Maureen Adibuah: Diversity begins with an open mind
For decades now, the logistics industry in Nigeria has been dominated by men. But one woman is determined to change that perception.
Maureen Adibuah, Country Manager of DHL Global Forwarding Nigeria, is not afraid to roll her sleeves up, get her hands dirty, and haul cartons up and down trucks.
“Even as a woman in a male-dominated workplace, I’ve never felt intimidated,” she said. “Because I’ve always believed that the only way to earn respect is to lead by example.”
Working in DHL has allowed Adibuah to realize her dreams while being a role model for other women.
Her goal? To inspire change in the rest of the logistics industry.
Breaking out of the comfort zone
A lawyer by profession, Adibuah left her well-paying job for the role of Credit Executive with DHL Express Nigeria in 2001.
When asked why she would jump into the deep end, she said she has always wanted to walk the less-trodden path.
“Throughout my life, I’ve always disliked the notion of being too comfortable in one place because personal growth can only come about if we allow ourselves to get out of our comfort zone and attempt new things,” she said.
But Adibuah soon discovered that the move was far tougher than she originally envisioned it to be.
For one thing, logistics can be intimidating for an industry outsider. From technical language to the complicated work processes, she made sure she learnt the ropes quickly.
While she made multiple mistakes along the way, she still managed to stay the course, determined to chart her course in the industry.
“It might sound cliché, but there’s no such thing as mistakes, only learning lessons. The more mistakes I make, the better I become as an individual,” Adibuah said.
Her persistence and fearlessness were rewarded.
Within four years, Adibuah became the National Sales Manager after scoring multiple promotions within the sales and customer service teams.
She continued to work her way up the corporate ladder in the sister company of the Group, DHL Global Forwarding Nigeria, which she joined six years ago, and assumed her current role as Country Manager in 2017.
“The learning curve was extremely tough because I had no clue about what was going on. But this gave me the impetus and drive to be the best that I could be because I was determined to prove a point,” she said.
And prove a point she did.
In a span of just 12 months, the business grew significantly under her leadership.
“Your career is the legacy you want people to remember you by. You can either be content being average, or you can take the bull by the horns and make your mark in this world,” Adibuah said.
Woman on a mission
Hard work and grit has taken Adibuah to where she is today. But she admits that having to prove herself constantly in a generally male-dominated industry can be difficult.
“As one of the few ladies in the workplace, I constantly worked twice as hard and hustled more than my male colleagues to show them that I meant business,” she said.
During her time with DHL Express, she made it a point to get into the thick of the action at the workplace, suiting up in overalls and work boots twice a week to join the team in loading and unloading shipments.
But even as she found personal fulfillment in her achievements at the workplace, it was an incident at home that convinced her that her work was much bigger than herself.
Adibuah was working from home one day when her young daughter, who was three years old at the time, mimicked her actions by typing into an imaginary computer.
The little girl had said, out of the blue: “Mummy, I’m processing a shipment just like you do all the time. I want to be like you when I grow up.”
At that moment, Adibuah knew that she had a responsibility to inspire future generations of female leaders.
“My heart just melted when I heard my daughter say those words. I knew that there was no way I was going to let her down,” she said.
Know your strengths and weaknesses
Adibuah believes that female leaders stand a better chance of commanding the respect of their colleagues — men and women alike — when they are fully aware of their personal strengths and flaws.
Understanding what they are good at and where they need help allows female leaders to develop constructive and mutual relationships at the workplace. “As a female leader, you need to be firm and assertive, but you also need to know when to raise your hand and ask for help,” she said.
In addition, women leaders should also be encouraging and supportive of other female co-workers.
She cited an incident where a male colleague had turned down a highly-qualified and talented female job applicant because of his personal prejudice.
Appalled by his actions, Adibuah penned a personal letter of recommendation to her superiors on behalf of the female job applicant, citing her strengths and talent.
The lady eventually snagged the job.
But Adibuah is also acutely aware that fighting for more recognition for women is unlikely to take off from the actions of just a few individuals. What it will take is a collective effort from the entire society, from the government to employers, men and women.
“Working in a highly diverse company has given me the freedom and space to grow not just as a professional, but as a woman too,” she said.
“Diversity begins with an open mind. If more companies in Nigeria embrace diversity, then more women leaders will emerge, and we can be assured that the country’s future is in safe, equitable hands.”