Women Mean Business
If there’s one piece of advice Nadia Mensah-Acogny would give to women in business, it’s not to be afraid of being yourself. She believes it’s more important than ever that women remain in touch with their femininity, their culture and emotions when taking on leadership roles.
As co-founder and managing partner of London-based global consultancy and training firm, Acosphere, Mensah-Acogny is a prime example of women making a difference with their own style of leadership. It’s a style that incorporates diversity, flexibility, respect and trust as core to the success of the company she set up with her husband, Gilles. The wellbeing of employees is viewed as fundamental – leaving work early to attend a son or daughter’s school play and working part of the week from home is considered the norm. Often quizzed on how such an approach works, she says it’s a case of readjusting your moral compass to focus on people, not profits.
“Companies can forget that people make a company and that they need to be happy in order to be productive. People will only be happy if you respect what is important in their lives. It’s a leap of faith as you have to work on trust. We’ve been working this way for 10 years and no one on our team has ever let us down,” explains Mensah-Acogny.
It’s easy to see why. At Acosphere, gender is not an issue and tapping into the inherent diversity in the team is a way to ensure that culture, language skills and corporate experience are reflected in consultancy and training services the company offers. It’s an approach that avoids the domination of one cultural standard, instead harnessing diversity to improve services to clients.
“We have trainers from many countries and regions with different language skills and we always make sure we capture these different cultural elements in our training. It’s important, as training is all about communication and story telling and people need to relate to stories that reflect their personal experiences, not someone else’s,” explains Mensah-Acogny.
This passion for communication is no surprise considering Mensah-Acogny’s background. The daughter of a United Nations official, she frequently relocated around the world and speaks nine languages. She studied sociology in Paris and began her career as a journalist, when later on she was headhunted to set up the communications department for the Central Bank of West African Countries.
A particular interest in women in business has propelled her forward and, together with her much-evidenced leadership skills, saw her achieve a prestigious award for African Women in Leadership, which she received in her home country of Benin, West Africa in December 2014.
Her success means Mensah-Acogny is increasingly asked to talk and write about issues affecting women in business. She was invited by Mazars to sit on a panel analysing gender equality at the Global Women’s Forum held in France in October 2014. She also writes a regular blog and the annual Top 100 Most Influential Women in Africa for Forbes Afrique. Mensah-Acogny is particularly excited and inspired by what she is seeing in Africa, where women are now really beginning to fulfil their potential.
“When I wrote the most recent edition of the top 100 Most Influential Women in Africa, I could easily have done the top 300 or 500 because women are so powerful at the moment. They are heads of state, CEO’s of banks, pilots – there is absolutely no professional territory that women in Africa do not occupy. Women are really going for it.” she explains.
The next step for Mensah-Acogny and Acosphere is to take the best practise techniques they shared with blue chip companies in Europe and transfer that knowledge to endogenous African companies and help contribute to their growth.
However, Mensah-Acogny has no proposals to reduce the work she does in the UK at present, which also includes being a trustee to the African Centre in London. Since taking on this role 12 months ago, Mensah-Acogny has big plans to revive the centre as a leading venue for culture and art, which is another huge passion.
“I try to keep a common thread in everything I do even if it appears to be very different. I have things that are core to who I am and I am always loyal to that core – it’s women, it’s Africa and it’s the pursuit of excellence,” she says. Judged on her achievements so far, it’s hard to imagine anything less than total success.
Nadia Mensah-Acogny. Co-founder / Managing Partner. Acosphere & author of the annual Top 100 Most Influential Women in Africa. Forbes Afrique.
Further reading on this topic: Gender Equality on a Collision Course