For Women in Law

Happy New Year #womeninlaw!

By now most of us have an idea of what we would like for the year ahead. In 2019 we would like to interview more women in law who have broken (and are breaking) glass ceilings. Women who are breaking barriers and proving that the world is a better place with women leading it. 

One of these women is the phenomenal Akunna Onwu!

Akunna Onwu is an admitted advocate and professional coach. She holds a Professional Coaching Certificate, Associate Coaching Certificate, LLM, LLB, Bcom Law degree. After completing her law degrees and becoming an advocate, she decided to pursue a career in coaching, specifically around life and business coaching. 
We stan a jack of all trades!

Every Wednesday Akunna posts inspirational and motivational Wisdom Wednesday videos, be sure to check out her social media profiles for a dose of encouragement!

Below is the interview between For Women in Law (FWIL) and Akunna Onwu (AO)

FWIL:What inspired you to study law?

AO:Apart from the altruistic reason of wanting to positively influence and be the voice for the voiceless, an aunt of mine visited my home when I was about five years old and I remember her looking absolutely gorgeous, so I asked her what she did and she said she was a lawyer. From that day on, I decided that I was going to be a lawyer.

FWIL:You are an admitted advocate and professional coach. What is a Professional coach?

AO:Well, I am a certified Integral coach which means I enable my clients to become more aware of their current approach to situations, to see new possibilities and then to build sustainable new competencies to achieve desired outcomes. In other words, I equip my clients with the tools to identify and dismantle limiting patterns of behaviour and thought, with a view to developing new competencies and achieving the goals that matter deeply to them. Integral Coaching engages every aspect of a client’s life, offering a 360 degree approach to mindful habit creation and competency development.

FWIL:Why and how did you make the career change from practicing law to becoming a Professional coach?

AO:Well, I am currently working in the Compliance Department of a Financial Institution. I might not be practicing law in the traditional sense, but I do engage with the law in some manner when executing my day to day activities. In addition, I practice as a coach on a part time basis. Coaching is my side hustle for now.

FWIL:What is your area of expertise?

AO:I am a life, career management and business coach (focusing on start-ups, entrepreneurs and small to medium businesses).

FWIL:As a corporate woman, have you experienced gender bias? If yes, How have you dealt with it?

AO:I would say that the gender bias I have experienced pertained to salary disparity with a male counterpart. We both had the same job description. The same role required a set of skills and deliverables which we both met and yet the pay gap was so apparent. My line manager at the time did not see anything wrong. In fact, his biggest concern was ensuring that the work load was plotted evenly between the two of us. He had the same expectations from both of us and yet, still paid both of us differently in favour of my male colleague.

FWIL:What does being an alpha female mean to you?

AO:It means, a woman who recognises that part of her strength comes from her ability to be vulnerable. It means being able to lead with compassion, empathy and integrity. A woman who understands that she is a leader in her own sphere of influence and that to lead means to serve and recognises the humility required to execute her mandate.

FWIL:The journey of most legal professionals is not always an easy one. What are some of the lessons you have learned along the way and how have they shaped your outlook on life?

AO:The journey of any career is never an easy one. It often requires not just hard work and talent, but also sacrifice of some sort which I believe is necessary for anything worth having. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned is that it’s ok to not have it all figured out-that’s not your job. It’s ok if you don’t want to go into legal practice- be different and that’s really ok. What you are meant to do will unfold the way a flower unravels itself from the bud. Your job is to figure out the kind of person you want to be and the rest will come. Easy to say, hard to do; it requires daily practice reminders. Focusing on the kind of woman I am becoming takes away a bit of the pressure of knowing what I want to do. I do what is in front of me and trust that God will redirect me if and when I’ve deviated off course. This has allowed me to trust life. I don’t always remember this lesson, I am human. But when I do forget, I dust myself off and begin and begin again.

FWIL:What is the best advice you would give to aspiring legal professionals?

AO:This advice is for those who are not necessarily sure that they want to go into legal practice- you are not limited. The options of you becoming something more is available and it’s your job to try it out. To those who will engage in legal practice- engage fully. Never do anything half measured. Remember why you chose the law. Never let anyone destroy that dream.

FWIL:What are some of things that you had to re-learn and unlearn in the process of pursuing a successful career?

AO:I suppose I had to redefine my definition of success and what it means to have a successful career. Is a successful career attributed to the monetary and financial status of my bank account? Is it recognition from my peers and industry? Or is it that people see me as having a successful career? To be honest, I am still figuring it out. I suppose some of the factors I look at are: Am I serving out my calling? Am I serving others? Is what I do inspiring transformation and bringing about positive change? And am I empowering others through my work to realise their own potential and greatness? I believe all these factors contribute to having a fulfilling career.

FWIL:What skills do you think every young professional woman (or aspirant) needs to have?

AO:Apart from the technical skills required for your field of study or profession, I believe the skills that are vital in our society are the following: a person’s ability to be compassionate, to be empathetic, to have the ability to listen and to have Integrity. In addition, emotional intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, cross-cultural competency, trans-disciplinary, complex-problem solving and data analysis are very important skills for young professionals to possess in order to be relevant in today’s world.

FWIL:What recent change/amendment in the law has caught your attention? (do you agree with the change? Why/why not)

AO:I do not agree with the recent ruling by the constitutional court ruling in favour of the private use of marijuana. I am yet to understand the intention behind such a ruling and until I do, I cannot begin to see nor understand the greater purpose for which this ruling serves.

What are some of your effective networking skills?

AO:To be honest, this is my least utilized skill as I’m still learning. But I do use my informal networks to get opportunities that I am interested in as well as attend conferences, workshops etc. I focus on the quality of my network as opposed to just the volume.

FWIL:What does the term “role model” mean to you? Which phenomenal woman in law would you call your role model?

AO:I believe a role model is someone whose character, behaviour, example, work ethic or success you admire and would like to in some way emulate. He/ she is someone who not only inspires you, but also empowers you, in their own very special way, to be all that you could possibly be. They give you the license to believe that your dreams are not only valid but they can be accomplished. A phenomenal woman in law that I admire is Thuli Madonsela for her integrity which I believe, is a vital character every person should possess but particularly in such a role as public protector.

What books have you read that have greatly influenced your life

AO:I am an avid reader and I absolutely love books. I absolutely loved the Harry Potter books because they not only gave me the license to dream and have a vivid imagination; they also instilled in me the belief that I could be anything.  The second, is by Thomas Moore entitled Dark nights of the soul.  It reminded me that pain and suffering are an inevitable part of life, and we shouldn’t run from it but rather, be still in the process and trust that whatever you need from that experience would be realized. Finally, The story of a soul by St Therese of Lisieux; this book helped me discover my vocation.

What’s a quote that you live by? Your mantra.

AO:I actually have a couple. One of my favourites is by Maya Angelo “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”“God can’t give me something I cannot handle because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.There is enough sun for everyone.

FWIL:How do you remain autonomous while working in corporate?

AO:Great question! Well, I remember that I am Akunna and this means that I bring my full self to work. I am not conforming to the idea of what people expect a woman in corporate to be. My compassionate, empathetic, bubbly, warm, kind, sometimes feisty, strong willed, no-nonsense person shows up at work. This is a daily practice reminder because there have been times I blended in and conformed, in order to belong. But when you work on yourself and you realize that it’s not about blending in or confirming in order to belong, that you belong because you were created, it changes your perspective. You become aware of your identity and you begin to embrace it and this allows you to perform in a way that only you can and that is liberating.

How can people reach out to you? (social media handles)

AO:onwu.akunna@gmail.comLinkedIn: Akunna OnwuInstagram: @akunnaonwu Facebook: akunnaonwu

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