Woman's Own

January 11, 2024

Ending Gross Inequality: Stakeholders proffer solutions

Ending Gross Inequality: Stakeholders proffer solutions

Nike spent eight years in the banking industry in Lagos. Coming into the sector, her aspirations and hopes were high. She wanted to aspire to the very top of the profession.

Unfortunately, it was eight years of hopelessness, doubt and frustration.

“When I was employed as a marketing representative, I was told that I could become whatever I want through hard work. I was given rules and regulations and a target to meet. I was told not to marry until after some years. I was dedicated.

“Among my colleagues, I gave my all because I was ready to aspire to the top. I worked for ten years. Year in, year out, it was promise upon promise.

“I got married after four years. I became a shadow of myself. The company refused to promote me. I was the only female among four people in my department. The environment was not conducive but I had to manage because I needed the job.

“I worked 12 hours every day. After five years of rigorous dedication to work, I got my first promotion to marketing personnel.

“I got pregnant and it became an issue at work. The environment became more hostile. After I gave birth to my child, I had to bring my three-month-old child to work so as to breastfeed him. Then, things began to fall apart.

“When I became the object of discourse every day at my workplace, I resigned.

“Banking is not for a woman who wants to build a family or nurse children. That is what I saw in my eight years of banking”, said Nike.

Today, Nike is a teacher and an entrepreneur.

For Faith, becoming an engineer was a dream come true. But, things fell apart in her relationship with male counterparts.

According to her, she was the target of comments such as, “This is a male area”, “Are you not ashamed?” “Look for the path of female work and do not cross this path”.

“I was employed as a civil engineer in one of the construction firms in Lagos but my male counterparts made the environment a living hell for me.

“I had to quit the job to start my own business”, she added.

The accounts of Nike and Faith show gross representation of gender inequality in the workplace.

Working a full time job comes with challenges and for women who bear the responsibility of childbirth and its peculiarities, career growth can be more tasking.

In this report, EBUNOLUWA SESSOU writes on the plight of such women in the workplace and how difficulties affecting their professional advancement can be addressed.

The International Labour Organisation, ILO, vision of equality between women and men considers equality as a critical element in the workplace and this includes setting standards for fundamental principles and rights at work as well as creating greater opportunities for men and women to secure decent employment and income.

For United Nations, the policies and standards that uphold women’s rights and ensure that every woman and girl lives up to her full potential, are categorized into gender-sensitive language, gender-specific data collection and analysis, equal access to and utilisation of services, and equally in decision making, This is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5 which concerns gender equality.

According to Section 1, Sub-section 1.2 of Nigeria’s National Gender Policy, “The promotion and protection of women’s right as human right, provision of social buffers and safety nets, social justice and equity are crucial to national cohesion, growth and stability”.

Speaking on the factors that contribute to gender inequality in the Nigerian workplace, the Director of Social and Labour Affairs of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, Mrs. Adenike Adebayo-Ajala cited cultural beliefs, lack of gender-sensitive policies, and limited access to education and training for women. She added that efforts are being made to address these disparities through initiatives such as the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill.

According to the ILO, the current global labour force participation rate for women is just under 47percent.
According to data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, Nigeria ranked 123 out of 153 countries in terms of gender equality, indicating a relatively high level of gender inequality in various sectors. The report measures gender disparities across four key areas: economic participation and opportunities, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

In terms of economic participation, the report highlighted that only 47.93% of Nigerian women participate in the labour force. This indicates a gender gap in employment and economic opportunities.

Challenges

According to Adebayo-Ajala, the culture of patriarchy in Nigeria is a very strong determinant of male dominance over females.

Thus men are trained for leadership activities while women are confined to domestic activities; roles ascribed to them by culture which affect them later in life.

She further explained that, “Women self-advancement in the labour force is curtailed by the burden of reproduction, particularly in Nigeria with a very high birth rate as well as the cultural roles associated with women in child bearing, child raising and homemaking.

“Women constantly face the dilemma of choosing between a successful career or building a family as the two are often pitched as mutually exclusive or at the very least one taking priority over the other.

“Should they leave the workplace to take care of family, it is often difficult to return, especially in view of the prevalent high level of unemployment in Nigeria.”

President, Association of Corporate & Marketing Communication Professionals in Nigeria Banks, ACAMB, Rasheed Bolarinwa, supported the submission that company policies can widen gender inequality in workplace if all inclusive, adding that gender-balanced policies imply that employees of all genders have access to the same rewards, benefits, resources and opportunities.

“A lots of female bankers drop along the way, when they can no longer cope with the pressure of work vis-à-vis responsibilities at the home front. Hence, the number of women at the top of the ladder gets narrowed down”, he said.

Barr Adaku Mbama, Chairperson, FIDA Nigeria, Badagry Chapter, Lagos state lamented that disparity in positions, incidents of sexual harassment, tribalism are often occasioned by gender inequality in the workplace.

Engineering

“In the engineering field, there is a culture of men taking up the hard jobs. Taking Nigeria as a case study, we are meant to culturally and customarily believe that women are second-class citizens and that they are meant to take certain jobs.

“Because of our culture and mindset, we believe that women should not be into very difficult activities and that is erroneous. It is a wrong attitude and mindset.

“In families, the boy child is better equipped, especially in a rural setting. The boys are meant to go to school while the girls are meant for domestic chores. Some of them believe women cannot be engineers, bankers or even lawyers not knowing that technological advancement has made it easy for women to take up all jobs. Women tend to do better when they are given opportunities. There is tactical segregation that is obviously noticeable.

Banking

“In the banking sector, most women are used as marketing tools. Because they are pretty, they are sent out to canvas for business and bring it to the banks.

“This disparity should be stopped because the banking sector is an avenue where women are sexually harassed both by the customers and even in the workplace. There are complaints of sexual harassment and sexual exploitation.

“Women must meet their target before they get promoted. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Most women who are not ready to be harassed are forced to resign. With their different certificates, the women are forced to do jobs that they ought not to do. Most of them now take to event planning and other entrepreneurial jobs because they do not want harassment and sexual exploitation to continue”, she said.

‘Most workplace policies are not gender friendly’

Speaking on how policies widen gender inequality, Mbama disclosed that, “Most policies in the workplace are stringent. They are not gender friendly at all. For instance, we know that a married woman will give birth but I have come to realise most banks do not allow you to give birth when you want to. They will always put a time frame for child bearing. Most workplaces do not have crèches.

“There are stringent rules that make it impossible for women to work. Some have meetings late into the night which are adverse to the role of the women in her families. In the workplace, there is job segregation, poor medical care, and lack of political representation. Most times, the management positions of such companies are occupied by men.”

‘Challenges are specific to individual’

Giving her insight to the reports, Former President Association of Professional Women Engineering in Nigeria, APWEN Engr. Felicia Agubata opined that, concerns over gross inequality in the workplace cannot withstand the heat of rational interrogation.

According to her, “More men took up careers in Engineering when women were more attracted to the Arts and Social Sciences. “As far as I know, there are no specific challenges that hurt women and spare their male counterparts. In the Engineering profession, you are expected to take responsibility for self development and to take advantage of opportunities that come your way to hone your skills.

“The work is practical and measurable most times. My personal experience has made me realise that challenges are more of an individual thing than a gender issue.

“This is being implemented through various programs and interventions such as Royal Academy of engineering African Catalyst programmes among others. We can also create enablers including scholarships and other sundry initiatives.”

Media

In Media, the Woman Editor of Vanguard, Morenike Taire described discrimination against women in the workplace as ‘unjustifiable’.

According to her, “The issue of gender inequality in the workplace is high. Unfortunately, women are faced with challenges including child bearing, caregiving. They bear babies, look after children, get pregnant and go for chores. They are the ones that take care of the children when they are sick, they are the ones that take care of the extended family members. They take care of their aged people.

“Studies show that men earn more than women for doing the same job on the same level. Meanwhile, when you are in school, nobody marks your scripts and scores you based on gender. It is the same standard but when it gets to the workplace, everything changes. “That is when they know that the man has a family to take care of. Even the tax law recognises it. Law taxes women more than the men because men register more dependents and the men take advantage of that. “Men also like to promote women who do not challenge them. These are the women the men like to work with”.

Speaking with Vanguard, Engr Nnoli Akpedeye, Chief Executive Officer of Contego Servo Limited, said, as a fact, that more women are now female entrepreneurs. Speaking with Vanguard, she said, As a female CEO, “I cringe when I see companies that have all-male board of directors and c-suite executives” adding that, “this is happening in many Nigerian organisations where DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) is ostensibly a high priority in their business strategy”.

“Gender inequality in the workplace is a complex issue that is deeply rooted in social, cultural, and organisational factors. These include unconscious bias, stereotypes and societal norms, discrimination and sheer lack of representation of females in leadership positions.

“I am a standard-bearer for gender parity, promotion of equal opportunities and the deliberate, relentless implementation of DEI policies. I applaud and celebrate women in leadership and I am confident that the days of male-dominated leadership teams shall become history in this decade”, she said.

Mental implications of gender inequality

Speaking on the mental implication of gender inequality, Juliet Ottoh. Clinical Psychologist, Department of Psychiatry, Lagos University Teaching Hospital LUTH, said, gender inequality is a phenomenon, where people are treated differently on the basis of their gender. It is mainly the female gender that suffers these discriminations as it affects their productivity and roles or tasks assigned to them.

“Gender segregation affects the physical, emotional and psychological aspects of the individual. Women are twice likely to come down with the following when they are confronted with these barriers at the workplace such as absenteeism, low self esteem, worthlessness, insomnia, workplace anxiety (WA), post traumatic stress disorder, as presented in flashback and nightmares, anger, dissociation, which is a disconnection from one’s own thoughts, feeling and body”, she said.

“Gender inequality still exists at the workplace. Equal role and payment reward should be based on input, qualifications and experience, not gender based”.

Also, Mbama noted that, the consequences of gender inequality include exposure to violence, exposure to objectification, discrimination, social/economic inequality which can lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

“Generally, the disadvantage of gender inequality in the workplace is that it can harm women’s health and well being. They experience high stress levels due to unequal treatment, discrimination and limited career opportunities. They will not be able to put in their best, attend seminars, conferences that should impact them to be able to do better in the job they do. They experience chronic stress against their mental health”, she said.

In her contribution, Adenike Badiora, Learning Hub Advisor, E4A-MamaYe programme, disclosed that, health implications of gender inequality include: stress for women who work long hours without factoring adequate rest break times and postpartum complications for women/mothers who are not given adequate rest time after delivery before work resumption.

“Not having separate toilets/lavatories for both genders also poses the risk of infections especially for women. There is also risk of accidents for physically challenged individuals who do not have access to enabled pathways or comfortable toilet facilities”, she added.

DR Mustapha ‘Toyin Sanbe, PhD, the University Counselor, Summit University Offa, North-Central Zone, Nigeria, also cited consequences of gender inequality to include said, to “ow workers’ productivity, poor profit (bottom line), Unhealthy rivalry, toxic workplace (environment), insecurity, job loss, loss of quality personnel among others”.

“Company policies that do not harp on qualification, quality, job performance, but man-know-man syndrome shall be a perfect workplace where gender inequality issues are widened.

”Gender inequality in the workplace has implications for poor performance, ineptitude, nepotism, tribalism, social-fabric tear-apart, anxiety and anxiety disorders, loss of confidence, unhealthy rivalry, suspiciousness, and other forms of psychological issues and workplace concerns requiring Employee Assistance Program, EAP or psychological interventions”, he said.

Compliance

Research shows that the level of compliance to promote gender equality in the corporate sector, including banking, engineering, and media, in Nigeria varies across companies and industries. While some organisations have taken steps to promote gender equality and create inclusive work environments, others still have a long way to go in terms of compliance.

According to Adenike Adebayo-Ajala, the banking sector in Nigeria has relatively higher compliance on gender equality compared to some sectors.

Regarding the media sector, Adebayo-Ajala maintained that the media in Nigeria has varying levels of compliance on gender equality adding that while there are media organizations that promote gender balance in their workforce and create platforms for women’s voices and perspectives, others continue to perpetuate gender stereotypes and biases. Initiatives such as facilitating equal opportunities for career growth, promoting gender-sensitive content, and ensuring fair representation of women in decision-making positions can contribute to greater compliance with gender equality in the media industry.

The advantage of more female entrepreneurs

The success story of gender inequality according to Engr Nnoli Akpedeye, is that fact that more women are now female entrepreneurs. Speaking with Vanguard, she said, “We have always had a significant number of female entrepreneurs in the informal sector; and it is great to see the huge uptake of women-owned businesses in the formal economy.

“Firstly, with the high unemployment rate in Nigeria, most people have defaulted to entrepreneurship, simply for survival. The new generation of females is challenging traditional expectations of the past and the global focus on DEI is forcing our society to recognise and value diverse perspectives, thus giving female entrepreneurs enhanced visibility, support and promotion.

“There is a plethora of ring-fenced, women-focused funding initiatives by corporate and government agencies, as well as crowd funding and angel investor platforms specifically targeted at female entrepreneurs. Also, with the advent of digitisation and advancements in technology, several opportunities exist for women to start businesses with fewer barriers and constraints. Work-life integration is easier for female entrepreneurs as they can create businesses that give more flexibility and autonomy. Additionally, entrepreneurial role models are more visible, which serves as inspiration for others.

“Although progress has been made, female entrepreneurs still face challenges of access to funding due to inadequacy or the seemingly unachievable pre-requisites/pre-conditions. Unfortunately, gender bias, discrimination and sexual harassment are still rife in many sectors; and government policies in support of female entrepreneur are lacking or, where they exist, ineffectively implemented.

“The increase in female entrepreneurs is definitely a positive shift and not a way of hindering women from reaching boardrooms or attaining management positions. I daresay this reflects a broader trend toward greater gender equality and empowerment.

“A female business owner will invariably be the managing director which automatically makes her a board member; and as CEO, she occupies the most senior leadership position in the company. What we need now is an exponential increase in the number of women in executive leadership and boards of male-owned companies!

“The rise of female entrepreneurs is a welcome development that is critical for the economic growth of Nigeria. However, it should not be viewed as a hindrance to women’s advancement in traditional leadership roles. Instead, efforts should be ongoing to promote gender equality across all sectors; ensuring women have equal opportunities to excel in entrepreneurship, executive leadership, and on boards of directors”, she said.

In his contribution, the Group Executive Chairman, Bode Adediji Partnership(Estate Surveyor & Valuer, Bode Adediji Partnership, Bode Adediji said, “Any policy that delivers a more enabling environment that are supportive of the female gender will certainly promote a growth in female entrepreneurship”.

Recommendations

The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, recommends that companies should provide non-discriminating employment opportunities and benefits.

Agubata noted that, to address workplace gender inequality, individuals must be aware of the environment and expectations to be compliant and productive. “Be on top of your game knowing that standards will not be lowered for you because you are a woman”, she added.

On her part, Agubata said that, “Gender equity should be deliberately promoted in the Nigerian work space to reduce conflicts and bickering by individuals and groups. Organisations should subscribe to the concept of equal opportunity employment.

“This way, job specs are clearly spelt out without bias for either gender. Whoever ticks most boxes gets the nod regardless of gender.

“Gender is not competence. It is a mere natural attribute that does not come with any specific usable skill. As a matter of fact competence or brilliance is evenly distributed across the gender divide. Hard work, training, exposure and commitment could make one individual better than the other.

“Once some of these policies and processes are operationalized, distractions will reduce and productivity will be enhanced. Gender equity policies should be the fulcrum for workplace equity”, she noted.

In the same vein, President Women in Energy Network, WIEN, Funmi Ogbue, buttressed that, “Once women can be at all levels of their organisations, it become less possible for them to be victims of abuse and discrimination.

“We are certainly doing a lot to empower women to be brave, independent minded and realising they have a voice and also advocating stakeholders to realise women have a role and are valuable into the progress of the sector”, she said.

According to Bolarinwa, “Banks should put all genders into consideration when formulating their policies. Special consideration should be placed on celebrating events that promote gender equality at the workplace. There should be regular round-the table discussions on issues that promote gender equality.

“Polaris Bank being a forward-thinking financial institution recognises the importance of gender equality in the workplace. The Bank’s board has a good representation of female board members, while its female employees have equal access to the same incentives, resources, and opportunities just as their counterpart male gender. The Bank recently launched a Women’s network (Polaris Women Connect), that aimed among other things; to form a representation of female staff across the Bank, identify and develop talent and leadership qualities in women, foster and leverage organisational diversity in achieving organisational goals with focus on the female gender”, he said.

Morenike Taire, said that every organisation should have provision for gender-sensitive factors like child care.

“There should be proper maternity leave. Some years ago, Lagos State increased maternity leave to six months. People were rejoicing but at the end, it is only Lagos State workers that are the beneficiaries. The government did not ensure compliance, especially in the private sector”, she said.

“One of the policies that should be in place in every workplace is that there should be consideration for casual leave. The casual leave should not affect the woman’s qualification to be promoted on these bases.

”Every organisation should endeavour to have a human resource department which is saddled with the responsibility of catering to the welfare of the people and factor it in the budgetary plan for the company for the year.

“Civil society organisations have a big role to play. They should be proactive enough to ensure that policymakers sponsor or promote bills. Once it becomes a law, it will be left to the women to speak for themselves. Even if they have signed a particular agreement, the law will still take its course.
Mbama reiterated that to overcome gender inequality, companies must increase in diversity through hiring, adding that “work-life balance should be a priority in ensuring that we have gender equality”.

Adding her voice, Dr. Adeola Ekine, Chairperson, National Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ Lagos State Chapter spoke on the need to ensure equal opportunities for working mothers and caregivers, provide training and awareness programmes to address unconscious bias in the workplace, and create mentorship programmes that connect women with successful leaders in the industry.
In her reaction, Founder, Women in Successful Careers, WISCAR, Amina Oyagbola, opined that there is a need for women to unite against gender inequality in the workplace.

“We should pool resources to ensure that the bills are passed. With the support of great men, we can eliminate discrimination against women in the workplace and bring an end to gender-based violence.

“I remember when I was employed in an oil company, there was no woman there. By the time I came on board; I discovered there were no conveniences (toilets) for women. You had to walk miles to be able to find one. Then, the HR policies did not include gynaecology treatment for women. But, it included prostate cancer treatment for men. I did not keep quiet. As a senior HR manager, I recommended gynaecology treatment for women.

“Transformation starts with the way we treat our children. “We should not discriminate between our male and female children. The kind of messages we give to our boys and girls from the home also matter because that is what they take to school and to the workplace and it plays out in the workplace as unconscious bias”, she said.

Chairperson, Board of Trustees, Bisi Adeyemi who is also Managing Director/CEO of DCSL Corporate Services Limited said, employers can do more to curb gender inequality in the workplace.

“It is not about equal treatment but fair treatment. There is a need to understand that the woman has a particular problem and that is what society has put on her laps. Creating a balance for women is the fairness treatment that we are requesting for in the workplace.

“Employers should create a level playing field for the woman in the workplace in the area of child bearing and nurturing, there should be six months maternity leave given to women as well as their male counterparts so that the burden of looking after the child will not only be for the woman.

“WIMBIZ has a vibrant advocacy structure to push for the interest of women. It is not only for policies to be in place but also to be implemented that encourages private sector employers to adopt the policies and implementation that promote gender equality across the federation”, she said.

This report was facilitated by the Africa Centre for Development Journalism, ACDJ , as part of its 2023 Inequalities Reporting Fellowship supported by the MacArthur Foundation through the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism.

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