry, more and more women are carving niches for themselves, defying the odds, and breaking the metaphorical Glass Ceiling.
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