Empowering Female Leaders across Citi’s Network in Africa
By Joyce-Ann Wainaina, CEO of Citibank East Africa September 07, 2016 03:15 PM
Citi’s Diversity Strategy is a key to our success, ensuring that the Citi workforce is as vibrant and innovative as the communities it serves. In my position as CEO of Citibank East Africa, I feel privileged to be able to bring this strategy to life every day by working to increase opportunities for female executives across Africa’s overwhelmingly male-dominated banking industry.
There are many reasons why women, particularly in Africa, don’t always rise to the top. Some are social, some economic, and some cultural. As the first woman and first Kenyan to serve as CEO of Citibank East Africa, I’m personally all too familiar with the challenges women can face as they move into leadership roles. In Africa in particular, networking opportunities are far too often few and far between.
In 2015, after realizing that there were only three African women in managing director roles across the Citi network in Sub Saharan Africa, a few of my fellow female senior executives at Citi and I decided that rather than allow other women to go through the same struggles as so many of us who came before them had done, that we should start a mentoring program to give them the right tools and opportunities to succeed in their careers.
Together with two fellow women managing directors, Ireti Ogbu and Rose Agutu, and with the support of HR seniors in Johannesburg and London, we were able to launch a 12-week mentorship program for Citi women in sub-Saharan Africa: the Sapphire Leadership Program. Named after one of the rarest stones found in Africa, the Sapphire Leadership Program targets high-performing female assistant vice presidents, vice presidents and senior vice presidents across the region. It pairs these selected individuals with managing directors across the Citi network who have experience working in Africa, with the objective of providing new career tools, mentorship and networking opportunities.
I launched my career at Citi as a Management trainee 26 years ago, and in 2011, I was named the Chief Country Officer of Citi in Zambia – a country in which I had no friends, relatives or social network. I used golfing as a means to grow my professional network, and to my great surprise and delight, it worked. Giving other women a sense that yes, it can be done, is critical to building the confidence and self-esteem necessary to succeed where others have failed.
Over the past two years, the Sapphire Program has coached 33 mentees and received exceptionally positive feedback across the organization. I’ve watched female bankers grow into new roles as corporate bank heads or senior operations executives within their countries. I’ve watched with pride as they developed the confidence to reach out and grab career opportunities, and to have meaningful and productive conversations with senior leaders. I’m proud to draw on my own experiences to create progress, not just for myself and my clients but also for the employees that come after me. Citi’s mission of enabling growth and economic progress that means we can make a difference in all of the lives that we touch. With the Sapphire Program, we’ve taken a significant step forward so that others can advance in our path. Speaking just for myself, I can say that everything about the success of our program has been inspiring, and the entire experience has made me even prouder than I’ve ever been to work at a company like Citi.