In an age where the tides are moving in favor of entrepreneurial pursuits, it is both inspiring and necessary to celebrate the achievements of the few women who have made it to the top of their corporate careers. From a demanding work environment, to well-deserved promotions, and advocacy for women in her organization, Mrs. Osaretin Afusat Demuren shares vital tidbits from her illustrious career.
Like many school leavers in the ‘60s. Mrs Demuren took her first job before she clocked eighteen years. She became one of the first four women engaged as office clerks by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This glass breaking action in a male dominated institution was accompanied by high expectations to deliver on the job.
“We were expected to live up to expectations and we did. It was also a continuation of what I had been brought up with; just do your best and give your best.”
For a female growing up in that decade, she enjoyed the gift of a man of the house that had no particular preference for boys or girls, giving all his children equal opportunity to education and a dream to make the most of their God-given potential. She describes her upbringing as ‘fun and non-discriminatory’ in a home with fifteen other siblings.
The family moved her from the Midwest as the civil war heated up in 1967, preventing her from taking her A-Level classes after her WASSCE*. Less than a year later, she got engaged as a clerk with the CBN.
However, between the stress of keeping up with work demands, unofficial assignments, and the desire to further her education, this job would be short-lived as she soon got a scholarship to study in the Soviet Union. She was away from the country for six years, returning with a degree in Economics and Statistics and the man who would shape the major part of her life story, Harold Demuren.
Back to Motherland with Zest
A confident and excited Osaretin returned to Nigeria in 1976, ready to take on a challenge in a different environment from the CBN. She giggled lightly as she shared that she had accepted the Federal Government Scholarship and travelled out of the country while she was on her annual leave, giving no formal notice. Fortunately, the CBN runs a structured system that requested a resignation letter and the return of her ID card, which she did from the USSR.
Going back to the same organization wasn’t the first thing on her mind. She had eyes set on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. However, her husband’s insistence on how her expertise would be more relevant to the Central Bank soon won her over. And so began a second chapter of her CBN career in December 1976, that would close with her retirement in December 2009 as a Director.
This world is your Oyster
Brimming with confidence acquired through her years in school and a certainty that she wanted to get to the peak of her career, she began her journey to “set some records right and to prove cynics wrong that a woman would not be able to make it.”
She started out in the Research department and soon enough, caused a stir that would change things for women in the institution.
“I wanted to make a difference. Then in the Central Bank, when females were recruited to the graduate leve, they were deployed to the Research department. It was like an unwritten rule”
With activism for women in its early brewing stages at the time, the women of the Research department started questioning the reasons why there wasn’t more diversity in their job roles. They got together and wrote a letter to the CBN Governor at the time – Governor Abdulkadir Ahmed, asking to work in other departments of the Bank.
Refuting reasons as “You are women. You are married. You have children. You won’t be able to do late hours”, these women who signed their names in a circle to avoid a ring leader getting targeted opened the way for other qualified females to work in any department of the apex Bank. Mrs. Demuren got deployed from the Research department to the Budget and statistics office of the Exchange Control department.
The journey from there was only upward and forward. With hard work, an insistence on ‘no shortcuts and godfatherism’ the system became favorable to women taking higher positions within the institution.
“In 1999, I was appointed acting director by the then Governor, Chief Joseph O. Sanusi, and confirmed by Dr. Paul Ogwuma in March 2000.”
The sky has been the limit for the female employees of the Central Bank. With positions like the Branch Controller, Directors, and even the Deputy Governor housed by women, a female governor in the office may come sooner than expected.
Staying Clean in Murky Waters
In a department fraught with a history of foreign exchange malpractices, coming in with a stern hold on integrity made her a name in the banking industry. With some experience from serving on the disciplinary committee, it was easy to see where the faults were coming from. Apart from that, she believes that “women are better managers whether we want to accept it or not. They’ll manage the nation’s resources better.”
She also gave credit to her parents who taught all their children to be content with what they had and lived what they preached to their children. Working to curb the greed of well paid officials breaking the trust of their customers, she spoke on the importance of family values.
“Integrity, discipline and honesty were family values that I just couldn’t compromise. Family values remain key today. What are we teaching our children? You see people in this country who are living extravagant lives compared to the income they make and nobody is asking any questions. Kids bring in their mate’s school items and parents are not returning them. They are not even checking their bags. If things don’t belong to you, they don’t belong to you.”
From Trade and Exchange, she moved to Human Resources, putting up stricter measures in the recruitment process to ensure trustworthy and qualified individuals were brought into the Bank.
Retirement and Return to Banking
“It was never in my plan to go back to banking because in the thirty three years I spent in the Central Bank of Nigeria, I had reached the peak of my career and I needed to do something outside banking. So I registered an NGO, AlphaMIN.”
No sooner than AlphaMIN kicked off with Skill Acquisition programs for kids who were dropping out of school, the requests to be on boards started coming. From a Pension PFA to Micro-finance Banks, on the recommendation of Late Pa. Alile, she began her journey in corporate boardrooms. The persistent request from the Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank led to the submission of her CV, and an affirmation of good Corporate Governance convinced her to join the board. Two years later, with another surprising turn, she became the first of the three top women we’ve come to love and respect in the banking industry.
A picture of all three women looking graceful at a WIMBIZ* event recently made the rounds on Social Media, pitting Mrs. Demuren and her two counterparts, Mrs. Awosika and Mrs. Belo-Olusoga as positive examples to girls and young ladies. Her eyes lit up with gratitude for the recognition and the positivity it carried.
Mentorship and Peer Support
Beyond spreading positivity and inspiration on the internet, Mrs. Demuren shared about the importance of women supporting one another. With the club houses usually a domain for the boys, she talked about how the girls could make the salon their own networking hub, as against minding their own business. Building a culture that allows open communication and mentorship is vital to give more women the opportunity for success.
“A mentor is a guide, a counselor, an adviser and we should be able to give that to the younger ones so that they can also come up and maximize their talents and the opportunities that are out there.”
Meritocracy remains important regardless. She stressed the importance of continuous improvement, professional development, integrity and hard work. One of her favorite statements is “Laziness kills. Hard work doesn’t kill. Hard work makes you stronger. It makes you excel because people are expecting so much.”
And so, while she would pick a female over a male for a job, the prerequisites of qualifications and merit will always be the first decider.
Maintaining Balance with Many Hats
Like many women with a desire to get to the top of their careers, they soon realize that something has to give, especially for her with six children.
“It was tough. Which was why I said a woman has to work twice or thrice more than a man in order to balance everything. In the early life of my career, my social life had to go.”
She also lost some friends who expected reciprocity for every visit, while remaining grateful for those who “continue from where we stopped.”
The time for visits and socializing were spent on bulk cooking, packaging into the freezer, and instructing the help and cook.
“Coping as a woman is a lot of sacrifice. And we thank God for women who have decided to pursue their careers and still maintain the family and I know the Almighty is with them”
Kids and her Legacy
With thirty three years serving in a public service financial institution, it is interesting that none of her kids followed her line of work. She explained this as a generational shift.
“Nowadays, children are more entrepreneurial because of the kind of education they get. Some of them do not want to sit on the 8-5, every day, out there in the Corporate world. They cannot fathom how we managed to stay on one job for 30-35 years.”
She called it a change in style and trend.
“Stability was the language but now, mobility is the language.”
Relaxation and Entertainment
Mrs. Demuren enjoys watching documentaries, the National Geographic channel or anything that talks about life. But that’s when she does watch television.
“I would rather listen to music. Classical, gospel, any good music but not noisy music. I like sentimental music. I love reading too”
Health and Food
“I believe you are what you eat. I’m very particular with what I eat. I don’t do much of going to the gym but I eat healthy foods. I avoid carbs and sugar, and take fruits and vegetables.”
Mrs. Demuren is a sweet lady, saying thank you after every new question, and entertaining the team. She is easy to speak with and will share her contact details if you ask. Keep your eyes open for the next event she will be attending.
*WASSCE – West Africa Secondary School Certificate Examination, an exam administered to senior students in Secondary Schools.
*WIMBIZ – Women in Business and Management and Public Service is a leading organization supporting women in Nigeria.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.