Ibiene Okeleke, is Managing Director at Energy Training Center, a learning academy set up to provide a wide range of learning interventions for the Energy sector.
Before becoming MD of ETC, Ibiene was the Chief Human Resources and Administrative Officer of Ikeja Electric, a role she took on after the privatization of the power sector in 2013 and was pivotal in positioning Ikeja Electric as the leading Power Distribution Company in Nigeria.
Prior to this, she was the Group Head of Human Resources at the Sahara Group and has held other key leadership roles in the financial services and technology sectors. Okeleke tells BL why women should demonstrate competence, commitment, and knowledge in the workplace to create opportunities for other women to thrive.
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What is the essence of an Energy Training Center? Why did you have to go so far away?
Energy Training Centre was conceived out of a gap we believed existed. In my previous roles, I had been Head of HR for organisations in the Energy sector and what I observed was that organizations needed the right training companies to train their staff and a lot of these companies that could do these technical trainings were foreign companies unlike the soft skills trainings such as communication skills, business skills, presentation skills who had a lot local options to choose from.
A lot of these companies are either foreign companies or people that have foreign partnerships or government owned training centers.
I thought it was important to have many options to serve the growing needs of the Energy sector, as this would help build the competency gaps that exist today.
I didn’t think the training companies were sufficient for the sector, I felt there was room for competition because when you have services, the users or the buyers of these services have access to competition, better pricing and it makes everyone bring in their best.
However, when you are in human resources, there is a part of the job where you deal with employees’ jobs, their job descriptions, development and career progression. For you to do that well, you must learn to understand all the jobs your employees are doing, whether its engineering job, support or commercial, hard skills or soft skills. I had to go and upskill myself in the technical aspects of the job. There is a need to keep upskilling and reskilling oneself.
You have been in HR, to core business and to core specialized business. How easy was it to make a transition?
I have headed the HR function for two decades of my entire career and heading the HR function could be the peak of a HR professional’s career. The next place from there is to be a CEO. HR is all about managing people to achieve organizational expectations. You will always find the HR person transiting into consulting, training business and will naturally become the managing director of such companies. I won’t say I find it challenging. I would say that the kind of organizations I have worked with empowered me.
The area I would have said was a challenge initially was the business development side which entails networking and winning new business unlike HR.
I usually must sell engineering and not HR services. I was selling engineering training and technical training and that was the part that I would say was a bit exciting because I found it as a new experience.
Do you believe that women should be given affirmative with your experience?
I think the age and era we are in now is the best time for women to thrive. Going back to 10 or 20 years ago when I started my career, you won’t see many women sitting in management positions. That is because of many reasons; family obligations, it’s the woman that leaves the job because she feels her priority is to take care of her family.
At this time, I would say because the workplace has been made more conducive for women. Also, the economic situation has made more families realize that dual income is better than singular income. We now have more women in the workspace. In financial services, we have lot of female managing directors, more women working in blue chip organizations occupying positions on the board. Women are now inspired.
Now we have a lot of support for women from men today. A lot of fathers want their daughters to run their businesses.
What is the role of organizations such as the Women in Energy Network?
It’s a network I belong to and what triggered that was when I came into this new role, not knowing much about the industry in terms of the technical aspect of it, one of the best advice I got was to attend conferences, network with the right people and industry leaders. Being a busy industry, the ratio of women was so low.
We already had 20% in the workforce. There were gender imbalances. There were more men. Even where they had more women, they were more represented in the support functions and not in core mainstream engineering. So, I joined the Women in Energy Network as a founding member, a member of the BOT and a member of the board.
We have specific goals we want to achieve. We want more female representations in leadership. We want to advocate for female friendly policies, have more women in mainstream corporate not just doing support roles but technical and strategic leadership roles, develop more women to take on Board roles and have women in government.
We have a STEM program called Supernova Girl.
So, we are supporting women all through the value chain right from school right up to the top of their career and beyond their career.
The network is just 2 years old with a membership of over 200 already and we have eleven corporate organizations.
How far do you think the energy transition has occurred? Does it have anything to do with training?
Everything has to do with trainings. When it comes to organizations, capacity building plays a pivotal role. Energy transition is an evolving trend and will open more opportunities for people in the energy sector. There is fear that some jobs will become redundant but this is not correct, just like any new change comes development and an opportunity to learn new skills, we would see more jobs evolving and not necessarily get extinct, as such it is important everyone in the industry embrace this change.
There are new opportunities for renewable energy and the gas sectors and The Energy Training Centre has positioned itself to play a key role in capacity building.
As a woman that has worked in financial services and other organizations, what have you learned?
For me I would not say I been shortchanged as a woman in my career. First, if you are offered a job and you are confident in yourself, not necessarily your outlook, you will gain respect. Second, if you are given opportunity of jobs to do and you demonstrate commitment and knowledge, you will go very far whether you are a woman or a man.
Third, when you have that mindset that as an individual, you are not the weaker sex or believe if somebody can do it, you can also do it. Fourth, when you also know that as a woman you need to demonstrate that you can deliver such that you build confidence in the people around you to believe that other women can perform and deliver same.
I am not a feminist that echoes, what a man can do, a woman can do better. I just feel it is all about your competence. Even if somebody comes and thinks a woman should not be doing a particular task, and you do it, the man will realize that women could do it.
That way, you have a mindset changed and the more you do that, the more you pave the way for other women. If you are the first female head of any organization and you perform very well in your role, immediately you leave, they will most likely want another woman. Because you have laid a foundation that would cause them to give such roles to other women. Companies should have it in mind that women have peculiar issues and challenges.
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