AMANDLA! WOMEN TO WATCH EDITION
Senior Counsel, World Bank Group, Washington, DC.
Why did you decide to study law?
I grew up under military rule in Nigeria and witnessed great abuse of power. At around 8 years old, I witnessed two soldiers dragging and beating a crying woman. She had allegedly spoken to them in a manner they deemed rude. I recall standing with other residents in the neighbourhood feeling disempowered and paralyzed by fear of the soldiers and their guns. As I began to make career choices, I realized that law was a vehicle through which I could help people like the woman brutalized by the soldiers. Since then my career has been characterized by the pursuit of justice and equity.
What is your proudest professional moment thus far?
I cannot really pinpoint one moment - I would say that I derive a lot of joy and pride from helping others with career advice and guidance even as I try to navigate the professional world myself. When I can help someone, that is a proud moment.
Looking back, what is one decision/action you would have done differently?
Speaking up more when I was new in my career and witnessing things I did not agree with. At times in the past I succumbed to a fear of being misunderstood and then silenced myself. Fortunately, this is a course of action to which I no longer subscribe. We should never silence ourselves out of fear of what another person may think or feel.
Share some major professional challenges you have faced, or continue to face as a woman in law.
I started my career at a young age and found myself having to justify my presence, even though I was well qualified to be present and heard. It was equally frustrating to be told that I could not hold certain positions because I was a young woman. With time, persuasion, or pure assertiveness it became clear my age did not define me and that I should be judged on my knowledge and the quality of my work. I have also encountered sexism, racism, and other micro-aggressions. I have been in spaces where diversity and inclusion were touted but not pursued. Yet we cannot afford to be tired. We must persist in doing good, speaking our minds, and supporting one another.
What are some practical strategies for survival in the legal profession?
First, we are each blessed with many talents and we are more than just our profession. Develop your many talents as these allow you to create balance in your life. In addition to my work as a lawyer, I derive personal fulfilment from song-writing and performing as a musician activist (www.adejokemusic.com). Second, use whatever privilege you have to open doors and keep them open for other women and women of colour. It is never too early to create opportunities for others and expand your network. Third, while pursuing your dreams, give yourself permission to feel the fear and do it anyway. I have learned that it is ok to feel fear so long as I do not let it take over. Finally, try to do work that is connected with what gives you joy. You will be working in your purpose.