With six out of 23 commercial banks in Nigeria run by women CEOs, a new era of women leadership in the financial sector has set in. Still, the 26 per cent representation of women at the top echelon of banks falls short of the 40 per cent board position set for the lenders by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). COLLINS NWEZE captures the significant strides made in actualising a gender-diverse workforce at the senior-management and board levels in banks.Gender diversity in the workplace is a global hot topic any day. Women have for years remained in the background in the running of top businesses in key sectors of the economy.This persists despite opposition from local and international institutions demanding gender equity in the workplace.The banking sector, as with almost other business sectors, is dominated by men, especially at the top management and board levels.Findings showed that many people see women as lacking the ruthless nature required to operate at senior levels. Still womens soft skills like ability to build bridges and mediate in conflicts usually give them an edge over their male counterparts.Interestingly, the gender gap in the sector is gradually being bridged with significant improvement in the number of women holding key positions and successfully driving growth in their institutions.Today, six out of 23 commercial banks, representing 26 per cent, are run by women Managing Directors/Chief Executive Officers (CEOs).Guaranty Trust Bank has Mrs. Miriam Olusanya as Managing Director; Mrs Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe is the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank; Mrs. Yemisi Edun is the Managing Director of First City Monument Bank (FCMB) Limited and Mrs. Ireti Samuel-Ogbu, is the Country Officer for Nigeria/Managing Director/CEO Citibank Nigeria.Others are Mrs. Halima Buba, who is the Managing Director/CEO SunTrust Bank Limited while Mrs. Tomi Somefun is the Managing Director/CEO Unity Bank Plc.Mrs Olusanya has over 23 years banking experience that cuts across Transaction Services, Asset and Liability Management, Financial Markets, Investment Banking and Investor Relations.She holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and a Master of Business Administration (Finance and Accounting) from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.Mrs Olusanya is expected to help strengthen the banks long-term competitiveness and growth prospects.The appointment of Mrs. Onyeali-Ikpe is expected to help Fidelity Bank Plc consolidate on its growth and achieve greater strides.Mrs. Onyeali-Ikpe is the fourth Chief Executive and first female to occupy the position since the inception of the bank in 1988.She succeeded Nnamdi Okonkwo, who retired on December 31, 2020, after completing his tenure. Mrs Onyeali-Ikpe is expected to build on the foundation and track record of performance in place to execute the next growth phase.Mrs Onyeali-Ikpe was Executive Director, Lagos and Southwest Directorate. She was an integral part of management having joined the bank in 2015. She spearheaded the transformation of the Directorate, leading it to profitability and impressive year-on-year growth across key performance metrics, including contributing over 28 per cent of the banks profit before tax, deposits and loans.Equally, the Board of Directors of FCMB Group Plc appointed Mrs. Edun following the end of service of the banks former Managing Director, Adam Nuru.Mrs Edun was previously the Executive Director/Chief Financial Officer of the bank and served as the acting Managing Director.With a work experience spanning nearly 35 years, Mrs Edun holds a Bachelor in Chemistry from the University of Ife, Ile-Ife and a Masters in International Accounting and Finance from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.Another top banker, Mrs. Samuel-Ogbu, previously served as managing director of payments and receivables, treasury and trade solutions for Europe, Middle East and Africa at the groups office in London.She had been on the Board of Citibank Nigeria Limited since 2015 as a non-Executive Director.In the last 32 years, Mrs Samuel-Ogbu has held various roles across Citis businesses in the UK, Nigeria and South Africa, having worked in each of these countries twice.Mrs. Somefun of Unity Bank Plc, had prior to her appointment as Managing Director/CEO in August 2015, served as the Executive Director overseeing the Lagos and Southwest Business Directorates, the Financial Institution Division and Treasury Department of the Bank. She is a Member of the Board Finance & General Purpose Committee, Board Risk Management Committee, Board Credit Committee, amongst others.Also, Mrs. Buba of SunTrust Bank Limited, has over 20 years cognate experience from working in Allstates Trust Bank, Zenith Bank, Inland Bank Plc, Oceanic Bank Plc and Ecobank Nigeria Limited.She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Maiduguri and an MBA from the same university.Aside the CEO positions, the number of women in other top management positions in banks is also on the rise.The beginning of a long journey Banks are increasingly under pressure to ensure diversity within their boardrooms with some scholars seeing board diversity as a demographic phenomenon entailing age, gender, and ethnicity.The International Finance Corporation (IFC) report on gender equality says there are evidence of improved performances in banks led by women CEOs.The report stated that Chief Bola Kuforiji-Olubi was the first woman to be appointed to chair the board of a bank, United Bank for Africa (UBA), in 1984.In 2012, under the leadership of the then-Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the apex bank approved the Sustainable Banking Principles, mandating banks to ensure that at least 40 per cent of the management team is women. The banks are also required to disclose in their annual reports, statistics on female representation.This is the administrations bid to institutionalise corporate governance principles and best practices in the banking industry.On September 7, 2015, FirstBank of Nigeria Limited announced the appointment of Mrs. Ibukun Awosika as its chairman. This appointment made her the first woman to assume that position since the establishment of First Bank of Nigeria in 1894.In 2015, Mosunmola Belo-Olusoga replaced Gbenga Oyebode as chairman of Access Bank Plc.Also in 2015, Osaretin Demuren was appointed chairman of GTBank. She is the first woman to hold that position.Under Mrs Osaretin as GTBank Chairman, the bank was regarded as the best managed financial institution in Nigeria and has, over the past decade, embarked on a period of unparalleled growth, growing its customer base from less than three million customers in 2011 to over 24 million customers in 2020.The banks profit before tax rose from N45.5 billion at the end of the 2010 financial year to N238.1 billion at the end of the 2020 financial year.Mrs Osaretin and Awosika have left GTBank and FirstBank.CBN, Bankers Committee step inThe CBN and Bankers Committee have also stepped in to guide banks into achieving gender equity in their institutions, affirming that 40 per cent of top management positions in banks be reserved for women.CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele reaffirmed the gender equity position at a commemorative webinar hosted by the banks Deputy Governor, Financial System Stability, Mrs. Aishah Ahmad, as part of activities to mark the International Womens Day.Speaking on the theme: Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world, Emefiele said gender equity for women in boards of banks is being pursued.He urged stakeholders in private and public organisations to ensure all-round gender development and equal opportunities, to increase the number of women in leadership positions in Nigeria and across the world.The CBN boss restated the banks commitment to promote gender diversity in the workplace, empower women and increase their active participation in the economy.He said the CBN recognised the potential of female leaders in different organisations and the Nigerian economy at large, hence it ensured equal opportunities for male and female staff members across every cadre in the bank.Emefiele stressed the need to have appropriate policies in place in addition to making the right investments in programmes and services to promote womens leadership and gender parity to enable them to contribute to the economy.He said there was overwhelming evidence that organisations with a high level of female participation fared better than others.Executive Resident, University of Oxford, Ms. Arunma Otteh highlighted the critical leadership roles occupied by women, noting that women were key to societal advancement.Making a business case for gender equity, Ms. Otteh, a former Treasurer and Vice President, World Bank, noted that women economics was SMART economics, citing statistics that indicate women re-invest up to 90 per cent of their resources into their families and societies.She stressed the need to critically address the challenge of security to earn economic prosperity, saying that women remain Nigerias last hope to tackling insecurity and life endangering situations.Boards and gender equity in banksIn a seven-person board membership, GTBank has two women aside the Managing Director. They are Ms. Imoni Akpofure, Independent Non-Executive Director and Mrs. Victoria Osondu Adefala, Independent Non-Executive Director.Aside the Managing Director, Fidelity Bank has only one woman on its 13-person board membership. Mrs. Amaka Onwughalu was appointed to the Board of Fidelity Bank as a Non-Executive Director, effective December 15, 2020.FCMBs nine-person board membership has only two women aside the Managing Director. They are Mrs. Mfon UsoroNon-Executive Director, Independent and Ms. Olayemi KeriNon-Executive Director, Independent.Unity Banks nine-person board membership has two women aside the Managing director. They are Yabawa Lawan Wabi, Non-Executive Director and Oluwafunsho Obasanjo, Non-Executive Director.SunTrust Bank Nigerias six-person board membership has only one woman, aside the Managing Director. She is Noris Okafor, Regional Business Executive Southsouth.Other women bankers of reputeA top banker, Mrs. Sola David-Borha retired as Standard Bank Chief Executive for Africa Regions in June, after 31 years of distinguished service to the group.Sola was appointed as the Chief Executive of Africa Regions in January 2017 and has been a passionate advocate of culture change and executive leadership development.Another top banker is Mrs. Bola Adesola, who is the Senior Vice-Chairman, Standard Chartered Bank Group.She is responsible for supporting the execution of the banks strategic intent within the Africa region.Her role includes representing Standard Chartered Bank on various Boards in Africa. She leads as the Groups Senior Banker on key relationships and transactions.Bola joined the bank on March 2011 as the CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Limited and subsequently became the CEO for Nigeria and West Africa in 2015.The IFC report added that the board is the most influential decision-making unit of an organization, with responsibilities ranging from making key financial and strategic decisions to choosing the companys top executive leadership.It explained that given the level of expertise and the amount of information needed to understand and govern todays complex businesses, it is unrealistic to expect an individual director to be knowledgeable and informed about all phases of business . This is where the concept of board diversity comes into play.Other analysts said that bridging the gender divide in the workforce is not only a matter of fairness, but also of effective governance and inclusive economic growth. Click here to read full news..