Perpetual Onyia is one of the pioneer female crane operators in Nigerian ports. A staff of APM Terminals Apapa, she started operating giant cranes and container carriers in 2018. In this interview with Godwin Oritse. she speaks on her experience in a male dominated industry.
Can you kindly introduce yourself?
My name is Perpetua Onyia. I work at APM Terminals Apapa as a mobile harbour crane (MHC) operator. I started as a reach stacker operator, moved on to empty container handler, rubber tyred gantry crane (RTG), and presently a mobile harbour crane operator.
What does diversity and inclusion in the workplace mean to you?
Inclusion and diversity mean involving the two genders in the workplace; giving both equal rights and opportunities. It also means not being biased towards a particular gender and not having this assumption that one gender is better or more productive than the other.
As a female employee at APM Terminals, I am happy to note that my opinions are respected. I have had instances where I made suggestions towards certain areas of the frontline and they were implemented. If you have a good and informed idea, which would have a positive impact, APM Terminals definitely looks into it.
Can you share some of your ideas that were implemented?
When I was operating the reach stacker and I noticed that the area where we were working had poor lighting; there was no proper visibility and I had a talk with my shift manager. I told him that this could result in an accident, he said he was going to look into it. In less than a month, I saw them coming towards the area to install a light mast. Basically, the lighting was improved. Another idea that was implemented had to do with the cafeteria; food. Yes I am a foodie. I love food. I suggested something cafeteria-related on food being served and timing, and it was implemented. Finally, we had challenges in our locker room, I brought it up and it was worked on.
How does it feel working in a traditionally male-dominated industry?
At first it was daunting but now it is exciting. It was initially daunting for me because the biggest thing I have ever driven prior was an SUV. Then I came here and behold this big equipment. I doubted myself at first. Could I do this? But with time, it became exciting. I got used to it and I felt I could even do more. It is really fun! It is this kind of feeling that oh, what these guys are doing, I am also doing the same. It is fulfilling, career-wise I am happy I took up and I am proud of myself.
Do you feel psychologically safe and included?
Not everybody from the opposite gender has come to accept the female gender in this traditionally male-dominated field. Some have welcomed us, some have been receptive enough but there are still others who believe you are not supposed to be here; you’re supposed to be in the kitchen…
Do you have the opportunities and resources to succeed in your job as your male counterparts?
Yes, most definitely. I am 101 percent positive that I have the same opportunities and resources that the other gender has to succeed. From day one of stepping into APM Terminals, it has always been a fair and equal chance. Nobody is saying you’re a female, you can’t do this. They even want to see you do it and dare you to do it, which is the thing that would have been done to my male counterparts. If you meet your KPI (key performance indicator) for a particular level, and you are ready for the next level, the same opportunities will be given to take a shot at it. Here at APM Terminals Apapa, that is the narrative.
The theme of the 2022 International Women’s Day is break the bias. How is this important in the workplace?
It is important to break the bias to reduce any unintentional discrimination and it would also help create an equal opportunity for women in terms of selection and progression to a high level in management and leadership roles. In the frontline, it is important to break the bias to enable us, women, get to the peak in our careers. It also shows that women are included and welcomed.
Women are currently assuming more challenging roles at APM Terminals. What are your reflections on this?
It alludes to the popular saying that what a man can do a woman can do better. It shows that there is nothing you could give a woman or challenge a woman to do; and when she puts her mind to it, it would come through. Taking myself as an example, who would have thought that I would get to where I am today! But it is because APM Terminals gave me the opportunity to do it. There are some places you go to and they leave you at the entry-level and say they have included women. That is not the idea at all here. APM Terminals gives you the opportunities to take more challenging roles and if I am given that opportunity, why would I waste it? I would take it and maximize it.
It is good that women are being allowed to take up more challenging roles. It gives room to broader perspectives, soft touches feminine point of view. Where the male masculinity might overlook, the female would see it. A woman always brings a different approach to the table!
What progress have you witnessed in APM Terminals in terms of the continuous strive for a diverse and more inclusive environment?
A whole lot of progress has been made. As of 2018 APM Terminals didn’t have any female operators but in 2019 they gave it a shot. They brought some of us in and I am one of the pioneer female crane operators. In 2019, the game changed, we proved that women can also do this. There is basically no department here where you will not find at least two or three females. There has been a lot of progress in APM Terminals Nigeria.
When you talk of remuneration, disciplinary actions, benefits, compensation, and promotion, it has been a fair deal since I started here. For my field specifically, it has been fair. It has been equal opportunities, equal progression, equal rights, equal playing field. The playing field has been level for both genders, with everybody moving at the same pace.