Reinventing the kitchen, living room and the other room
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.