Breaking Barriers: ICC Board Members’ inspiring journey to women leadership

  • 3 November 2023

Four women business leaders who have recently joined the ICC Executive Board have shared their inspiring journeys to leadership in a panel discussion organised by ICC’s World Business Women staff-led initiative.

The panel was moderated by ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO and featured Lama Al Sulaiman (Saudi Arabia), Rebecca Enonchong (Cameroon), Patricia Nzolantima (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Omolara Ololade Akanji (Nigeria) who shared their powerful insights and experiences navigating the business world.  

Rocking the boat 

With a distinguished career spanning 35 years, Omolara Ololade Akanji, a former director of the Central Bank of Nigeria recalled her efforts to pave the way for maternity leave rights in her workplace by “rocking the boat” and standing up for herself and other women employees.  

“You must encourage yourself otherwise nobody will look for you,” she said adding that it was important to look back on all accomplishments achieved in business by women.  

“We need to celebrate ourselves. We need to let people know what we have and what we are, what we can do, and what we are capable of doing.” 

Lama Al Sulaiman, a prominent Saudi business leader who started her career as a biochemist shared her career path that led her to her various roles at chambers of commerce in Saudi Arabia and the International Labour Organization (ILO) while balancing her personal life with what she refers to as “the rigidity” of working hours and traditional work environments.  

“Life and work balance is the biggest challenge, but we shouldn’t keep being afraid of it and we should go headfirst into it, it will work out,” she said.   

The funding gap 

Rebecca Enonchong, a technology entrepreneur from Cameroon and co-founder of Afrilabs talked about the struggles of finding her place in the tech industry and in the business world as a Black woman. She made it her mission to build equity in business and support technology entrepreneurs across the continent.  

“I think that one of the ways that we free ourselves as human beings, as women, as Africans, is through financial independence and through business.” 

Patricia Nzolantima, a serial entrepreneur from the Democratic Republic of Congo and investor who has founded various companies with a focus on empowering women and promoting financial inclusion, added that she also faced barriers when starting a business as an African woman but that it gave her the determination to establish her successful business ventures.   

“I love to talk more about the journey that made me who I am, because it was really a painful journey. Because when you do business in Africa, they don’t give you any chance.” 

A seat at the table 

The four panellists concluded by sharing their aspirations as Executive Board Members and the impact they wish to have on businesses all over the world especially in advancing gender equality and diversity in business leadership. 

With her experience, Ms Al Sulaiman wishes to bring value to ICC’s mission to represent businesses from all around and play a key role in improving people’s lives.  

“We represent the private sector, which as everybody explained, is so important for the vitality of many countries around us. And unless these economies improve, the lives of many people are not going to improve,’’ she said.  

For Ms Akanji, being part of ICC’s Executive Board through her involvement with ICC Nigeria is a catalyst to help her country in good governance but also enable women in the informal sector.  

“It’s helping in the sense that they believe that ICC is truly non-for-profit and truly interested in women.” 

Ms Nzolantima also pointed to the reach of ICC as an institution and how her mandate on the Board can pave the way for future generations of leaders from the region.  

“Joining ICC was really a bridge that will help us as women to have a voice,”she said.  

It is also the power of creating opportunities and the potential of business leadership for women that motivated Ms Enonchong to join the Board. 

“I believe and as I said before in the power of business. I feel like when we use the word empower, we’re almost diminishing the innate power that women have. And I know we have the power.”  

ICC’s 27-member Executive Board is the most gender diverse in ICC’s history with 48% women representation surpassing its target of 40%. It also scores high on regional diversity with five members from Africa, five from the B-MENA region, eight from Europe, five from Asia and four from the Americas. 

ICC’s World Business Women is a staff-led initiative that works to support women at ICC to succeed in their careers and to lead by example to shape the future of women in business.  

Learn more about diversity and inclusion at ICC.