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‘For those who have shattered the glass ceiling, what next?’

By Toki Mabogunje

WOMEN are shattering the glass ceiling, setting new records, and making strides locally and globally. Women trail blazers are a major source of inspiration to other women and the girl child. We have had such strong women as Chief Mrs Fumilayo Ransome Kuti; Chief Mrs Margret Ekpo;  Hon. Justice Aloma Muktar, first Female Chief Justice of the Federation; Chief Mrs. Folake Solanke, First Female SAN; Mrs Grace Alele-Williams, first female Vice Chancellor; Engr. Mrs Joanna Olu Maduka, first female Engineer; Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General at the United Nations and just recently our very own Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first female and first African to occupy the exalted position of the Director General of World Trade Organisation.  Of course, there so, so, many more. Shattering glass ceilings is really a work in progress. 

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we should remain committed to closing the gender gap in public and private sectors of our economy. We must harness the full potentials of women in strategic decision-making to drive change. This is the only way to build a foundation for stronger, sustainable, and inclusive growth that benefits and creates opportunities for all.

We desire an economic system that takes into account the very critical contributions of women in all facets of life. Beginning from the home front, all the way through to the professions and business.  Globally, women have fewer opportunities for economic participation than men, less access to basic and higher education, greater health and safety risks, and less political representation. 

Today, high unemployment, sluggish growth and low productivity are indeed increasing pressure on our nation Nigeria to maximise available talent. Gender parity would make a great difference. For example in the public sector, we need to re-examine and rethink the effectiveness of long-held policies regarding women empowerment.

Tapping into a whole talent pool, with more diverse leadership, will provide innovative solutions to the pressing and complex challenges we are facing in this nation. In the private sector, engaging with the under-exploited talent pool of qualified women will also give companies a competitive edge. Catalyst Research in 2004 claimed that the companies that had greater representation of women on boards had a higher return on investment, return on sales and return on equity. Bolder and decisive action is needed to achieve gender parity. The cost of inaction is clearly visible to us all, as the potentials of Nigerian women remain under-utilised.

According to findings by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD), while women’s overall participation in public and private sectors has grown, the disparities between men and women increase as individuals climb the organisational ladder. The number of women in high-level-decision-making positions remain low, with improving averages hiding wide disparities. 

The situation is particularly worrisome at the pinnacle of public service. We have very few women holding leadership positions in the three arms of the Nigerian government. We have only a few women as Chairpersons and Chief Executives in the corporate environment. A research report by Mckinsey unveiled that African women hold 23 percent of positions at executive management level and just five percent in CEO-level jobs. In the Nigerian Senate, out of 109 Senators, Seven are women. This is quite instructive and indicative of the fact that there are still numerous barriers to be surmounted to achieve gender parity.

Female entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa is rapidly rising, with many women defying the odds, and working extra hard to unleash their potentials. In an increasingly interconnected world, the rise in tech-based businesses is playing a crucial role in narrowing the gender gap and pushing female entrepreneurship frontiers forward. As national economies face stiff competition for skills and resources, several female-owned start-ups are drawing international interest. 

There are also a number of global initiatives supporting and propelling female-owned enterprises in the African region. But despite the launch of such initiatives, there are still several challenges women need to overcome. Across Africa, women are prevented from pursuing a career in business through overt and hidden discriminatory practices.  The barriers to women advancement are multidimensional. 

They include prevailing gender stereotypes, cultural issues, religion, social expectations of the female gender role, limited flexible working arrangements, among others. It is imperative to galvanise the promotion and awareness of gender parity, We must put in place monitoring and accountability mechanisms necessary to keep gender parity in the spotlight and sustain change.

We should reduce stereotypes, encourage women to participate in politics and even more important support women who are willing to go into politics. All implicit and explicit barriers impeding gender parity must be removed. We must all scale up efforts to close the gender gap for good and truly drive inclusive economic growth. Together, we can design, develop, and deliver better gender policies for better lives.  I must emphasise that we need the cooperation of men to achieve an enduring result.

For those of us who have shattered the glass ceiling what next? Here are some recommendations:-

AT HOME

  1. Share Household Chores and Childcare Equally
  2. Raise children to understand and respect inclusiveness while also having respect for others

AT WORK

  • Lead with gender awareness
  • Promote gender parity in your industry
  • Incentivise gender parity in your supply chain
  • Provide mentoring programmes for the women in your company
  • Train managers to lead diverse teams

IN SOCIETY

  • Campaign to shape public opinion
  • Partner with civil society
  • Collaborate with government
  • Promote gender parity in education
  • Sponsor women
  • Invest in female entrepreneurs

In the last analysis, We all must choose to Challenge.

(Being excerpts from a Keynote delivered by Mrs. Toki Mabogunje, President, Lagos Chamber Of Commerce & Industry, at the CORA ArtHouse Forum for Taiwo Ajai-Lycett at 80 on Sunday, March 7, 2021, as organised by the Committee for Relevant Art n collaboration with the National Association of Nigerian Theatre arts Practitioners, NANTAP)

  • Mrs. Mabogunje is President, Lagos Chamber Of Commerce & Industry, LCCI, and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Naija Times
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