Access Bank: Championing Gender Equality, Women Empowerment
By Azeez Disu
“Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe you must become its soul,” Coretta Scott King once said. The quote emphasises the importance of women to nation building and importantly, for any nation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), gender equality and women’s empowerment must be taken as a priority.
Of the 201 nations for which the United Nations has population data, 125 have more women, but the percentages vary from 50.1% to 54.2%, according to report by USA Today. Interesting to note that women empowerment is a human right that lies at the heart of development and achievement of the SDGs as Hillary Clinton put it in one of her popular quotes, “”Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
However, women are among those with the least access to education, employment opportunities or financial inclusion. Also, women empowerment is a key component of Nigeria’s socio-economic growth, as the government and many other agencies are undertaking measures to further improve the situation through various policies focused on social reforms and generating employment opportunities.
Being the primary pillars of the Nigerian economy, banks have a pivotal role to play as far as women empowerment is concerned. Be it the schemes pertaining to educational financing at early age or financial assistance for setting up a source of livelihood; banks are important in enhancing financial inclusion of women in the Nigerian economy. Investing in gender equality and women’s empowerment can unlock human potential on a transformational scale.
One of the leading financial institutions which have taken gender equality and women’s empowerment seriously is Access Bank. The bank doesn’t just celebrate women on International Women’s Day, it celebrates women everyday and promotes gender equality and women’s economic empowerment through three-pronged approach: Women in the workplace, Women in the marketplace, and Women in the community.
Aside its internal efforts, through participation in a number of external partnerships, Access Bank promotes equality across the industry and wider business environment. It also engages with industry stakeholders and staffs to further its diversity agenda in several ways.
Recall, in 2019, it key highlights include internal and external advocacy about gender-based domestic and sexual violence, with relevant decision-makers pledging to challenge discriminatory behaviour. It launched ‘Pitch-a-ton’ campaign to female-owned businesses, focused on providing grants and financial management support for better business management. Furthermore, 2019 further saw the growth and promotion of its “W” Initiative, the foremost full-fledged women empowerment programme, designed to profitably and sustainably address the needs of women to be inspired, connected and empowered.
Interestingly, the bank continues to showcase its commitment to the social and economic empowerment of women in Nigeria, Africa and the world at large.
Access Women Network (AWN)
With the aim of improving gender diversity in the Group, the Access Women Network (AWN) was formed to support, develop, promote and retain female employees in the bank. Since the signing of the Female Network Charter in 2010, it has seen a positive trend in female representation in the bank, especially in its senior leadership roles, increasing to 34%. This is a clear indication of Access Bank performing above industry average and as stipulated by the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles to have women occupy 30% of the Bank’s senior roles.
AWN supports gender diversity/inclusion in the Bank. In 2019, Access Women Network increased its efforts to ensure that women across the Group were impacted positively in one way or the other through programmes such as the Top Management Leadership Program, Networking Masterclass (about 50 female employees in attendance), Mentorship-Sales Workshops in 2 cities (about 500 female employees trained), AFF STEM summer school (about 60 wards of AWN Members), and the WIMBIZ Annual Conference (about 20 active members), amongst others.
A few of the major initiatives of AWN in 2019 include: W Health Awareness Month,
World Sight Day, Orange Lecture, AWN Women Talk – Ghana, Abuja Fun Walk,
World Breastfeeding Week, Global Gender Summit, AWN mentorship Scheme, Love a Child Initiative, AWN Toastmasters Club, and Happy Hour Sessions.
In 2006, Access Bank began a journey into the world of women and Banking on Women, pioneering women banking in Nigeria with the establishment of its Gender Empowerment Movement (GEM). Since then, it continued to demonstrate its commitment to gender empowerment when it received US$15 million credit line from International Finance Corporation (IFC) for its Gender Empowerment Programme. After working through the GEM to invest in women for eight years, the programme evolved into a robust plan to provide women with banking solutions that meet their diverse career and lifestyle requirements in 2014 and was named the ‘W’ Initiative.
The W initiative remains the home of everything Access Bank has to offer women. It has also helped to solidify Access Bank’s position as the Bank of choice for women in the markets and communities. In furtherance of its commitment to women economic empowerment through the W initiative, it deployed programmes such as: W Academy, W Community (The W Community is made up of the Young Professional, ‘W’ in Business and W & Family).
Women Empowerment In Communities
Empowering women in society and having more women in leadership positions is an area that Access Bank has paid attention to over the years. It believes that the role of a woman in leadership places her in a unique position to influence and provide stability for the community. Also, when they are equipped with knowledge and information, they possess the capacity to come up with innovative ideas. This is in line with what Michelle Obama said “There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”
Amazingly, some of the direct women empowerment initiatives for communities the bank has embarked on include: Back on Track Program, Commemoration of International Day of the Girl Child, Womenpreneur Pitch-A-Ton, Code4Impact, Green Social Entrepreneurship Program (GSEP), and Girls Talk show.
Excitingly, it has since 2015 invested N9.34 billion in various corporate social responsibility initiatives, thereby impacting 1,316 communities, reaching 30,075,356 lives and 793 Non-Governmental Organizations. Some of its most notable social investments in 2019 include: Nigeria Business Coalition Against AIDS (NiBUCAA) – HIV Testing Services (HTS) at the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon, Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS (NiBUCAA) – Commemoration of Zero Discrimination Day, Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa – Commemoration of the 2019 World Malaria Day, Care Trust Initiative – World Day for Street Children, Access Bank partnered CSR-in-Action for Civil Society Organization Training, Glow Initiative- World Environment Day, Partnership with ACT Foundation, Centre for Youth Studies – Programme for Persons with Disabilities and among others.
Its product bundles are tailored to meet a woman’s financial and lifestyle needs whether she is a woman in the workplace, a woman and family or a woman in business. These products, which are not limited to the female gender, are designed with the peculiar needs of women taken into consideration. These include: W Power Loan, Maternal Health Service Support (MHSS), Better Mama Better Pikin, BETA Proposition, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), W Initiative Financing Scheme, and The W Card.
Reward for Excellence
For its series of empowerment initiatives for women and the feasible impact, it has won numerous awards which include: Africa CEO Forum – Gender Leader Award (2019), FAW – Women Market Champion Award (2019), Women’s Choice Africa – Bank of the Year Award (2019), Nigeria Finance Innovation – Best Bank in Women Empowerment Award (2019), and Women in Marketing and Communications – Female Friendly Bank of the Year Award (2018&2019).
Other notable awards are: National Council for Women Society Nigeria – Dedication to Women Entrepreneurship Award (2018 &2019), National Women in Finance Magazine – Outstanding Banking Initiative Awards (2018), Global Banking Alliance (GBA) – Women’s Market Champion Award (2018), and CBN – Excellence in Women Economic Empowerment Award (2017, 2018& 2019).