Mauryn Uba holds a degree in Banking and Finance from the Lagos State University (LASU). Having worked in the banking sector for seven years, she left to carve a new career path as a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) officer. Team lead, HSC at GSR 360, a Lagos-based company, her work has taken her all over the country including very volatile regions that others would ordinarily not go. In this interview, Uba talks about dumping banking for HSE, succeeding in a male-dominated field and why she believes that Nigerian women are not marginalised in the workplace amongst other issues.
At what point did you decide to switch from banking to a career in HSE?
I have always believed that succeeding in any career is all about your willingness to go the extra mile to realise your vision and right from time, I understand that keeping it real and simple are great skills to discover my vision. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize your vision and what you want from your life, if not, you are going to float around and be a misfit. Wherever you find yourself, work hard to succeed and actualise that vision. My parents have always told us while growing up that hard work does not kill, instead, it prepares you for greater exploits in all spheres of life. I decided I wanted another career path and decided to go for it.
Do you ever regret leaving the banking sector for the unknown?
I have never regretted my career switch for a second. I am more contented now than ever before. I look at the bigger picture ahead and I know that I have a whole life ahead of me so I aim higher in this industry. My mission is to take my space in this universe and make it count positively. I am a unique being and a woman, so if I don’t play my role then I can’t represent thousands of other women that are trying to find their voice or way in life. I refuse to take the backseat as expected by society or my male counterparts. This path has exposed me to other unharnessed potentials I never imagined I possessed. There is no successful person in life with an easy past and I am determined to be successful with this new path.
Tell us about your job as a safety officer, what does it entail?
My job as a safety coordinator is quite tasking. Essentially, it has to do with people’s lives, environment and also people’s means of livelihood. If something goes wrong with any of them, I would be held responsible and so I must see that everything goes well on a project site and communicate effectively to the entire team.
You are one of today’s young women pushing the boundaries to succeed in a field dominated by men, how do you do it?
I have always been conscious of the fact that first and foremost I am a human being, a unique one at that, before being a woman. And as humans, we all have potentials and application of these potentials and gifts are not in any way limited by your gender. Therefore, there is no reason to limit yourself as a woman in any field of endeavour. I might not have all it takes at the start, but I am ready to grow through the hurdles and never be discouraged. As soon as I became conscious that my vision was right and I had a goal in mind, I pursued it passionately without setting gender boundaries for myself.
How lucrative is the field for any woman considering going down this path?
Choosing this path for me was more of a personal desire to create value and give back than monetary gains. Have it at the back of your mind that one can earn a living in any job. However, it is also important that you have a life alongside in order to strike the right balance. Seeing my job through safely and when all stakeholders are happy is more satisfying and a plus for me. I believe that money will surely come as long as your service is in demand. At every point in life, priority changes and you decide what matters most. If you can remember there was a time when education was on top of everyone’s goal-list, but I am sure now other things have overtaken that space. As one grows older, you have to think about raising a family, training kids and other things. It is the same process in your career as well; things change and you must evolve with it.
Why was it important for you to change careers since banking was also lucrative?
In my opinion, banking in Nigeria is not interesting and impactful. For that singular reason, there was a need for me to change my career path. Even though I waited for long before permitting myself to try my hands on a new venture, there was a silent voice that kept telling me that I would impact more on people than what I was doing in banking. Occupational health and safety officers may not be well paid as they should be in Nigeria but for me, it is more fulfilling as I derive joy in interacting with people. This is a career that influences people and our environment positively. In this field, “be your brother’s keeper’’ is our watchword. Career success shouldn’t be solely evaluated by your take-home but rather by your passion and personal fulfillment at the end of the day.
How hard did you have to work to affirm your authority in this field?
One needs a lot of hard work to accomplish one’s dream in any field at all and occupational health and safety is not an exception. Most times, I am the only woman on a project site with the huge responsibility to ensure that jobs are carried out safely. I do this with a sense of duty, humility and compassion. Without sounding immodest, I still think that these are the simple traits that have given me the edge to communicate our project mission to the least amongst the teammates. You can’t demand respect; you earn it by first respecting yourself and others. I know humility is one key thing that has kept me going in this male dominated environment, much as I am seen as a competitor because any move or idea is perceived to be a threat.
Can you tell us some of the high and low points of this job?
Of course, there have been happy moments and terrible disappointments. I’ve had my high and low moments in the course of this career change. What kept me going is constantly keeping a positive thought process and pushing to have a better version of myself, each day. I remember my mom would always tell me,
“whatever you lay your hands on, do it right to the best of your ability and remember you are created with a purpose for humanity”. One of my biggest challenges earlier was communication. It was difficult to pass information across to the workers considering where I was coming from, the banking sector. There, the majority of my customers are educated. Oftentimes, here, I have to keep changing my communication approach to be able to pass my message across. I’ve had to coordinate different people from different backgrounds with different psychological makeups.
What do women need most to navigate safely in this field to achieve success?
My happiest moment comes when a project is safely delivered, successfully meets man-hour targets without a fatality, and receives awards and recognition. On the other hand, things can actually go bad so much that my project site will be shut down and investigation carried out due to incidents or accidents. In some locations, I am exposed to some unforeseen circumstances, especially security issues in those volatile Niger Delta regions. It can also be very emotionally devastating when you lose a worker in the line of duty due to safety negligence, so, it is a very serious matter. We take safety very seriously and are mindful of everything we do in a project site. The most important thing you need to have at the back of your mind always is your safety and that of your team.
From your experience in two different, diverse fields, do you think Nigerian women are marginalized in workplaces?
I will like to go contrary to the popular belief that women are marginalized at the workplace. Remarkably, women all around the world are doing well in various fields of endeavours, not with agitation but a complete sense of hard work. They are pushing beyond limits. I personally believe nobody is marginalised and in your career, it is either you take the lead or the backseat. It all starts with you trusting your inner voice, ideas, honesty, and your ability to find your way. I always believe that there is a space for everyone in the universe, so it is a choice to take up yours and make good use of it or fearfully forfeit it all because you don’t want to be teased by others when you fail.
What would be your final words to women reading this?
The sky is wide enough for every bird to fly. I implore women to take any and every chance, stand up and take their rightful place. You miss hundred percent of shots you don’t take. Nature abhors a vacuum. We should always bear in mind that we are created for a purpose. Every woman should look inwards to find her unique potential and gladly live it to the fullest such that in the long run, you will be happier you did just like I am today.