Women In Business And Management:Stepping Up, Standing Out
How Ghanaian Delegates Sparked Move For Politcal Emancipation At 2015 WIMBIZ Conference
WITH what happened at the just concluded 2015 Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ) conference, held at Eko Hotel & Suite, Victoria Island, Lagos, last week, it was obvious that Nigeria women had resolved to step out of their comfort zones and fight against all forms of gender inequalities in the system.
No doubt, the result of the 2015 general election, which saw fewer women in the National Assembly, coupled with President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet that has only six females, may have reignited the women’s quest for political emancipation.
Chaired by the Publisher of The Guardian Newspapers Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, the conference, which attracted delegates from across Africa and beyond, also had in attendance, highly placed women in both corporate and public sectors.
Notable among them are the keynote speaker Wendy Luhabe, a pioneer Social Entrepreneur and Economic Activist from South Africa; Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria, Ibukun Awosika; Chairman of GTB, Osaretin Demuren; Chairman of Access Bank, Mosun Belo-Olusoga, immediate past Minister of State, FCT, Olajumoke Akinjide; former House of Reps member, Hon Abike Dabiri; former VC, University of Benin, Prof. Grace Alele-Williams; former VC, Afe Babalola University, Prof. Sidi Osho; one time presidential candidate from Cameroon, Edith Kahbang Walla and others.
With the caliber of distinguished women in the room, the message of political emancipation, which was reechoed by almost all the speakers, made a lot of sense to the delegates. And with the theme, Leadership… Step Up & Stand Out, you can imagine the robust discussions and level of energy at the conference.
The role of women in the organisation of society, especially as regards governance, cannot be underestimated. Throughout history, women have contributed significantly to the socio-economic and political developments of their countries, and have brought dynamism to the changing global environment. However, the feat achieved by women in the development of ancient pre-colonial Nigeria was disarticulated by the advent of colonialism laced with gender oppression and exploitation, accompanied by cultural/traditional practices, marital injunctions and religious doctrines that all disempowered women from participating in public decision making processes. These are the injustices the women have resolved to stand against.
Some 14 years ago, when the founding members came up with the idea of WIMBIZ, little did they know that the organisation will today become one of the largest gathering of women professionals, policy makers, thought leaders and experts in Nigeria. Through its yearly conference, WIMBIZ provides a veritable platform for women to engage in meaningful discussions about their pivotal role in nation building.
And from their activities so far, this congregation of great minds, if not eventually politicised, will have a far-reaching impact on lives, not just of women, but Nigerians in general.
Though, a yearly event, this year’s conference seemed different in many ways. Aside from quality attendance by top female business executives and their counterparts from the public sector, the presence of guests from other parts of Africa, especially, delegates from Ghana led by the country’s electoral body chair, Charlotte Osei, was a huge plus for the organisers; it was an eye opener for Nigerian women.
When you say, ‘I don’t do politics,’ it’s a ridiculous statement, because that means you don’t do life. Politics is the road you drive on, politics is the school your child goes to, politics is the health center in your village. So, if you say you don’t do politics, then you are not interested in any of that.
In this room are top women from Ghana led by the chairman of our electoral body; the first woman to occupy the position. In Ghana, we have a lot of women occupying ministerial position and other political appointments. If Ghana can do it, Nigerian women, you are equal to the task,” she charged, amid cheers from the obviously excited delegates.
While addressing the gathering, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, showered praises on the founding members of WIMBIZ for creating a platform that will be beneficial to not only the young women of today, but also to generation yet unborn.
This organisation is the epitome of hope, not only to the young ones, but also to generation yet unborn. You have acquired great reputation of seeking to foster excellence among women executive in business and government in particular and other areas of human endeavor. I therefore, consider it a privileged to be asked to chair this conference, she said.
For Lady Alex-Ibru, this year’s conference and its theme, points to the fact that sustaining quest for learning has been the creed of WIMBIZ as an organisation, urging women to step out of their comfort zones and reach out to greater heights.
“In other to stand out in life, you must step out of your zone of comfort to a zone of discomfort. As a woman, the odds are already stacked against you and you have a point to prove. Bill Gates once said, ‘a sustainable business isn’t anymore.’ I say, ‘for a woman, a sustainable success isn’t anymore.’ Hence, a woman must continue to change and grow at the speed of the time in order to stay relevant to herself, in her business and even in her family.
“You need to be uncomfortable, however successful you may be in your business, stay in competition, especially in a male dominated world. If the competition has a bigger hammer, you must go get a sharper nail. If they work hard, you must work smart. And if they work harder, think and work smatter,” she said.
But in the midst of discomfort in which women seek to excel in business, politics and other ventures, Lady Alex-Ibru, however, urged them to stay comfortable in their own skin as women, as wives, as mothers and as ultimate molders of character and the custodians of those things that make for success.
“The winds of change will blow you of course, if you are not anchored by core set of values. This is true for all persons, but especially so for a woman,” she hinted.
While advocating for more inclusion of women in positions of authority in both the corporate and government agencies, Lady Alex Ibru, who in collaboration with WIMBIZ, has launched Guardian Women, a new section in The Guardian newspapers devoted to women, informed that recent research has shown that most women, who leave their jobs, do so because of frustrating problems at work, adding that the higher one goes in the corporate ladder, the fewer the number of women executive.
She observed that women generally are hindered from ascending the corporate ladder for a number of reasons.
“The most important of which being how to balance the conflicting demands of work and family. Many women aspiring for political positions do not recognise the importance of cultivating and maintaining a depth of self-confidence that will enable them thrive in a competitive environment like the corporate world,” she said.
In her keynote address, South Africa’s Wendy Luhabe, who was visiting Nigeria for the first time, fell in love with the second stanza of the Nigeria’s National Anthem, which she tagged awesome. Describing women as the largest economy in Africa, urging them to step up and stand out, no matter the challenges, she said, “This conference is inviting women of Africa to rise to the challenge of leadership, to set out and stand out. This conference is challenging women of Africa to conquer the boundaries that limit our participation in the society and to define new rules of engagement.
“Throughout history, women have remained the most under utilised and under valued assets in the world, except during the world war, when women took charge, while the men were at the war front. This is time for collaboration; this is our time. We are in the right place at the right time to capitalise on this and create opportunities for women,” she said.
Meanwhile, the first plenary session on The Art of Leadership moderated by the MD/CEO Standard Chartered Bank, Bola Adesola, was an opportunity for the delegates to listen and learn from the real life experiences of the panelist such as Ibukun Awosika, Mosun Belo-Olusoga and Osaretin Demuren. One after the other, these women, who rose through the ranks to their current positions in the corporate world, took turns to encourage women to aim to achieve in their chosen fields.
For Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who was a panelist on the second plenary session with topic Take a Political Stand, the theme of the conference is very apt, considering the current realities in Nigeria.
“When you look at the political scenario in the House of Representative, you have fewer women than we had before; the same thing in the Senate. Even in the cabinet, you have fewer women than we had before. So, women have to stand up and step out; let your voices be heard. We have capable and brilliant women with integrity, but if we sit down there and say, ‘you know, politics is dirty, I don’t want to get involved,’ so, who is going to clean it up,” she quizzed.
However, getting involved in politics, according to the former House of Representatives member, does not necessarily mean contesting for elective position, adding that an organisation like WIMBIZ could be a pressure group to hold people in elective positions accountable.
“You need to participate and know what’s going on at the ward level and Local Government Level. Ask questions, make demands; political parties must also be put under pressure to ensure that women of quality get a certain percentage in political parties as candidates. But if women don’t come out, it’s not going to be served to them on a platter of gold. It’s about our future, it’s about our destiny; we should not leave it for just anybody to run,” she said.
On how Nigerian women can get involved in politics, the former NTA presenter urged them to develop interest in what happens in their communities, using her experience in Ikorodu community as an example.
“We don’t have independent candidates in Nigeria, but you have political parties to join. Be part of your community, be part of the grassroots, know what’s going on, ask questions. You have the technology to bring about change, so use it. What WIMBIZ has done today is a great mentoring platform; we hope that subsequently, we are going to work together to talk more of politics.”
Dabiri-Erewa, who was at the forefront of the last APC presidential campaign, noted that mentoring will help the younger ones have a clear picture of the real situation.
“There are challenges from place to place, so, the challenge in Lagos might be different from what you will find in Akwa Ibom; you must understand the situations. But the most important thing is to get involved with your people. Don’t just sit down and expect that somebody is going to do that for you,” she charged.
While sharing her political experiences in her home country Cameroon, where she once ran for the presidency, Edith Kahbang Walla strongly believes that African women, especially Nigerians, are up to the task, only if they can give it a shot.
“Just look at the powerful women we had today at this WIMBIZ conference; it’s clear that Nigerian women have what it takes to govern the country. These women have all it takes to be at the head of the Senate and House of Representative. I think it’s a question of women making that decision,” she said.
Challenging women to take advantage of their never say die spirit and venture into politics, Walla noted that, “we are the ones, who when there’s no money, we still have to feed the children. We are the ones when there’s no money, we still have to send these children to school and find a way to provide healthcare for them. So, it’s a case of Nigerian women deciding and secondly, getting organised.”
For the political leader, the game of politics is more about organisation and less of money.
“I can tell you, I’m not the richest politician in my country, but I think I’m amongst the most organised, which makes me a national player. So, I think Nigerian women definitely have everything that it takes. They have what they can bring to the table; they have what they can offer in terms of governance. It’s a matter of the women deciding to do so and organising themselves.”
As for women who abstain from politics out of fear, Walla said, “the key message is that politics is life. When you say, ‘I don’t do politics,’ it’s a ridiculous statement, because that means you don’t do life. Politics is the road you drive on, politics is the school your child goes to, politics is the health center in your village. So, if you say you don’t do politics, then you are not interested in any of that and none of us can live in a country that’s not being well run politically.”
To her, this is the time for African women to rise.
“This is our challenge as Cameroonians, it’s our challenge as Nigerians, it’s our challenge as Africa women. My message to Nigerian women particularly is to get involved. There are fantastic figures of Nigerian women, who have really stood out in history; people like Queen Amina of Zaria, Mrs Kuti and others. So, we know that Nigerian women have they capacity, they can do it and they should do it,” she charged.
On how women can push through in a male dominated political space, Adebola Williams of Red Media, who was a panelists at the conference, said, “there was a time in this country when the youths were never regarded in politics, but we stood up and changed that. If truly the women need a change, I think they should stand up and do the same.”
In her welcome address, the chairperson of WIMBIZ Osayi Alile informed that the conference climaxes the strength of the group’s commitment to empower women to work together and to accomplish great things.
“It equally serves as platform to gauge how the systematic pursuit of our vision continues to yield positive outcomes in ways that serve to reinforce our resolve. A resolve that enables us to continue to engage, educate and empower women with amazing results.”
In line with its new direction, the group has also revamped its campus outreach programme for female undergraduates, Winning Without Compromise (WIWIC) to include mentoring component.
“We’ve introduced the Graduate Internship Programme and organised a Town Hall Meeting on political participation in line with our recognition of the critical role women play in politics. We also launched the WIMBoard Institute, a platform to provide the relevant training, education and opportunities for prospective and serving female board members,” she said.
The two-day conference featured speeches, keynote address, panel discussions and breakout sessions, where issues concerning women were thoroughly dissected. There was also a presentation of WIMBIZ Achievers Award to former Vice Chancellor of University of Benin, Prof. Mrs. Grace Alele-Williams, Former Vice Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Prof. Sidi Osho and Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru. Winners of the 2015 Impact Investment Competition targeted at female owned startup business in the IT industry, were also presented with awards at the conference.
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