The excerpt below is a personal reflective piece by Safiya Sike Salau, who is currently interning in the Lagos office for L’Oreal. She is a student in the founding class at ALC Mauritius studying Social Science.
“Sophia the first!” Aunty Doyin exclaims as she steps into the office in a classy, but somewhat gangster motion and drenches me in her smiles. Her youngest daughter loves the Disney cartoon character ‘Sophia’, and I love stories of her youngest daughter. Mrs. Offor choruses the cartoon name, Sophia the first, chased with a cheerful chuckle. Bisoye peeps from beneath his laptop screen, for the love of mockery, to sing my name in a Yoruba accent, ‘Safiyaaatuu’. Madam Nana turns around, a critical grin on her face as she assesses my outfit, then a proud nod. I feel fulfilled. I nod back. Mr. Richie steps out of his office to bully somebody just for good laughs. Mr. Chika brings up Nigerian politics amidst the chaos. Emmanuel drops the usual, random, but always welcomed, hot cup of tea on my table, ‘Thank you Emma’. He replies with silence; the kind that says ‘don’t bother, our relationship has passed cups of tea and the handfuls of groundnuts we share in silence’. Mr. Ram walks in briskly, ‘Hello Safiya’, the way he walks reflects how he chases his clients – with focus and no time to waste. Veronica, who has been sipping on her lemon water quietly and dishing out laughter from time to time, chases after Ram, ‘Mr. Ram! I need products for the giveaways! Lagos Fashion and Design Week is almost here!’ I take one more bite of my oily puff puff (bun), remembering the grumpy lady who sells it to me, and how grateful I am that the office vibes wash off her negative vibes, every morning.
Two months ago, I would never have known that I could fit the names of all the people in my office in one paragraph, with love. I was set to resume my internship in a bigger office in Ghana, but fate and luck had it that my journey with L’Oréal started on a smaller scale; with a tight-knit group of people who I could be comfortably lost with. This year, I earned the privilege of calling the largest cosmetic and beauty company in the world my corporate sponsors through the African Leadership University. Before embarking on my journey with L’Oréal, I had so many concerns. Where and how was I going to fit in? My make-up certificate from Zaron and mini cosmetic company in school could not match up to this, but it was less a feeling of inadequacy and more a feeling of displacement – Where and how? This question was answered in the first hour of my first day interning at the little office in Mushin, Lagos. ‘Welcome, we are like a family here’ said almost everyone I was introduced to. I did not have to fit in, I just had to be the best I thought I could be, and have fun while doing it. This is what I strive to do every day at work. I want to prove, more to myself, that I am capable of substantial and continuous growth. Even more, I want to be a positive contribution to my ‘family’.
The events that hit the office in just the past month of October were many, tedious and fun. We launched a new line of products for natural hair in Nigeria through our Dark and Lovely brand, Au Natural, and my supervisor granted me the opportunity to present the products. Then came an annual international modeling event, Elite Model Look, which had its makeup sponsored by L’Oréal’s Maybelline and exposed me to the backstage world. This was followed by a weekend-long SheLeads event where I presented Au Natural products to drive sales at our activation stand. Soon after was the Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2017, which gave me a bigger backstage experience. All of these events required research, logistics and practice. While these events were going on, back to back, and consuming some of my weekends, I still had to study and research the company’s key accounts on and off the field which will inform my final deliverable – a marketing strategy for L’Oréal products in Nigeria for 2018. I also had school work. In fact, I had to rent a little place on the mainland closer to my office because my home on the island had me waking up by 4:30am to get to work at 8am.
Through it all, I always feel more grateful than stressed. Grateful that I have been given a platform at work to practice my communication, research, networking, marketing and analytical skills all at once and in just a month! Grateful for the trust and understanding my team has given me so far. Grateful for the support of the African Career Network from the African Leadership Academy, and of the Career Development Team from the African Leadership University.
I found out that the little office space I was given was created for me. The table and chair I work at did not exist before I was an intern. Things were moved and removed for my arrival. This warmed me in many ways. I was worrying about fitting in, when a new space was being created for me. Interning at L’Oreal Nigeria so far has allowed me define my goals, track my progress and proactively engage with unending opportunities. It has shown me the beauty and strength that lies within small teams. It has humbled me, helped me bring my values and skills to life. More than everything, it has reassured me of an untapped potential I am certain to discover at the end of my internship.