First Bank of Nigeria Limited is taking steps to ensure that women and women-led businesses are empowered. The bank has, through its FirstGem; FirstMonie and First Women Network empowered and brought several unbanked women into the financial system. This it proved during this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration, writes COLLINS NWEZE.
Empowering women through improved access to finance and social support are crucial in achieving the desired growth for the economy. This is the belief of First Bank of Nigeria Limited, even as it maintained that investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth.
It acknowledges the enormous contributions made by women, whether as business women, farmers, entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home.
This it demonstrated during this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social. It is also a day that stakeholders in Nigeria and in the Diaspora canvassed gender equality in society and workplace.
The event brings together governments, women’s organisations, corporations and charities for purposes of development and inclusion. According to the World Bank, women empowerment is the process that creates power in individuals over their own lives, society and in their communities. Women’s empowerment is all about equipping and allowing them to make life-determining decisions through the different problems in society.
Also, empowering women by granting them access to vast opportunities and information will not only lead to personal development for them but also the development of the communities and societies they operate in. First Bank is, therefore, supporting women’s economic empowerment through FirstGem, which gives them economic voice and bring many unbanked women to the financial system.
The bank has advanced N58 billion loans to over 81,000 women-led businesses and interests. Besides, 44,356 women (corporate and individual, including members of staff of the bank) currently own and operate the FirstGem account with a seating balance of N2.4 billion.
Also, the Agent Banking platform – which the bank leads in the industry – has promoted not just the financial inclusion of women but also independence as there are many women among its Agent Banking. Data showed that there are 38,185 male banking agents, and 11,762 female banking agents. First Bank Managing Director/CEO Adesola Kazeem Adeduntan, said women-led businesses constitute a large part of the banks’ balance sheets and stream of income, even as he added that the bank will continue to give priority to issues that affect women.
He said the bank is also in tune with the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP) which requires that companies promote gender equality in workplace. To support the NSBP project and give women voice in the workplace, FirstBank boss said women remain some of the best workforces and always make great impact in establishments.
FirstBank believes that women needed to be economically empowered. Unless social concerns such as gender disparity and women economic empowerment are addressed, economic and environmental goals and overall sustainable development will be difficult to achieve.
Adeduntan said the introduction of FirstGem, a female-focused product by the bank has contributed to the development of the Nigerian economy. Speaking at the FirstGem third anniversary conference held in Lagos, the bank chief said he was delighted that FirstGem is promoting savings culture, financial literacy, loan management, wealth creation and healthy lifestyle for women. Adeduntan said the product has a wide array of advisory, health and current awareness services for the discerning woman.
He said: “On October 28, 2016 we launched this women-centric account, designed specifically to meet the financial needs of both corporate and entrepreneurial women. This product, apart from being an account dedicated solely to women, is lifestyle-enhancing. “It provides a total lifestyle support for discerning women to enable them to meet their economic needs and aspirations. It goes without saying that economic stability does impact overall stability of individuals, institutions, communities and nations.
“With FirstGem, therefore, our long-term focus is on national economic development. I believe that with the indices we have so far, FirstGem is on the right performance track.”
In sports, the Female Basketball team, Elephant Girls, have, over the years, dominated the Women Basketball League of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, representing Nigeria in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Africa Women’s Champions.
According to FirstBank, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CR&S) involves meeting the needs of our stakeholders now and in the future. Our CR&S approach is three-pronged: citizenship, stakeholder management and impact management.
“Citizenship and stakeholder management involves putting into consideration the needs of stakeholders in making decisions, while impact management is basically about minimising our negative impacts and increasing our positive impacts on society.
“FirstBank prides itself in being an equal opportunity employer and have integrated diversity and inclusion policies and awareness into its practices.
The bank said its efforts at engendering diversity in the workplace include having in place a policy that encourages inclusion. The group’s diversity and inclusion objective is to be a recognised industry leader in workforce diversity and leverage diversity for the growth of the group and the success of the customers and communities we serve. We have a male: female ratio of 61:39 across the workforce,” he said. Also, the bank’s Board and Senior Management Teams have consistently supported women development by deliberately designing a dedicated platform called FirstGem to drive financial inclusion and all-round development of women. The bank’s CR&S approach is designed to deliver value in a structured way in the areas of education, health and welfare; financial inclusion; responsible lending and procurement.
Inclusivity ties in with our people empowerment goal which includes improving the lives of our stakeholders through the bank’s agenda of nation-building by empowering women and girls to access the opportunities and societal benefits to grow and advance societal and economic benefits. The bank is committed to promoting diversity, inclusion through our products, services and programmes.
Advancing the FirstGem vision
FirstBank explained that in recognition of the impact of women’s contribution to economic development, the bank is steadily advancing the vision of FirstGem through active and value-adding participation in many women empowerment programmes, international conferences, seminars, workshops, and roadshows across different cities and states of Nigeria over the past couple of years.
It revealed that at the forefront of these engagements is the Chairman of Board of Directors of the Bank who happens to be a female. It said the bank is committed to maintaining a positive work environment and to conducting business in a positive, professional manner by consistently ensuring equal employment opportunity. FirstBank Women Network is aimed at addressing the gender gap at the senior levels and taps the opportunities presented by enabling our women to contribute even more if given the necessary strategic support and an enabling environment. This includes providing a platform that enables women to become more engaged in their workplace, set and achieve goals, have greater influence in their lives and achieve more of their potential.
The initiative was launched with the International Women’s day (IWD) celebration that held on March 8, 2018 with the theme #PressforProgress. Also, the First Women Network is built around six pillars which are influence career pipeline, networking opportunities, grooming, etiquette and poise, mentoring, coaching and sponsorship opportunities, counselling, support and welfare, financial planning and empowerment.
FirstBank has a coaching and mentoring scheme dedicated to female members of staff in the bank. This is to enable older female members of staff to handhold and coach the younger ones with reference to their experience as they climbed the career ladder. For her, the types and number of products and services available to women include the facilities and polices provided to support gender diversity in the work place, among others.
Also, 2,708 female employees have special opportunities as nursing mothers: The Bank recognises that pregnancy and childbirth may take its toll on the women. In addition to the three months’ maternity leave with pay, our practice allows for nursing mothers to resume two hours later than the normal resumption period, or close two hours earlier than the normal closing hours. This is applicable for the first three months after resumption from maternity.
All these have made the bank winner of the Nigeria Sustainable Banking Awards on Women Empowerment Category, which is driven by the Central Bank of Nigeria, among other laurels.