Breaking new ground : A first in Central and Western Africa

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"My goal from the start was to be judged by my results and not by my gender," she says. Twelve months in, the figures speak for themselves. "We have been able to deliver more than initially planned, while reacting fast to ensure that the right measures were in place to protect our people during the COVID-19 pandemic".

The journey

Joëlle's achievement is even more impressive when considering the fact that this was her first ever Operations role. "I started out over 20 years ago as a trainee in R&D having completed an engineering degree in Food Technology," she explains. "I was busy travelling all over Africa, visiting universities, meeting young entrepreneurs as part of the launch of the Nestlé innovation challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, when I got the first call regarding this opportunity. Being very operational by nature, I was excited by the challenge".

Solid foundations

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Joëlle's grandmother, her biggest role model.

Joëlle is keen to credit the mentors who have guided her journey. "My role model is my grandmother," she says proudly. "She didn't go to school, but she was always pushing the females in the family to get an education. She believed very much in encouraging girls to be autonomous. In this part of the world education is very important to ensuring you can make your own choices".

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge. This, explains Joëlle, is something that she has done instinctively throughout her career, following in her grandmother's footsteps: "I always find some time to guide my sisters - we share our experiences, our moments of doubt".

Advice to impart

Central to the core beliefs that Joëlle shares with her female peers is the sense that they can achieve because they are women, not in spite of it. "The biggest mistake we can make as women is to try to behave as if we are not women," she explains.

She is also keen to debunk notions that women must make binary choices. "If family is important to you, then keep room for family," she advises. "If travelling is important, then do that. I've never asked myself to sacrifice. I've just asked my husband and children: how do we make it happen?"

Change in action

Nestlé has made strides in gender equality in recent years with initiatives such as the Nestlé Gender Balance Acceleration Plan, the gender-neutral Nestlé Parental Support Policy and Unconscious Bias training for all managers. Joëlle is keen to play her part, always ensuring that there is diversity in the hiring process. "Multi-brain makes for better results," she explains. "We're a multinational company. That's why it's so important that we reflect diversity. One plus one can equal infinity. The greatest ideas can only come when we put different brains together. It's very important for the future of our business".

I always find some time to guide my sisters - we share our experiences, our moments of doubt

Joëlle Abega-OyouomiFactory manager

She is particularly interested in seeing more women in engineering. "Any time we recruit I make sure we have enough young women in this field," she explains. "Then when they arrive I talk to them. I say, 'as you can see I am the factory manager and I look like you'".

In her short time as factory manager Joëlle has made a lasting mark on the business. Her proudest achievement? "The other day somebody said to me: 'now I understand why Nestlé wanted to employ a woman in this role - it's different but it's a positive difference'," she beams. "For me that was the best Christmas gift that I got last year".