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Lavhelesani Mainganye explores the Mondelez International Sub-Saharan Africa business unit, which is the pinnacle of female leadership transformation

March was International Women’s Month and is celebrated worldwide, with some commemorating the day and highlighting their achievements in having mastered the art of women taking up space in various areas of life, particularly in businesses and the corporate world. However, others see this as a far-fetched dream, with women still regarded as only being homemakers with no place in running corporations. It is imperative that we zoom in on those who have got it right so far.

Mondelez International is one of the few companies to have 60% female executive leadership across the Sub-Saharan business unit (SSABU). Globally, Mondelez International is one of the largest multinational snack companies in the world. They hold the #1 global position in biscuits (cookies and crackers) and #2 in chocolate, while they’re growing rapidly in baked snacks. They also make and sell gum and candy, as well as various cheeses, groceries, and powdered beverage products in certain markets.

They have operations in more than 80 countries and employ around 80 000 in their factories, offices, research and development facilities, and distribution activities around the world. They are not only making it on the production front, but their Sub-Saharan business unit also boasts a 60% female executive leadership representation. While the aim is to see these kinds of attainments as normal and not being celebrated, we spoke to two women who are executives in the Sub-Saharan business unit in different portfolios about their careers and workplace experience so far.

Yimika Adeboye

Yimika Adeboye joined Cadbury Nigeria Plc (the Nigeria subsidiary of Mondelez) as Finance and Strategy Director in November 2008. At the time, she was one of the two female directors on the board of seven directors in the Nigeria business. She was appointed as Managing Director of Cadbury Nigeria Plc on 1 April 2019 and Cluster Director of Mondelez International West Africa on 1 July 2019. Yimika also chairs the Board of Cadbury Ghana Limited. Prior to joining the Mondelez International group, she was the Chief Financial Officer and Director of Finance at Nigerian Bottling Company Plc (the sole franchise bottler of the Coca-Cola Company in Nigeria). She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and Social Studies from University College Cardiff, Wales. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and a Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Nigeria.

On being a woman in a male-dominated industry…

My focus has always been on performing my role to the highest standard. While one cannot avoid the obvious reality of being one of the few female CEOs in manufacturing, I have gotten used to the reaction I get, particularly as I was also in this same minority in my previous role as a CFO of two publicly quoted multinationals in Nigeria. We do have more female CEOs in the financial services, consulting, and technology sectors, but rarely in manufacturing. I recently attended a manufacturing food and beverage industry meeting where there were 53 CEOs, and I was the only woman. The only other woman at the meeting was the HR Director of a member-company who was standing in for her male CEO. This is one of the reminders that we need to seriously address gender imbalance in our industry.

On the importance of having females in leadership roles…

Any organization that does not have appropriate gender balance in its leadership will have problems. Men and women are wired differently and when they work as a team, the performance has been proven through research to be outstanding. This is one reason why many organisations strive to have more women in their leadership team. Organisations should not be pushed into having females in leadership roles, but rather encouraged to be more intentional in recruiting more women early in career and growing organically. I have worked with eight CEOs in my career as Finance Director. All were men. As a female CEO, I can say that I have noticed that people approach me differently because I am a woman, and expect a more motherly response to soft issues, which obviously has its benefits.

On Mondelez Sub-Saharan Africa having 60% women in leadership roles…

What you don’t measure does not get done. We have been very intentional in calling out the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in shaping our business strategy. Our DE&I agenda is a key performance objective for us. The approach is not necessarily that we must have X number of women so go find them, but rather that we create a conducive environment that allows competent women take up leadership roles. For example, I am the product of a development plan that was based on my preferred career journey. The company made a deliberate investment in supporting me through this journey while I also had to make the required commitment to ensure that I achieve my career goal. This investment in women is what makes women at Mondelez a success—we put our money where our mouth is when we say we want to invest in people, we do just that.

On mentorship and investing in other women…

I have been fortunate to have very senior successful leaders as mentors and the time invested has been invaluable. I know mentoring is very important and I have made my personal commitment to invest in others. I currently mentor 11 people, 10 of whom are women. Four are internal mentees while the other seven are external (not Mondelez employees). I have collaborated with entities such as SHE CAN, WIMBIZ, and WISCAR to mentor young women in early stages of their careers. There is a lot of joy and satisfaction when mentees achieve their career goal. One of my internal mentees, who was based in our Port Elizabeth manufacturing plant, recently got a job offer from our UK business! When she called me to break the news, she said, “Yimika, we did it!” THAT for me sums up the fruit of mentoring.

On women representativity and balancing life and work…

I personally feel that a lot has been achieved so far, but we need to ensure that what we are doing has continuity and remains measurable. While women perform at the same level as men in the corporate world, the effort required to really succeed is much more. This is not because we need to prove anything, but because with women, the work does not end at the workplace, but often there are other things that also require our attention such as managing our homes. I believe entities that support women should be recognised and celebrated for doing that. Managers do not have to be involved in the personal matters of employees, but rather they should create an environment where employees are able to deliver while they also take care of their families, and, for many, the concept of working from home has made it easier for women to balance work and other life responsibilities. There is more that still needs to be done, employers need to show that they support women as this is a two-way street; and the employees will perform well because they feel valued. Employers generally need to be accommodating. In pursuit of balancing life and work, priorities are important, and I encourage women not to put work first and everything else behind. This is what I always say to my mentees as well; it is important to put yourself and family first and come to work happy and fulfilled.

Jo-Ann David

Jo-Ann David is responsible for the management of the legal, compliance, governance, and business integrity matters across SSA, as well as promoting and protecting the company and its people. She has been with the company for nearly three years. Jo-Ann has extensive legal experience in commercial and corporate law. Her career spans 25 years in both private practice and as in-house legal counsel for multinational corporations in the FMCG, oil and gas sectors, and these were all male-dominated industries. She has lived and worked in Beijing and Houston, and is a South African admitted attorney with a master’s degree in Commercial Law.

On surviving a male-dominated working environment…

When I started out, my legal opinion would not get a good reception from clients, but the very same opinion was warmly received if it was delivered by a male counterpart. This was an eye-opener as I realised that women were still not recognised at the table. Though the equity movement still has a long way to go, there have been improvements in women taking their rightful place at the table. Our Mondelez SSA Leadership Team is testimony to this with 60% female representation.

So how do women survive and thrive in this male dominated environment? I find it helps to cultivate a strong sense of self, that self-knowledge and self-awareness so you’re not easily triggered in difficult circumstances which allow people to jump to stereotypical conclusions. Cultivate that sense of self-awareness to help you respond well in difficult circumstances. Also, have confidence in your technical expertise and competence. Being excellent though is sadly not enough and I find that having a strong network of coaches and mentors who support you, who give you helpful feedback and sage advice, is critical.

On women’s leadership not just being a transformation exercise…

With our Mondelez SSA business unit and its 60% female representation in leadership roles, I have found that the views expressed are more diverse, the opposite of ‘groupthink’. Simplistically, the research is clear, diversity leads to innovation, and innovation leads to better financial results. Mondelez is deeply committed to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion or DE&I. Amongst many DE&I initiatives, we have a DE&I learning hub where our people can access information and learn more about DE&I concepts and use that information to bring DE&I top of mind.

On keeping the female in leadership fire burning…

To further women in leadership, I would say to women, let’s speak up more for ourselves. Look out for the fierce and fabulous amongst ourselves and let’s take strategic bets on them. Let’s talk about the good work our women are doing and let’s support and push them in meaningful ways. Build a sisterhood of strength, because that is fully within our control. We can play a part in connecting one another, like facilitating an introduction. Let’s be generous with our resources and networks, so that we can say, despite a challenging environment we have done something to help one another. 

Lavhelesani Mainganye is a PRISA accredited communication practitioner with considerable experience in the field.