We are super excited to be bringing you our new feature #9to5CareerChick, where we will be profiling, monthly, some of the most dynamic, experienced, ambitious and just downright amazing career women in Africa.
What better way for you to scale your career than by standing on the shoulders of those who have blazed the trail, left a mark and now want to give back to others, so they too can achieve the same. That is the purpose of this series, to recognize, profile, interview and share the amazing warehouse of knowledge these women have. We couldn’t think of any better person than Aishetu Fatima Dozie to launch our series and here’s why;
Aishetu is a Distinguished Careers Institute Fellow at Stanford University & the Founder of African HERstory Inc. which is aimed at providing a platform for quality programming capturing the full essence of the African woman’s life. Aishetu has worked for Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered Bank, and Rand Merchant Bank as a senior investment banking executive having closed $130 billion in M&A, financing, and capital markets transactions. Over the past decade, she’s lived in New York, Johannesburg, London, and Lagos. She worked closely with President Obasanjo and his economic team of cabinet ministers in crafting the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, which drove several successful reforms including the $18 billion Paris Club debt write-off. Aishetu holds a BA from Cornell University, a MBA from the Harvard Business School, and participated in the Leaders in Development Program at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University.
The stellar degrees and distinguished career aside, Aishetu’s drive and relentless pursuit of her dreams is what we love the most about her. In our maiden #9to5CareerChick feature we chat with her about career fulfillment, career hacks, mistakes, achieving balance and even what she does to survive a bad day at work.
9to5chick: What would you credit as being the 3 most important reasons behind your career growth and why?
AD: I’ve always been ambitious. From a very young age, I had something to prove to myself. I had a deep belief I could do anything I put my mind to, so I channeled that ambition and drive to the areas where I demonstrated natural skill. In addition to the hunger that underpinned my ambition, I have always had an active imagination. I am very visual and need to be able to “see” so that I can pursue the vision with gusto. My imagination fuels my ambition. Once I can visualize a goal, I can hit the ground running. And finally, but most importantly, grit keeps me going in spite of all the challenges, valleys, mistakes, and essential pivots that will undoubtedly come your way in life. Nothing good comes easy! If you want to do great things, you need to recognize that great challenges will get in your way. Fear is my personal biggest nemesis. It often comes when things are going well. It tries to veer you off course and makes you question yourself and everything you’ve ever accomplished. It’s grit and courage that get you through these times and when you get to the other side you see that fear projects a larger shadow than the actual event.
9to5chick: Would you say you are where you want to be in your career, if yes/no, why?
AD: I’m certainly exactly where I’m meant to be. My career has been a jungle gym of a journey and not a static destination. I see scope for improvement in my skills, knowledge base and contribution. I’ve been incredibly blessed and fortunate to have worked with fantastic organizations, amazing people on incredible transactions and projects. However, there is still so much more that I wish to do. I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface of what I’ve been placed on this earth to accomplish.
9to5chick: What is the biggest career mistake you have made and how did you recover?
AD: There are so many things that looking back I could have done differently. Where to begin and which to choose? I don’t have regrets because I think regret is a wasted emotion and a thief of present joy. However, if I had to pick my biggest career mistake it would be working for the Nigerian government right out of business school. I’ve often tried to connect the dots looking back to perhaps see how those two years helped me with anything in my personal or professional life and I keep coming up empty. It was a time of deep sadness and dissatisfaction for me. I was horrified at the way the government functioned and how petty people could be. It often felt like working in a war zone but you couldn’t actually identify the enemy. I was completely naïve on so many levels. It was also my first introduction to misogyny, sexism, and duplicity. Coming from a career in Wall Street, I thought I was resilient but this experience was otherworldly. It toughened me up though. I realized that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore but it was a hard lesson to learn in your mid-20s. When I’d had enough, I applied to the Young Professionals Program at the World Bank and was accepted. Moving to Washington DC was one of the best therapeutic measures of my life! I was able to decompress but re-engage in impactful financial service work that mattered working with the International Finance Corporation. I was back doing what I was passionate about without fear.
9to5chick: What was the biggest risk you have taken in your career, so far, and did it pay off?
AD: I’ll have to come back to you on this one! I’m currently in the middle of the biggest career risk yet (and I am someone who has taken a few of these already). I quit my job as the head of investment banking for a South African Bank in West Africa to attend a Fellowship at Stanford University. You might not think this is a big risk but I think it is! I have no plan for life or work afterward and this is both risky and scary. I have never not had a cogent and well-designed plan. I’m enjoying my time with my three sons in a new city and we are exploring and learning together. I am taking classes and learning about so many new things – design thinking, AI, VR, AR, IoT, content creation & monetization, VC, and the list goes on. It’s great to be able to take a year off in your 40s, put on sneakers and a backpack and go to school again. I recognize the privilege which I enjoy and I am deeply grateful that I get to experience a potentially new and exciting phase in life. I’m very introspective at this time and I’m hopeful that this sabbatical will create a new and exciting journey for me.
9to5chick: What do you do when you have a bad day at work?
AD: Grind through it, call my friends and chat with them about it in the evening. Watching TV or reading a book really helps me to unwind from a bad day too.
9to5chick: To have a mentor or to not have one? Is mentorship and/or sponsorship that important for women who want to scale the corporate ladder?
AD: Having several mentors has been instrumental to my own personal and career development. Some of my “mentors” don’t even know that they hold this position. I just develop relationships over time and reach out when I need some wisdom. I’ve never sat with them to agree on the moniker but the relationships have been invaluable to me. I’ve been lucky to enjoy excellent relationship with both men and women who have sponsored my career progression. Both sponsorship and mentorship are important and they should be mutually beneficial relationships. You need to invest and show promise so that people feel that investing their time and social capital in you is worth the investment.
9to5chick: Being a career mum, do you believe in life work balance? Is it attainable?
AD: For me, work is part of life. I am always in pursuit of balance amongst my various tasks, responsibilities, and stakeholders. I juggle every day and some balls are glass and others are rubber. I drop rubber balls all the time when things get hectic and I pick them back up again when I’m able to. The glass balls always stay in play. This is life and nothing comes easy. I have a network of friends and family who always support me so I’m able to hand some balls to them. Do what you need to do to get what you want to get. Some women don’t have a choice but to work. So balance isn’t a luxury but a necessity. It’s not without trade-offs and sacrifice but that’s what growing up is about. Making those hard decisions when you wish you could have everything. It’s hard for working women particularly those who take on the lion share of childrearing. It can be crushing at times but still we forge ahead and work with our partners and community to provide support.
9to5chick: If you could go back in time, to when you were about to start your career, what would you tell your younger self?
AD: Take more risks because you’ll be fine in the end. Live and work in at least five countries not in Africa. Don’t go work for the Nigerian government after business school!
9to5chick: One of the things that younger women struggle with is- the how- I know where I want to get to but I don’t know how to get there. What advice would you give millennial women who are navigating their careers?
AD: Network extensively. Ask questions. Be hungry. I stumbled into investment banking in undergrad because I applied for an internship that I found out about from friends. Talk to everyone around you about what they are thinking about. Be open-minded. Be a “pucknose.” Millennials have the benefit of Google which I didn’t have in my early days. Surf the web and find out about internships, grants and resources that answer your “how” questions. The odds that someone has already walked the road you seek to explore are high. Find their story and learn something from it. Ask for help but be specific in your request. Do a ton of research before you ask for help so you come across as informed. If you’re going on a whole new road, then create your own “how.” Believe in yourself and anything is possible.