“You have to be the change you want to see” Bola Tinubu CDir, Partner, Olajide Oyewole LLP (DLA Piper Africa)

Bola Tinubu is an experienced corporate lawyer and member of IoD UK. As Chair of The Boardroom Africa, she leads an organisation working in partnership with the IoD to provide professional development training for African female executives. She is also the founder of a Nigerian children’s charity, The Cece Yara Foundation.

I grew up in Nigeria and as a teenager I went to court to watch my father who was a corporate lawyer. From that point on, I knew I wanted to pursue law and put away ‘bad guys’.

As soon as I qualified, I joined Olajide Oyewole LLP, now DLA Piper Africa, Nigeria and I have been there ever since! In a country which is deeply patriarchal and in an industry that often favours men, DLA Piper Africa, Nigeria has been a breath of fresh air. I was always encouraged and offered the same opportunities as my male colleagues. It’s not enough to just have an inclusive policy, you have to be able to see it to believe it and witnessing other female associates rise up through the firm, instilled great confidence in me.

I had the first of my five children within the first year of joining the firm and felt pulled in two directions. My career was demanding but I also wanted to bring up my child the way my mother had raised me. I decided I didn’t want to choose, I wanted to do both, and my firm and family helped make this a reality.

Despite being the first female partner at the firm, the other partners were always understanding and in tune to my needs. They ensured I had the technology to work from home long before remote working became mainstream, and when I needed to extend my maternity leave due to circumstances beyond my control, they picked up the slack unreservedly. And this meant that I didn’t fall off my career ladder because of the needs of my family.

Understanding how valuable this kind of unconditional support is to working mothers, I designed a creche at our new offices. DLA Piper is about 50% female and the creche has allowed our working mothers to breastfeed and spend time with their children and to be in the office at the same time. There is so much power in giving women this option, so they don’t have to choose between a career or a family, or between their home or the office.

In Africa we have an entire continent of amazing, talented women who are not getting the opportunities they deserve. In 2020, I became Chairperson at The Boardroom Africa and we partnered with the IoD to help accelerate the appointment of women directors by providing the skills and knowledge women need to navigate their boardroom journey. So far, we have trained 200 African women.

Investing in yourself can make a huge difference and I am now one of three female Chartered Directors in Africa. This IoD training has given me a broader business understanding and better knowledge about business strategy, risk, and finance. Having this qualification has empowered me to sit on numerous boards and given me assurance and confidence in my Director roles. If you want to be a successful international director, you will find both the challenge and support you need as a member of the IoD.

I have been lucky with my career and to be part of a progressive workplace, but this isn’t the case for many girls growing up in Nigeria. Sometimes you have to be the change you want to see, so in 2016 I founded the Cece Yara Foundation to help prevent child sexual abuse. Alongside my legal work, I find joy and fulfilment in leading this charity which has enabled me to pursue my childhood ambition of catching the real ‘bad guys’.

The Boardroom Africa programme ‘Open Doors’ offers professional director training to African woman to ensure more women from diverse backgrounds have the tools they need to succeed. Learn more about our gold-standard professional development programme here.

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