Rein­vent­ing the kitchen, liv­ing room and the other room

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - The Fixes From The Man­ag­ing Edi­tor -

When Oluwa­toye Ak­in­tunde re­sumed school in Ba­sic 8 this past Septem­ber, he was en­rolled in the high­est arm, re­served for the bright­est stu­dents. He then quickly made a dis­cov­ery. “Dad, out of 25 stu­dents in my new class, 20 are girls,” he noted. But that was not rev­e­la­tory to me. Agnes Amg­bah grad­u­ated atop my class at Univer­sity of La­gos.

At these crit­i­cal stages of per­sonal devel­op­ment, the ladies are hardly lag­ging be­hind their male coun­ter­parts. More of­ten than not, the ladies are ahead. It is, there­fore, not sur­pris­ing the Cen­ter for Work-Life found that women con­sti­tute 53% of en­try-level po­si­tions in U.S. cor­po­ra­tions; men ac­count for 47%. But then, it also evokes no as­ton­ish­ment to find that men con­sti­tute 79% of the C-suite, with women con­sti­tut­ing a mea­gre 21%.

Why are men numb to this ir­ra­tional­ity, even when we are of­ten in po­si­tions to drive over­all pro­duc­tiv­ity growth by merit? If women are so promis­ing at the early stages of their ca­reers, how is their fail­ure to reach the top not an in­dict­ment of the talent man­age­ment prac­tices of cor­po­ra­tions?

The an­swer lies not in logic, but how our rational thoughts are formed. Women's sub­ju­ga­tion in the work­place is a norm. Cor­po­rate val­ues and per­for­mance met­rics were drawn by men, and, nat­u­rally, in favour of men. When women are found to be bet­ter than men in col­lab­o­ra­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tive be­hav­iour is con­strued as in­de­ci­sive­ness. But ag­gres­sive­ness, which is deemed rep­re­hen­si­ble in open so­ci­ety, is a pos­i­tive trait for men in climb­ing the cor­po­rate hi­er­ar­chy.

It does get more con­fused: when a man is “very am­bi­tious,” it is pos­i­tive; but when a woman ex­hibits the same trait, it is bad. There­fore, the male-gen­dered work­place is any­thing but ef­fi­cient, and men pre­fer it that way.

Women are of­ten put on ca­reer tracks that fit the stereo­types, but that are soon to lead to dead ends. In the Nige­rian bank­ing sec­tor, women are 'mar­keters', and are en­cour­aged to wear mini-skirts and low-cut tops. But even if this ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion brings in the de­posits, women are pre­vented from con­sum­mat­ing the process by de­cid­ing how the funds are in­vested, never mind that they would be deal­ing with the same gullible men at both ends of money place­ment and in­vest­ing.

Women are of­ten dis­qual­i­fied from as­cend­ing to the top of the cor­po­rate hi­er­ar­chy be­cause they are 'il­log­i­cal.' Larry Sum­mers, for­mer Pres­i­dent of Har­vard, sug­gested women are in­her­ently less ca­pa­ble in math and science. That sheds light on chau­vin­ism even in the ivory tower than women's lack of ca­pac­ity in the log­i­cal dis­ci­plines. With no refuge from the il­log­i­cal­ity of men at ev­ery turn, women be­come emo­tional wrecks. They are forced to ac­cept to be who they are not.

All the more, the all-im­por­tant work of rais­ing the chil­dren and keep­ing the home – which are done mostly by women – are not mon­e­tised. Women are even de­nied their rights to women sol­i­dar­ity. When it be­came clear that Hillary Clin­ton was go­ing to win the pres­i­den­tial ticket of the Demo­cratic Party for the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, she was dis­suaded from us­ing a fore­bod­ing “woman card.” She had to stand sim­ply on the merit of be­ing a per­son. Whereas, Amer­i­cans have al­ways elected their pres­i­dents based on race (al­though Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was elected and re­elected in spite of his race), and based on the Y chro­mo­some. With the prob­a­ble elec­tion of Hillary this month, gen­der-bias would still have lin­gered eight years longer than racial prej­u­dice in elect­ing the pres­i­dent of the United States.

By dints of hard work, women have been shat­ter­ing the glass ceil­ings. And they are find­ing sol­i­dar­ity, in­creas­ingly with pro­gres­sive men. That is why we have women heads of demo­cratic gov­ern­ments in the ad­vanced coun­tries, no­tably Ger­many, United King­dom and South Korea. It is pre­cisely for this rea­son Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari's as­ser­tion that the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, “be­longs to the kitchen, the liv­ing room and the other room,” is de­testable. By is­su­ing po­lit­i­cal state­ments, Aisha Buhari has ex­pressed her ob­jec­tion to the stereo­type. The ques­tion then be­comes: “How can she pos­si­bly ac­tu­alise her ap­petite for pol­i­tics?”

In the cor­po­rate set­ting, more and more women are find­ing the an­swer to achiev­ing lead­er­ship po­si­tions by re­main­ing sin­gle or di­vorced. Suc­cess­ful women busi­ness lead­ers are hav­ing to sac­ri­fice more. A New York Times analysis shows that in 2005, 51% of Amer­i­can women were liv­ing with­out spouses, com­pared with 35% in the 1950s. Yet, a joint re­search ini­tia­tive by Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and Prince­ton Univer­sity, found that chil­dren raised by mar­ried par­ents typ­i­cally do bet­ter in life on al­most ev­ery avail­able eco­nomic and so­cial mea­sure.

It is ap­par­ent. What women need to suc­ceed in the work­place and pub­lic lead­er­ship is recog­ni­tion of their abil­i­ties. Re­design of cor­po­rate val­ues – like re­vers­ing the rel­a­tive value of ag­gres­sive­ness in favour of em­pa­thy and col­lab­o­ra­tion – is also nec­es­sary. Mean­while, some peo­ple hold out men­tor­ing and “spon­sor­ship” as frame­works for help­ing women rise to the cor­ner of­fices. But such men­tors and spon­sors are more likely to be men. In which case, the so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of sub­ju­ga­tion of women is their fur­ther sub­ju­ga­tion. While such tac­tics may have seen the emer­gence of some women CEOs in some Nige­rian fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, it is a moot point that the male busi­ness­founders are sim­ply ex­ploit­ing women's trust­wor­thi­ness. In any case, too few women lead­ers have emerged through the men­tor­ing process.

The fun­da­men­tal so­lu­tion lies in rein­vent­ing the “kitchen, liv­ing room and the other room.” These places should not be used to cir­cum­scribe women. They should be re­struc­tured to sup­port women em­pow­er­ment. Devel­op­ment fi­nance now recog­nises women as the most im­por­tant as­set class. Women em­pow­er­ment will not only be a mea­sure of devel­op­ment, it will also en­able fur­ther so­ci­etal progress.

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