Gender-Balance-FBNSME

Giving women equal opportunity in the workplace is important, more so in the extremely male-dominated Nigerian society. The truth is that the emergence of women in corporate or public life in Nigeria is actually very recent. The likes of Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti and her sister-in-law Eniola Soyinka were indeed the few who blazed the trail independently and that was only a few decades ago.

Even in relatively more developed countries, women still have a hard time ascending the corporate ladder. In the United Kingdom for example, women have only 23% representation on the board of companies. In the United States, only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. There are no official figures for Nigeria, but anecdotal observations reveal a certainly more dismal picture of less than 2% board membership and less than 1% CEOs of major companies being women. Yet, women are roughly the same percentage of Nigeria’s population as men according to recent world bank figures.

Who loses from corporate gender inequity, certainly the women folk lose; that puts a moral burden on us. But your company is probably the greater loser if women are not well represented. There are just too many advantages women bring to the table; research abounds to prove that they handle complexity better, they bring diversity and competitive edge to teams and the entire company. Achieving gender equity in your organization is not a suggestion, it is imperative. Here are 4 quick-wins:

 

  1. Be clear and up-front about it.

    Your organization needs to carve deliberate and intentional policies that give women equal opportunity to achieve their potential and that push them to the fore-front of leadership. Equal opportunity for both male and female employees need to be hard-wired into your company policy and enforced. Enforcement is the real meat of this point. If you have gender equity on your policy manual and it is not enforced, it is probably worse than not having it at all.

  2. Mentor your women.

    Because of the existing disparity in the ratio of men and women in the higher echelons of corporate society, women in business have very few mentors both within companies and in the wider society. If your organization is serious about empowering women, you have to strengthen mentorship for women within the organization. The effect of not mentoring women in your organization is that you will not be able to maximize the potential of your female staff. Proper mentoring for women especially in a society that is in cultural crises like Nigeria is extremely important. Set up a robust mentorship scheme for women in your organization as soon as you can.

  3. Involve the men.

    You do not want to inadvertently create an “us” against “them” dichotomy within your organization. We have mentioned that Africa is a very “masculine” continent. The men in your organization grew up in Africa. That means that you should expect a large percentage of your male staff to have streaks of societal chauvinism in them. You should factor this into your planning. As part of your strategy, the men folk will require some re-orientation that will allow them welcome the relative ascendancy of women within your organization. If you do not do that, your attempt to emphasize gender equity will be sabotaged by the vested chauvinism in their male counterparts. You will be risking a potentially hostile organization where the men feel cheated because the organization is perceived to be changing the natural/cultural order of things.

  4. Provide women-specific cushioning.

    Because of the nature of women, the burden of work-life balance rests more on them. Pregnancy, biological clocks, home-making, etc are women-specific issues that by default already skew the balance against them. To achieve gender equality, your company needs to invest in cushioning these areas of your women’s life. Generous maternity leaves, an on-site crèche, education on healthy living and work life balance are some of the initiatives that you should put in place.

    Sexual harassment; either covert or overt is also an ill that is many times more prevalent against women than their male counterparts. This is a criminal offence. Your organization must protect women from harassment and must set in place measures to discover harassment cases across all cadres and punish offenders.

A caveat is necessary at this point. It is balance before gender not the other way round. While trying to give the women room to maximize their potential, it is important to ensure that the organization demands the same level of excellence and forth-rightness from both genders. It is a very delicate process but one that is morally, ethically and strategically important.