Beyond the “Other Room”: Women in the Board Room

Aisha Buhari

Aisha Buhari

“Now Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time”- Judges 4:4

“How shall I ever learn who I am when there is so much of me that belongs to someone else?”
-Madeline Claire Franklin

A relationship expert once said, “It’s a man’s job to respect a woman, but it’s a woman’s job to give him something to respect”. I want to ask for permission to tinker a little with one of my favourite quotes from William Shakespeare: “Women are masters of their own fate; the fault, therefore, is not in your gender, but in yourself that you have become an underling.” I would like to specially reach out to women, don’t use your gender to endanger yourself rather use it to ‘ginger’ yourself. You are not an underling, you are not inferior to men; you are Divinely packaged to bless the world. No man has the power to limit your potentials and the truth is that you will always be where you want to be in life.

In plain words, I will like to say: Woman, if you don’t strive for greatness and empower yourself, you will be relevant only in the kitchen, the living room and the “other room”. You will never get to the boardroom!

One of the most radical and controversial women in the world, Lady Gaga, said: “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your dream will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.”
Marie Curie went through an unconventional path to become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first ever until date to win two Nobel Prizes in two different fields (Physics and Chemistry). Curie said, “Life is not easy for any of us. We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained”.

Women are inbuilt with unfathomable power that the world has neglected to its peril. In ancient archives, it was documented how Cleopatra was able to demystify the legendary Julius Caesar. In this age where women and ladies are taking pilot roles in redesigning the world, Nigeria is still struggling with the ‘inevitables’ of a modern world; the world is adjusting to accommodate the philosophy of gender equality but it is poignant to know that Nigeria is pathetically lagging behind.

I am saying this for the umpteenth time, women are not just baby-producing machines or sex-machines, they are the face of a new order. Women are continuously making unprecedented and gigantic change in the world. Rosa Parks stood against black segregation when other black men were getting used to it. Mary Slessor looked the gods in the eyes and rebuked the ignorance that led to the ritual sacrifice of twins in eastern Nigeria. Mother Teresa of Calcutta touched the lives of the ‘poorest poor’ in India in a way that was elusive even to the Indian government.

One night President Obama and his wife, Michelle, decided to do something out of routine and go for a casual dinner at a restaurant that wasn’t too luxurious. When they were seated, the owner of the restaurant asked the President’s Secret Service if he could please speak to the First Lady in private. They obliged and Michelle had a conversation with the owner. All along, the President was very curious about this man that his wife spent close to 20 minutes talking with and leaving him, the most powerful man in the whole world sitting alone in a restaurant!

After the conversation, President Obama asked Michelle, “Why was he so interested in talking to you?” She mentioned that in her teenage years, he had been madly in love with her. President Obama then said, “So if you had married him, you would now be the owner of this lovely restaurant,” to which Michelle responded, “No. If I had married him, he would now be the President!” I believe strongly that every woman should learn something from this story.

In Nigeria, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti navigated through a terrain that was termed ‘Mission Impossible’ and came out as an avatar of women’s suffrage and gender equality. I am so excited seeing more women in Nigeria going beyond the conventional and traditionally rooms assigned to them. We now have more women in the board rooms taking charge in areas that were traditionally customized for men, becoming women that are creating value and power-house of revolutionary ideas.

One of the most-fascinating stories of Nigerian entrepreneurs ruling in the boardroom is that of Folorunsho Alakija. Though without a university education, she decided not to follow anybody’s path but rather enthusiastically navigate her own. She developed and honed her entrepreneurship skills through daring experiences and several self-developmental opportunities. A woman that opened the floodgate and windows of opportunities for fashion designing in Nigeria, a profession that was lightly esteemed before her revolutionary advent into fashion designing in the 1980’s.

A bundle of inspiration to African women, her tenacity and undaunted nature helped her to meticulously navigate her way to the top that was culturally reserved for men in the African environment. A woman that dared to venture where men were afraid to tread. Her inroad into the oil industry has actually opened a vista of opportunities that has skyrocketed her to becoming one of the richest and influential women in the world.

In her international best-selling book, “WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie hit the nail on the head to encourage women on the reason why they should never shrink themselves for any man: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices, always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?”

One of the defining truths of life is that no man will value you more than you value yourself. Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. You are not a ‘domestic appendage’, always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of somebody else. Beyoncé reached out to the women folks in one of her interviews, when she said, “We have to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves”. Let us go beyond our penchant for gossiping and idle talks that has now become the trademark of domesticated women. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”.

The issue of young ladies running aimlessly after money without any definite and concrete plans to add value to the world is appalling. Don’t go around in a way that men will see you as a liability. You are an asset. As a lady, you must be able to earn your own living and pay your own way. If you don’t like being a doormat then get off the floor! I want to also encourage parents to instill confidence into their girl-child because the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. We must help them to develop their self-esteem. Teach them never to walk in any man’s shadow because once they know their worth, nobody can make them feel worthless.

I dedicate this piece to all the women and young ladies out there, you are a priceless gem. To all the mothers that have changed our lives, I want to say: it was our hands we stretched but it was our hearts that you touched. Watch out next week for the second and last edition of “Women In The Boardroom”.



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