To Catalyse Women’s Leadership, Pay Attention to Their Other Priorities, Says Women’s World Banking

Categories : Blog


Author: Jennifer Iwueze

The topic of women’s leadership is front-page news these days, thanks to the recent Nobel Prize for Economics being awarded to Dr. Claudia Goldin. Her research shows that women’s workforce participation is highly dependent on flexible work policies and support in other areas of family life such as childcare. Women’s World Banking conducted deep research into the financial sector in Nigeria to identify catalytic drivers of women’s advancement in leadership, and its research affirms and builds on Dr. Goldin’s insights. My team and I found that to advance women’s leadership, policymakers and financial services providers alike must pay attention to women’s needs both outside and within their workplaces.

Advancing women in leadership is good for companies and good for economies. According to the IMF, increasing gender diversity on boards in the financial sector is associated with stronger financial outcomes, reduced risk, and enhanced resilience (IMF, 2022). Although the benefits of women’s leadership in different sectors are manifold, gender disparities at leadership levels persist. Globally, women hold less than 20 percent of board seats in banks and bank supervision agencies, and account for less than 2 percent of bank CEOs (IMF, 2017). There are only 14 female heads of central banks.

In Nigeria, we have seen a significant increase in gender equality in the financial services sector, and especially in banking. In “Advancing Women as Leaders in Nigeria’s Finance Industry,” my co-authors and I explore the drivers behind a decade of progress in women’s leadership in the banking sector, and shed light on the experiences of women in the industry in order to consolidate these gains, to sustain them, and to replicate them in other financial services sectors in Nigeria.

Insights from the research revealed that regulatory policies, internal company policies, and mentoring programmes played crucial roles in the advancement of women in leadership positions. While progress has been made in promoting gender equality in various sectors, the banking industry stands out as a pioneer in quantifiable advancements. At the time of the report, eight out of Nigeria’s 24 commercial banks were led by women, marking a historic achievement for female leaders in Nigeria. This blog post explores the findings of the study and highlights the importance of these factors in promoting gender diversity and equity.

Internal workplace policies and benefits play strong roles in women’s growth in leadership.

One of the key factors identified in the study was the implementation of internal policies within an organisation to support gender diversity. These policies, when put in place, aim to create an inclusive work environment, and provide equal opportunities for career growth. Companies within the finance sector are introducing workplace policies, norms, and practices designed to create professional spaces that support women. Initiatives such as on-site crèches, flexible work arrangements, and remote work options have played a strong role in enabling women to rise to leadership positions.

To go far, go together. Women appreciate mentoring and help from others.

Mentoring emerged as another important factor in advancing women in leadership positions. Mentorship programmes –with both men and women mentors—provide guidance, support, and career advice, enabling women to navigate organisational challenges and develop necessary skills. Insights from the research suggest that women-oriented groups and mentoring are crucial in supporting women’s advancement across all sectors. Mentoring relationships through women-oriented professional groups or employer mentorship programmes create leadership pipelines and develop women’s professional skills and networks.

It’s not all market forces. Regulatory policies catalyse women’s advancement too.

In 2012, the Central Bank of Nigeria mandated that women must occupy a minimum of 30% of board members positions and 40% of managerial roles. Our research confirms the mandate played a crucial role in encouraging an increase in women’s leadership positions within banks. However, the absence of similar mandates in other sectors of the finance industry (insurance, pensions, and microfinance banks) may contribute to slower growth in the representation of women in leadership positions elsewhere. Enabling policies ensures that a certain percentage of leadership roles are reserved for women, requiring attention on the pipeline of women leaders. Our research suggests that mandates have strong potential to facilitate change but require prolonged investment by the leaders in a given sector to sustain and continue early gains.

There is no one driver of women in leadership. Increasing women’s leadership in finance requires a combination of approaches to address the range of needs that women professionals have as they work to advance their careers.  The recent increase in women occupying CEO positions in Nigerian banks highlights the importance of regulatory mandates, internal policies, and mentoring programmes. Through the implementation of gender quotas, family-friendly policies, and leadership development programmes, organisations are actively promoting gender diversity and equity. While progress has been made, it is crucial to continue advocating for equal opportunities and addressing the disproportionate burden faced by women in balancing work and personal responsibilities. By creating a supportive and inclusive environment, organisations can further empower women and ensure their continued success as leaders. The research conducted by Women’s World Banking provides valuable insights into the drivers behind the increasing representation of women leaders in Nigeria’s banking sector. Despite the challenges that women still face, the progress made within the banking industry provides hope for a future where gender parity is achieved across all sectors in Nigeria. By recognising these insights, stakeholders can further promote gender diversity and equality.

Explore Women’s World Banking’s regional case studies and research publications to learn more about our work here.

Feel free to reach out if you want to hear more! You can get in touch with me at

Jennifer Iwueze

Regional Research Lead at Women’s World Banking

DFI Alumni and Community Member


International Monetary Fund. (2022) Gender balance in the financial sector. Retrieved from

International Monetary Fund. (2017) Banking on women leaders A case study for more. Retrieved from

Established in 2015, Digital Frontiers Institute is a proud brand of Digital Frontiers. Learn more about the Gender Equality Changemakers programme and find out how to enrol: