African Leadership University

Breaking Biases with Hadja BA!

I am Hadja BA and this is my story.

I come from a family of science-oriented people. Both my parents had Engineering degrees, but my mother’s career, like one of many other women of her generation, was put on parenthesis because they expatriated with my father’s job when I was little. My brothers and I grew up between Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Senegal.  

After high school, I got a full-board scholarship to pursue an education in Engineering in France. There were 5 of us, selected among the best High school graduates in Senegal. I then spent 4 years in France and 1 year in Canada studying to become an Industrial Engineer.

That was the first time I felt like a minority; in my first year in Engineering school, we were 13 girls out of 150 students. I was the only black girl out of more than 500 students in the school.

After my Masters in Sciences, I really was not interested in the classical career options available to a general engineering graduate in France. I knew I wanted to go back home very soon, but I wanted to explore new things first. I started my career as a Financial Auditor with Ernst & Young in Paris and worked there for 3 years.

I then joined AccorHotels in their corporate HQ in Paris and quickly managed to convince them to recruit me in the opening of the new regional HQ for Sub-Saharan Africa in Senegal. I went on to spend almost 10 years with AccorHotels, working in France, Senegal, and lastly Morocco. I started as a corporate finance analyst, became an internal audit manager, a senior financial analyst, and ultimately the Financial Planning & Analysis Director for Africa.

After AccorHotels I joined InTouch, a new fintech startup venture in Senegal, which had high ambitions to scale and grow across Africa (which they did!). In the first days, everyone was doing a bit of everything, so before settling in my role of CFO I touched a bit of HR, Legal, compliance and went on a fair share of market and demo days!

5 years later, here I am, with ALU, ready to scale!

I am the proud mother of 2 boys, whom I am raising to be feminists.

 Some lessons I learned along the way:

Being a woman, a mother, you’ll face some tough choices and will sometimes feel some unnecessary guilt. Be unapologetic about going after what you want, whether you want a fast-paced corporate career or need time to raise your children.

Another thing is that I’ve worked with a lot of super-competent women. But sometimes they are not holding the position they deserve because their brilliant ideas are not heard or they are too modest about their accomplishments.

We’ve often been raised to be quiet and unobtrusive, but that’s not in our best interest. There is no shame in being confident. I want to see more young women share the stories of their successes, their ventures, brag about their accomplishments, ask for more responsibilities, and upgraded pay.

In conclusion, I would say that my professional journey has been a mix of luck, of opportunities given and seized, but whenever things have radically changed it has always been very intentional on my part.

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