Interview with Adelaide Addo-Fening: International Development Consultant

“Women shouldn’t be modest about our competencies and achievements but at the same time we shouldn’t be arrogant”

Adelaide Addo-Fening is an International Development Consultant with over 18 years’ experience of developing and managing development programmes at local and international levels. She was formerly Director of International Programmes for Sightsavers International, a UK-based development agency, where she was responsible for overseeing the organization’s work in 33 countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. She was previously Regional Director for West and Central Africa with VSO International, after serving as Country Director in Ghana.

Vera: How do you define career success and what are the key things to get right early on?

Adelaide: Career success I would say is achieving progressive levels of responsibility and competence and through that having personal and positional power to influence others for positive change. A strong sense of personal accountability and responsibility for delivering results is important; having integrity – being reliable, trustworthy and credible; consistently pursuing excellence in every task and working well with people are principles to embrace from the beginning.

Vera: Did you plan your career and if so what did you take into consideration?

Adelaide: I didn’t – but I worked to a general principle of wanting to excel and be extraordinary. I have used challenges on the way as opportunities for personal growth – I learnt early in my career that there is a solution to every challenge and I just have to figure out how to handle them.

Vera: What would you say are the big challenges women still face as they try to advance themselves and rise?

Adelaide: A big one is the perception in the workplace that women are somehow fragile and emotional and will not be able to hold up when there are major challenges. This is more the case in the cultural context in Africa rather than in international settings. Women themselves also tend to feel apologetic for taking time off for child bearing/care and feel the pressure to work even harder than men to prove themselves. But there have been a lot of women trailblazers who have shown that women are capable. Young women need to aspire to reach even higher levels. Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend of young people being less prepared to put in the hard work but wanting the progression and success – a sort of entitlement mentality. Anyone wanting to progress must work for it. It will not come any other way.

Vera: What are some of the tools that young women can use to shape their own careers?

Vera: Developing self awareness, finding mentors and coaches that they can seek constructive feedback from on how to improve. Also finding opportunities to learn new skills by volunteering so that they build their CVs. Women must also demonstrate more confidence.

Vera: How has your own leadership changed as you’ve progressed? 

Adelaide: I say ‘leadership is a call to integrity’ – I progressively became less of a ‘boss’ and more of a leader, focusing on inspiring teams rather than relying primarily on the authority of my position. That involves being the example that you want your team to follow. What has not changed is my focus on excellence- you can be an effective leader without being a mean dictator.

Vera: What would be your top lessons or tips for young women wanting to rise?

Adelaide: I would say to them; don’t be modest about your competencies and achievements but at the same time don’t be arrogant. Respect people – including your subordinates. Absolutely do not seek to use your sexuality to advance – rather use your talents, abilities and hard work. Build integrity – including with money – because no amount of money is worth harming your reputation. Recognize that you can always learn and improve – when you start feeling ‘you know it all’, that is when you can start slipping.

Vera: What have you achieved that has surprised you and why did that surprise you?

Adelaide: Being awarded an OBE by the Queen of England – I was just doing my job because I loved it and it was a surprise that it was noted as something so significant that I was nominated for the award… never know where recognition will come from so always do your best even if there is no boss putting pressure on you to do so.

Vera: How have you balanced career and family?

Adelaide: There is no magic formula – it is hard to do. My one rule that helped is to prioritize special family events over work. Examples – some birthdays, graduation etc.

Vera: Finally, how have you grown as a person and what values have been key to your growth?

Adelaide: I have a greater respect and concern for people – values of respect, integrity and wanting to make a difference in the world.

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.

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