NWOYE: Demystifying Gender Barriers

Prof-Nwoye---CopyIn recent time, the issue of gender and sexual sensitivity has been a major concern to many Nigerian women. Gender, in itself, has nothing to do with being a male or female, but the roles that have unconsciously been assigned to them based on culture, environment and the religious affiliation of the people. 

There has been a lot of misconstruction about what gender meant and so, it is commonplace to hear people say the ‘female gender.’ The misconception is that whatever has to do with womanhood is the same as gender.

In Nigeria, a lot of limitations have been placed on the female folks due majorly to the patriarchal nature of the society, where culturally, women are to be seen and not heard. They have been restricted to certain vocations, while religion beliefs have also subtly placed them in a situation, where they are deemed worthy only when they defer to men.

However, things are gradually changing, as more women have been able to prove to themselves and the world that they can hold their own in areas previously considered strictly for the men. 

One such woman that is engraving her mark on the sand of time is Professor May Ifeoma Nwoye, a lecturer at the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University in Niger State. At a lecture she delivered during the women in management and leadership (WIMA) conference held in Abuja recently, May, in her characteristic assertive manner, held her audience spellbound, as she dwelt extensively on the various ways women can move up the management ladder. In her view, the major ingredients needed are determination to succeed and the ability to hang on there without crashing down due to preventable errors.

In her paper titled, ‘Beyond the glass ceiling: The impact of entrepreneurial orientation and value innovation in the advancement of women in management’, she said women need to break the imaginary glass ceiling that has hitherto imposed on them the mindset to accept the falsehood that they cannot go beyond a particular limit. Though the glass ceiling is a metaphoric expression she had coined to describe self-imposed barriers and those established by tradition, culture and religion, she was of the belief that the onus is on women to rise above the challenge and develop a victor mindset. 

An alumnus of the George Washington University and Rotary Paul Harris fellow, May reiterated the fact that there is no way opportunities would ever be presented to women on a platter of gold. So, it is the responsibility of women to make concerted efforts through hard work to access the few available spaces at the top. Since men are not likely to cede such positions to women willingly, she said it is up to the latter to take the bull by the horns, prepare themselves today for tomorrow’s opportunities and apply for positions when the need arises.
She, therefore, charged her female audience to arm themselves with relevant requirements to enable them break the imaginary, yet existing glass ceiling. She, however, discouraged them from embracing the idea of godfatherism in their quest for success in all endeavours. 

Said she: “The negative effect of having godfathers and relying on them far outweigh the advantages. While a godfather can get a job for you, he cannot keep you on the job. It is your values and integrity that will keep you there. Don’t forget that new people will always take over the reins of leadership in your organisation. So, what usually happen is that the first set of people to be transferred, when such changes occur, are those with godfathers. So, develop yourselves, and don’t join an organisation with a school certificate and expect to be a manager just because you have a godfather, it doesn’t work like that. 

“Organisations need people with fresh ideas that can maximise their profit margins and the Nigerian tertiary institutions are turning out graduates in their thousands every year. So, you should not be offended, when someone fresh from school comes in as your boss because you chose to be stagnant. Godfather won’t take you to the top of the ladder. Only what you have been able to do for yourself in the area of development will do so. Go for in-house trainings, workshops and seminars that will add value to you so that you can impact your organisations. Some of them might seem expensive, but it is a worthwhile investment.”
Tracing the genesis of the problem, May said the Nigerian society relied on past stereotypes to justify the exclusion of women in order to deny them their true position even in the corporate world. To counter this, she believes that only women can remove these stereotypes through their attitudes towards work, which would then enable them, prove a point. 

In her view, in as much as women are not really in competition with men, there is still need for them to aspire to the pinnacle of their careers, thereby serving as examples to coming generation. In this wise, she said women need to apply themselves to more serious things rather than relegate themselves to the entertainment aspect of whatever programme is organised by their companies.

“Nobody will take you seriously, if your sole interest is to ensure that guests are entertained and fed at your organisations’ functions. A lot of women do this so that they can have access to the leftovers of groundnut oil or whatever had been used to cook. If you are in this category, no manager will ask for your input when something serious about your organisation is being discussed. And if you are used to taking permission to always attend burials, weddings and such, trust me, no one will ask for your opinion when something serious arises.

“Your bosses expect you to be capable of giving constructive advice at crucial situations. For instance, you enter your boss’ office and see him pacing up and down. Instinctively, you should know something is wrong. And if he is aware you can handle difficult tasks, he will surely let you into what is bothering him because he trusts your judgment. You will thus be able to calm him down and advise on what to do. But if the man knows you are only a party organiser, he will just tell you nothing is wrong even if you ask him, simply because he is aware you don’t have anything to offer. Trust me, when the time to do away with dead woods comes, your name readily comes to mind. It’s not about anybody hating you, but the truth is you are not productive’’.

She said currently, the paradigm in the corporate arena indicates that as the woman tries to climb the ladder of leadership, there is an invisible hand that is determined to pull her down, which in her opinion could belong to the power that be, the policy of the organisation, work place politics, family commitment, work environment, professional demands, socio-cultural influences among others. 

She, however, encouraged her audience to ignore these biases, as they are not enough to stop women from realizing their ambitions. All that is needed is the ability to balance other areas of their lives such as family commitment with divine wisdom so that as they climb the corporate ladder, they will also be at peace in the home front.

She explained that women are good and effective managers and organisations possessing the best records for promoting women surpass their projection on every measure of profitability. For women to shift from the existing pattern and break the glass ceiling, they need to change their perception, as every aspect of the society is clamouring for change.  

She said women should exhibit good attitudes in their work places, be willing to go the extra mile and become entrepreneurial through seeking out challenging and visible assignments. 

“Women are a community of problem solvers by nature and no matter where our individual organisations are, all women in the corporate world should embark on solution-finding missions. It is crucial that as practitioners, women should position themselves as agents of change rather than helpless victims. In general, entrepreneurial orientation has to do with the extent to which an individual or organisation is entrepreneurial, creative, visionary, risk-taken and venturesome, possessing skilful leadership and innovative ideas”.

So, to make a difference, women should key into the globalisation sweeping across the entire globe, where barriers have been melted down by high technology and new innovations. In her view, these changes have placed more demanding and challenging perspectives on leaders and managers of organizations with increased pressure on employees to be more productive, innovative and change-oriented. Accordingly, women cannot afford not to join in the dialogue. On their part, CEOs must also have a clear understanding of the subtle and overt barriers women face in their advancement. 

To distinguish herself from others, a woman must be ready to put in extra work than their peers and develop unique skills and expertise. “Consistently, exceeding performance expectations was the top-ranking strategy used by successful female executives”.  
She, however, expressed concern at the rate at which women at the top echelon of their careers turned themselves to ‘queen bees’ becoming inaccessible to those down the ladder. 

Describing this trend as worrisome, May advised those in this group to break down the cage they have built around themselves and become mentors and counselors to those coming up. 

“Women professionals at the upper echelon should endeavour to build relationships across levels and groups of those on their way. They need to encourage them through counseling and support,” she said.
Taking her summary from Julie Steinberg’s advice on what women need to do to make the winning team, the Professor of Business Administration said women need to work hard, do the work no one else wants to do, cultivate the people in charge, know what they want and go for it, promote themselves legitimately, network with peers, build their own careers, live to go ahead, dress well and play golf.

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