Today on #CareerConversations with LLA, our muse is Public Relations Officer of the Society of Family Physicians of Nigeria in the FCT and Keffi, Nassarawa State, Adaeze Oreh.
Adaeze is a member of the Governing Council of PAMO University of Medical Sciences, Port Harcourt- the first private University of Medical Sciences in Nigeria. She shares quite a ton of useful career tips especially for entry and mid-level career women. Dive in!
Can you briefly describe yourself and what you do?
I’m a Family Physician, and Senior Medical Officer with the Department of Hospital Services in the Federal Ministry of Health. I have been a practising physician and healthcare manager for over 15 years working in health programme coordination, health policy and safety and quality in healthcare across the private and public sectors. I am the Public Relations Officer of the Society of Family Physicians of Nigeria in the FCT and Keffi, Nassarawa State – a role not commonly assumed by women which I’m super-chuffed about! More recently, I was appointed a member of the Governing Council of PAMO University of Medical Sciences, Port Harcourt– the first private university of Medical Sciences in Nigeria and I have to say that has been quite an experience!
Great! How did you start out in your career, and how long have you been in the ‘corporate world?’
Healthcare delivery is not often traditionally considered ‘corporate’, so when I was contacted, I wondered if LLA had mixed me up with someone else! Just kidding!! So big ups to LLA for regarding healthcare a part of the corporate world, as the ‘business of health’ is something I am very passionate about!
I started out my career 15 years ago right after graduation and have in that time worked in clinical care delivery, emergency services, public health, health services consulting, health management and health policy. At the age of 29, I was asked to coordinate a state-level programme in health and suddenly found myself in charge of the Abuja National Blood Transfusion Service for about six years. Being a United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (CDC-PEPFAR) project in collaboration with Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), I gained experience in high-level intergovernmental agreements, grant proposal writing and health policy and sector reform which have been extremely valuable in my different career roles.
What are some of the things you love the most about being in the corporate space?
One thing I knew for sure when I was graduating from Medicine was that I wanted my work in healthcare to cut across sectoral lines and not be centered only on health. So, I love the fact that my work has enabled me work closely with individuals and organizations not only in health but in other sectors that have direct and indirect effects on health. I have a very inquisitive mind, so I also adore the fact that I’m constantly learning and tackling new challenges.
And the downsides – what are some of the challenges you’ve faced, and how did you overcome them?
Most definitely, one major challenge I have had is the ‘impostor syndrome’ where regardless of my experience and credentials, early on in my career I would often feel like I didn’t have a right to my seat at the table. I know that many women in the corporate world experience this and there are studies that prove this but over time I learned to ‘own my space’ and appreciate myself and the value I could bring to the conversation, negotiation or project. By giving in to the impostor syndrome, many times I denied myself my voice and my own unique contributions. If I who grew up in a home where both parents had engaging careers and whose mom is a strong, career woman could struggle with feeling like ‘I didn’t belong’, then this could happen to literally anyone.
What’s your take on cliques or “you can’t sit with us groups” at work? How does one navigate such?
I detest those cliques, no apologies. Having experienced them at different times in my career, I’m of the opinion that they mask deep insecurities amongst members of those groups. New-comers are seen as threats to position, influence or authority and that’s why a lot of times those cliques put up walls to protect themselves and leave the outsiders exposed. For me, I have learnt not to require the validation of any group or clique but instead focus on self-development and creating value to the organization. Everyone (at least most people) in management appreciate that person who consistently adds value because it does make their work easier! Self-interest will always win after all! So, while not advocating being a door mat, strategically position yourself for opportunities to show your value and you will be sought after. They may not like it, but they can’t ignore you!
Of course, we’re going to talk about mentorship – what’s your view on it? Important or nah?
I believe in mentorship. There is nothing like having access to the experiences and well-meaning advice of people who have gone ahead of one in the career space. It can help give clarity and prevent avoidable pitfalls. I always say experience is the best teacher, but it mustn’t always be your personal experience. That being said, it isn’t always easy getting access to mentors. Perhaps in trying to protect their reputations or their space and maybe following unsavory experiences those in a position to mentor younger career professionals can sometimes seem closed off and inaccessible. Look out for older, successful career professionals in the course of a team task or project and boldly ask questions and pick their brains on areas of concern.
Often, you only need to ask. Put yourself out there, appreciate the positive responses, brush aside any uninterested ones and keep it moving! And if you haven’t got a mentor, please don’t lose sleep over it. Make an effort to network and reach out as much as possible and if it happens it happens. If not, concentrate on adding value to your work and you will succeed regardless. I do feel, though that a lot of older, successful career people have to be more intentional about offering genuine mentorship and not just paying lip service. Be mindful also that simple courtesy and politeness (not grovelling) is important to most would-be mentors, so offending them by being flippant isn’t the smartest way to get a foot in the door! I can go on and on about mentorship so let me quietly leave it at this!
Two things – what have been your best and worst career decision – and what did you learn from each respectively?
Accepting to head up a state health programme before the age of 30 has to be my best career decision! I was absolutely terrified and conducted many mini-interviews with my husband, close family, friends and a few colleagues on whether they thought me capable. They had more faith in me than I did in myself! The opportunities, networks and wealth of experience have been invaluable. Now, to my worst career decision – not having enough faith in and speaking up for myself more early in my career. So, a vital life lesson from both decisions is that no one else can be your biggest champion so step up to the plate, accept yourself and your unique quirks that make you who you are and sometimes just throw yourself into a new adventure and learn from the ride.
How do you advice girls facing harassment in any form, from their superiors at work to handle it?
Harassment should never be tolerated, endured or laughed off. It is an indignity to any person and a form of bullying. Report any harassment to higher level authority or influence and never excuse it or allow yourself to be shamed into submission. If however, your organization is not supportive of you and actions not taken to deter it as an organizational norm, reconsider your presence there.
Do you have a “side-hustle” and what’s your view on having other interests outside of work?
I find the ‘side-hustle’ extremely helpful as a source of multiple-income streams and a way of tapping unexplored personal resources especially for women. I’m all for women exploring every aspect of themselves to bring width and depth to our societal contributions. I have also personally found it rewarding giving back to society through my commitment to various charitable health and development initiatives.
In what specific ways would you advise women to “lean in” more at work?
Be more visible, speak up more, take on new and often scary challenges, be deliberate about adding value and single-minded about developing yourself while navigating team-work and collaborating productively with others. Every day should take you closer to the woman and professional you want to be.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Watch this space!!! Seriously though, in ten years, helping younger career women with guidance on navigating my sector and seeing them excel would be even more amazing and fulfilling that it is now.
Do you think personal branding at work is necessary? If so, how do you build it?
I do think personal branding in the work space is important. Identity creation is innately visual so ask yourself what values you want associated with you and the work you do. Deliberately and assiduously embody those values and over time that will be the image associated with you in the minds of those in your work sphere. The key is consistency not only in words but in action. No one can sell ‘Project You’ better than you can, so grab those horns and toot away! Men do this so much more easily than women and this is something we should learn to do more often. Timidity is not modesty.
What in your opinion are key success principles for upcoming career women, or those just starting out their careers?
Hard work, consistency, openness to learning and humility while exuding confidence and professionalism.
What’s your advice to entry-level/interns new to organisations, what should they look out for or try to achieve?
Learn about your organization to understand its structure and the people within it. Don’t look down on any role and any player within the organization, strive to deliver on your tasks and nurture not just the technical skills, but the soft human emotional intelligence skills as well. It’s never to early and does give you a leg up!
The Leading Ladies Africa #CareerConversations Series is a weekly interview series which focuses on Leading women of African descent in the corporate world. It showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might feature her.