#ChooseToChallenge: A Fireside Chat with Jane Egerton-Idehen
International Women's Day is celebrated every year around the world in March. As a community committed to empowering, encouraging, and celebrating women, we joined the rest of the world to celebrate with a fireside chat on Saturday, March 13, 2021. At noon, the event kicked off with a welcome address by Ifihan Olusheye, who welcomed people to the event and introduced the guest speaker — Jane Egerton-Idehen.
- Jane Egerton-Idehen is the Head of Sales, Middle East and Africa at Facebook. Jane is a seasoned Tech Executive and Author of the best-selling book, Be Fearless. She is a vocal advocate and fierce champion for women in Tech and society at large. Jane is passionate about seeing women ascend in their professional, social, and personal lives. She is down to earth, a force of nature and has a history of promoting girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
Ifihan: Hi Jane! It’s good to have you here. I have read out your bio, which everyone wants to hear (chuckles), but tell us about you. Who is Jane Egerton-Idehen?
Jane: I studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). After school, I went ahead to work for companies like Ericsson, Nokia Siemens, Avanti, and I recently joined Facebook about a month ago. My career has moved from Engineering to Sales and Management over the years. I am grateful for all of these experiences.
My kids always inspire me. In fact, I usually tell people that my daughter inspired my book—Be Fearless—and I am grateful for her growth. It is interesting how our kids can inspire us.
I used to be based in Lagos but moved to Dublin for my new job. I am passionate about women in Tech and seeing women grow in their career, generally, irrespective of their fields. This is why I started an NGO—WomenandCareer—to reach out to women and girls and contribute to their growth. I am happy to be here today.
(Ifihan introduces Maryam, who is the event co-host.)
Maryam: Thank you, Mrs Jane, for being a part of this event. It is usual for everyone to have faced challenges in one way or the other. So let’s talk about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
Jane: The challenges I faced as a woman changed as I grew in my career. Beginning from University, where we were only a handful of girls in a class of over a hundred. I started my career as a Teleport Engineer. The job required a lot of extra efforts and night shifts. Sometimes, people would sideline me out of those responsibilities because “She needs to get home early.” or “Jane is a lady.” At that point, I just wanted to prove that I could do it even though I was a woman. I was being passed for promotions; people were making decisions on my behalf because “Jane is married and has kids…” or something along that line. When I found out, I was devastated, and then I decided that I would stay at the top of my game. I began to prove that I could do it—manage my life as a woman and a worker effectively—and I did.
If you don't take up responsibilities, you won't get promoted. Nobody will promote you for being lazy. — Jane Egerton-Idehen
You have to make conscious efforts. There are certain things you won’t have control over; focus on the ones you can control. You may not have control over some things like the payment of your school fees if your parents fend for you, but you can influence your grades.
Focus on what you can influence at a time. As you do that, your circle of influence tends to grow, and the circle of what you can’t control begins to shrink. — Jane Egerton-Idehen
Maryam: Since the beginning of March, everyone has been talking about Women in Tech, the International Women’s Day celebration and all that. What do you think about the imbalance in the number of women in Tech? How do we create a welcoming space for them?
Jane: From statistics, there are still few women in Tech, and it gets lesser as you move higher because even the ones there tend to leave. Some of them find it challenging to combine work, family, and other things, so they go.
To create a welcoming space for women in tech, everyone has to be involved. We have to ensure no government or company policies restrict women from being in Tech. In a firm, create space for women: Do not hold meetings too late at night or too early in the morning. Consider the women there that have to attend to their kids and families. If her role can be handled from home on some days, allow her to work remotely. Allow flexibility and a chance for her to do other things.
It’s a challenge that requires all hands on deck, even up to the cultural context—the way we train our kids.
Maryam: What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Jane: I’ve had quite many highlights and milestones in my career that I am really proud of. Let’s talk about my first management job. I applied for a job while living in Nigeria and was told that the job would require me to move to Ghana. I really wanted it, but I was wondering how to cope. Would I have to uproot the kids from their schools? For days, I was a bit stuck. I am very fortunate to have a supportive husband who noticed something was wrong and asked me about it. So I poured out my heart to him. After listening to me, he just said, “let’s do it” I was shocked because we didn’t even have all the answers then. We then decided I was to go alone and come to Nigeria during weekends.
For about three weeks, I would go to work and come back to boredom because I stayed at a hotel and was alone in the room. And even during the weekends, I would get home stressed from the travel and sleep through most of it, thereby defeating the purpose of coming home in the first place. I did not have enough time to bond or do activities with my kids and husband. We then realized it was not working and changed the plan. I moved the kids to Ghana with me, and my husband was the one shuffling.
It was a significant milestone for me. I did not even have all the answers at the beginning, but I started anyway.
Sometimes, you have to take risks and learn along the way; don’t be too quick to set rules. — Jane Egerton-Idehen
Don’t try to solve all your problems alone. Be open to learning, ask questions, be open to suggestions. You need to have a sound support system because, honestly, it takes the whole village.
Ifihan: Wow. Wow. Thank you so much; that was insightful. What has helped you to stay at the top and scale through the hurdles?
Jane: Remember the circle of influence that we talked about earlier? That’s one of them.
Secondly, manage your career. You are in the driver’s seat of your career; you can’t give someone else the steering. You have to take up your power, be in the driver’s seat, plan your career, stop blaming people.
What are your goals? Which training do you have to undergo to achieve them? You won’t always have a good manager or good HR personnel to recommend or sponsor you for training.
Make your decisions based on what you want.
Start saving for your plans; invest in yourself.
If you do not like your job, make efforts to change. You aren’t tied to a place forever.
Learn to ASK, constantly speak up for yourself. Ask questions. Some people may be busy or not respond, but someone would be willing to listen and point you in the right direction.
When I wanted to do my masters, the fee was equivalent to my salary for the whole year. In fact, in UNN, I’ll spend 90% of my pocket money (which was ₦25,000) to buy a textbook and then find means to feed myself. Those were some of the risks I had to take; you will be forced to take risks along the way.
Be intentional with your friendships. In my first year of UNN, I found people who were thinking alike. Make friends with people with similar ambitions as yours. You’ll learn from them and get help.
Ifihan: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Jane: On your career journey, you need to learn to speak up. They won’t give you if you don’t ask. You have to ask, especially as a lady. It even goes beyond your career; apply it to other aspects too. You cannot change people’s biases. Learn to ask, else people would make excuses for you and make decisions on your behalf. If you see someone whose career you admire, ask. If you want a promotion, ask. It’s not going to be easy, but they won’t give it to you if you do not ask.
Q & A session with the audience
Q1: How did you transform from Engineering to Sales and Marketing? What tips can you give me?
Jane: Play to your strength; it’s easier to move to a 9 when you’re a 7, than when you’re a 3. Do a SWOT analysis and study yourself. Find your strengths and work on improving them. Also, invest heavily in your strengths.
Q2: I am interested in HR; where can I find communities for young professionals?
Jane: Do research. LinkedIn is an excellent tool for that. You can make a post about your skills, interest and request recommendations and referrals. You can ask if there is any community you can join, and someone would respond. Anyone in your connection could send an opportunity to you. You can never tell!
Q3: What keeps you grounded?
Jane: My why. Don’t forget your humble beginnings. In the beginning, my why was survival. As time goes on and as you grow, survival may stop being a major why. For me, the next thing I started asking myself was, “what do I want to leave on this planet behind for others?” and that has kept me going. It influences most of my decisions. I am very passionate about creating a space for young women in Tech.
(Disclaimer: Not every part of the discussion was recorded in this writeup.)
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