Hi, I am Sherifat Akinwonmi.
I am a Technology Manager.
I play in core Information Technology and currently the Technology Lead for GlaxoSmithKline in Nigeria, South-Africa, and Mauritius.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career path?
I studied computer science in the University and had my Master’s in Information Security Management. This launched my path to my career in IT. I got posted to Stanbic IBTC Bank and was posted to the IT department. I started off as a service desk analyst, then to the Information Security Unit, which is my passion and after that, I joined Interswitch as the Head of the Information Security Unit. Then most recently, I joined GSK as the Tech Manager / Head of IT for multiple countries.
How safe do you feel in this male-dominated space?
I feel very safe, I have never felt threatened or unsafe, I believe IT has nothing to do with physical powers but the knowledge and experience you have acquired.
Women in the field of Information Technology are in the minority. Why did you decide to pursue a career in Tech?
I was an exceptionally good student and by default, it meant I had to be in Science. I cannot explain this. Not that non-science classes did not have particularly good students, but it was natural for me to be in Science. Soon after, I realized, Medicine and core science were not for me. I love Mathematics so I decided I wanted to be an engineer. Unfortunately, I did not get the course I wanted at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), so I went to Bowen University and the most applicable course to me was Computer Science.
What were your loved ones stand on this chosen profession of yours?
It has never been a concern or a topic of discussion. My Dad is highly educated and understands that there should be no barrier to what anyone wants to do either being a male or female.
What are the main challenges you have faced as a woman in this space and how have you overcome them?
Major challenge is when people believe that you may not be good on the job because you are female and I overcome that making sure I am not only good at the job but the best,
What are the benefits you gain as a woman in this profession?
No additional benefits really…But maybe the fact that a lot of organizations are consciously and deliberately trying to achieve gender equality which means that so usually when there are opportunities where both candidates (male and female) are EQUALLY qualified and fit for the job, they opt for the female because the board room is already male dominated and finding a female who is capable of performing same function is always a good find for the company.
Was there any point you almost gave up?
Not at all, when my children were younger, rather than giving up I sought ways to get the support of my organization. For instance, at Stanbic when I had Twins and wanted more maternity leave, I opted for the no-payment leave for few months and I was able to come back to work when I was ready. Also, when at Interswitch and the logistics demands were high as I had to travel to and from work for about 3hours daily, I sought another employment with GSK which had more flexible working conditions and at the same time it was a career progression for me. So, I have never given up. It is important to stay put and provide the adequate representation for the female gender coming behind.
If yes, what kept you going?
What is it like to be a woman working in Information Technology space?
It is interesting, fun, and highly rewarding. The opportunities abound and will continue to be. Also, there are diverse fields in IT which gives room for you to find what interests you and for you to achieve your career goals.
Do you feel that women have the same opportunities as men in the Information Technology world? What are your thoughts about this?
Absolutely, I think women even have more opportunities now as a lot of organizations are consciously making efforts to achieve gender diversity. However, opportunity must meet preparedness.
Do you feel that women in Information Technology face barriers not faced by their male counterparts?
Yes, I believe so. I have heard a lot of fellow women complain of remarks form male counterparts on how surprised they were that a woman was this technical or that good. Or how a client will refuse to engage a female consultant but only a male one.
What are the top three things women aspiring to come into this space need to know?
- IT has a lot of opportunities form software development, analytics, cybersecurity, audit, governance, and audit etc.
- As you grow in your IT career, more will be required of you, you will need support. Do not be afraid to get it.
- Consistently you need to be good at what you do, strive to be the best.
Could you give us your growth story going up the ladder to be the Information technology lead for Nigeria, South-Africa, and Mauritius?
It was an accumulation of previous works and self-investment. Most especially deliberately making sure I carved out my interest and investing in it so when the opportunities came, I was prepared. For instance, I had written my Certified Information Security Manager certification in 2008 and used it in 2015 when I was joining Interswitch.
What is your vision in the Information Technology space and what has been your contributions towards achieving that vision?
Digital is the new oil because of its ability to solve problems and making things easier and the background for everything digital is Information technology. I have a vision where there are many more women in IT such that problems that are peculiar to women
Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy that has helped you advance in your career path?
Leadership style is to support my team as much to be their best because as a leader you can only succeed when your team succeeds. Also, I put up my hand for work, I make sure I am adding value to the organization beyond what’s expected.
At Truss Empowerment Foundation, we aim towards having a more diverse workplace. What do you think organizations can do to encourage more women to choose careers in Technology and rectify the imbalance?
Organizations can support initiatives that provide information to schools to encourage students to pursue courses in STEM and most especially Technology. Organizations can also provide platforms to show case more women because representation matters and its always a good thing for the younger ones to see a good representation of themselves.
In your academic or work career, were there mentors who helped you grow along the way?
Yes, I have had several mentors some of which do not even know they are my mentors. But I learn from their lives and decisions.
Are you open to be a mentor for women who want to get to the peak of careers in the Information Technology space?
I already mentor 4 fantastic ladies who are doing very well in their respective career.
Is there any problem you think Mentoring and Career Advising can address in that space?
Mentoring and career advising, is necessary because a mentor can guide and provide advice to someone before someone else makes same decision because a mentor has likely walked that path.
What advice would you give to women looking to get to the height in the Information Technology space?
Aim for the best, invest in yourself. Volunteer and put up your hand for work.
Who are your role models?
There are many, in Nigeria Ibukun Awosika, Chairperson of First bank is one of them.
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