In the last decade, Nigeria’s finance industry has made significant strides in increasing the representation of women. No sector’s success is more quantifiable than that of the banking sector. At the publishing of this report, of Nigeria’s 24 commercial banks, eight have women as Chief Executive Officers (CEO), a historic achievement.

Women’s World Banking’s research examines the effectiveness of the mandate and identifies additional factors driving the increase in women leaders in the banking sector. While other research efforts use quantitative evidence to analyze continued gaps in gender diversity among leadership, both regionally and throughout the continent, few studies have focused exclusively on the finance industry in Nigeria. Fewer still have deeply engaged qualitative research to center the voices and experiences of Nigerian women professionals. This research draws on data collected through in-depth interviews with 42 key informants and women leaders across Nigeria’s finance industry. The interview data suggests five principal drivers of change, with variation across the following sectors: banking, insurance, pensions, fintech, regulators, and Microfinance banks.

The research sets out to answer the following questions: How have national-level policies enacted in the past decade been perceived to impact women’s leadership in Nigeria’s finance industry, specifically within banking? How do women working in the finance industry perceive institutional policy increasing their participation in leadership? How have perceived generational and sociocultural shifts from the past decade in Nigeria contributed to open spaces and opportunities for women to occupy leadership positions? Why do women’s leadership trends differ across sectors within the finance industry in Nigeria?

The interviews allow us to compare a variety of perspectives and experiences across banking, financial regulation, pension, insurance, microfinance, and fintech sectors. Their perspectives allow us to better understand the current landscape of women’s leadership and to articulate the factors that have catalyzed recent progress, as well as the potential avenues for building on this momentum to enhance gender equity and women’s representation in decision-making roles across the industry.

Women’s World Banking used discussions with key informants to formulate a hypothesis of the leading factors of women’s advancement into decision-making roles in the banking sector. In the report, we examine the prevalence and impact of these drivers across sectors in Nigeria’s finance industry.

Qualitative research is often used for hypothesis development, creating a testable framework for future studies to validate. The qualitative data we collected revealed that women perceive the weight of each driver differently across sectors, reminding us that in qualitative research perception of the interview sample may influence results. This is a strength of qualitative research, because it reveals new insights. It is also a weakness as it cannot confirm or disprove hypotheses with high confidence, as quantitative research can. As such, the insights described here allow us to build and support hypotheses within this under-studied area, identifying directions for experimentation in the finance industry in Nigeria and pointing to new areas of study for scholars.

Across sectors of focus, results indicate women interviewed felt top-down mandates could be strong influencers of institutional prioritization of women’s representation, regardless of their specific knowledge of the history of the CBN mandate for the banking sector. Changes in social norms and economic needs for two-income households play a role, although data indicates most women continue to perform most of the childcare and household labor. Many women pointed to the enactment of workplace policies such as employer-sponsored crèches, which aim to ease women’s transition back to the workplace after maternity leave, as playing a role in enabling women’s professional success and career advancement. On the other hand, women in banking, microfinance banks, and insurance institutions mentioned policies such as remote work and flexible work schedules that exist on paper but that make, in their view, little measurable difference in actuality because of the lack of a proper framework for implementation and enforcement. Mentoring programs and events held by women’s professional associations were a clearly articulated driver of success for some professionals, but the financial barriers to entry for some organizations were simultaneously too high for other women, especially earlier career women, and women desire more available opportunities.

Across segments, women viewed access to educational opportunities and continued professional development as critical. Recognizing the importance of advanced degrees and certifications, women initiated and self-funded their own educational opportunities when they lacked access to institutional professional development resources.

Our research highlights these and other findings to illustrate positive changes made, and to indicate future directions to further catalyze women’s leadership. Nigerian women leaders are confident changes can be made to ensure that the finance industry has progressively more women in executive and management positions. Bola Adesola, Chairman of the Board of Ecobank and previously CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, said of women’s leadership in the finance industry, specifically regarding the eight women CEOs of Nigerian banks:

“I’m really excited. I’m encouraged. [The increase in women leaders is] a testimony to the last 20-25 years, how we’ve been able to build a pipeline and bench strength. Because why would these women be in the roles, if they had not been enabled? If they haven’t been trained, if they hadn’t been exposed, if the necessary workplace practices were not there to facilitate their managing their lives, if there weren’t male champions that were going to nominate and support and push them? I think that it can only get better.”

The insights in this report have varying implications for further catalyzing women’s advancement across sectors in the finance industry in Nigeria. The insights also provide a roadmap for future research, testing, and expanding on these hypotheses to show effects on average across the tens of thousands of women working in the finance industry. We summarize findings for each sector in Table 1. The future is bright for Nigerian women in the finance industry, as long as financial institutions, government policy, and social norms continue to shift towards a more enabling environment for women to access educational opportunities and to enter and advance in career paths leading to top executive roles.

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