Somebody breathe out!
It truly was an exhilarating day 1 of the WIMBIZ Annual Conference. We went from one thought provoking session to another that I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up. But something I’ve learnt about learning is that as much as you want to absorb all that you can,you don’t want to do it all at once or get overwhelmed that you lose striking moments.
I was on volunteer duties and only saw tweets of Professor Joy Ogwu’s chairman’s opening remarks and the keynote speech from Dr. Adedoyin Salami. In combining what I could read from both of them, I think they established that women have the force of numbers and capacities that makes them a strategic national and international asset; and this is the time that Africa must transform its demographic challenge to a demographic advantage.
On that strong note,the first plenary session began with the topic, ‘Beyond Gender Parity: Inspiring the Next Wave of Female Leaders’. On the panel were Asue Ighodalo as the moderator with Senator Biodun Olujimi, Rolake Akinkugbe and Tania Holt as the power packed panelists. There were the usual suspects questions bothering on how we deal with unconscious bias towards women by both genders and limiting attitudes that women believe about ourselves. The truth is that, regardless of how often we speak about this, it truly must be restated over and again. Although we have moved away from inequality as it used to be and women are now better positioned, the current state is not one to be satiated with, but a point that can be a catalyst to greater heights of well utilized.
Also on discussion was the big question: why don’t women support other women with brilliant ideas?
This question used to be a puzzle to my idealistic mind until I began to see some truth in it. But just like Rolake pointed out, women have begun to understand that they cannot go far without supporting one another. The shift from the catfight ideology is also obvious in how far an organization like WIMBIZ and other female organizations worldwide have come. The plan is that this not only happens at the group levels but simmers down to day to day interaction and attitude amongst women.
Now, while providing support for one another is important, Rolake spoke about grooming a culture where we let competence and meritocracy thrive; rewarding people based on performance and results. This followed well with what Tania had spoken on earlier about her research which showed that although women seemed to be credited with doing a better job, men received the rewards in promotions and pay raises than they did. This is because, these things are mainly unwritten knowledge with little hard data and facts to measure.
‘What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. Talk to the facts. That’s what will drive the debate forward.’
Also, in driving debates forward, one thing we can’t ignore is staying professionally relevant. In a fast changing world, it’s important that we are constantly delivering optimally in whatever we do; while also monitoring trends and preparing for expertise in areas that will become relevant in the coming years.
With regards to politics, the fact is that women are not as involved in the public sector as they are in the private sector. And this is true. In answering a question on mentoring young women in the politics, Senator Olujimi spoke on the need for women to become interested in service, not only in the private and informal sector but also in public service and politics. The older generation can only mentor those who make themselves available. And more than older to younger mentorship, there is an opportunity to cross learn and cultivate ideas across generations and schools of thought.
Speaking about her entry into politics, she highlighted the importance of her husband’s support. Although he was the political arm of the family, he agreed to take a backseat when she became the choice of a community that wanted her to pursue her desire for social change through politics. She spoke about how she would get home and cry on some days and he would let her vent. When morning came, he’d say to her,
‘Go out and fight. They are men like me’.
We all laughed but the truth in there struck home. Apart from showing the power of a supportive spouse, it spoke of how we sometimes don’t capitalize on strength that comes naturally to us.
In response to this, someone asked a question on what to do if a husband sees his wife as a competition and not a support.
While the two beautiful single ladies on the panel rightly said that the choice of a spouse is critical, the mama Senator Olujimi, added her strong opinion in an unapologetic statement that women are the cause of their troubles. After the roar of disagreement had been toned down, she went on to explain that men are scared to support strong women who want to prove their strength by being the ‘boss’ in the home. I think for most men, the ‘strong woman’s is better appreciated as a theory or a woman I know in my office. It’s a different matter at home. Women need to try to pretend to be weaklings in some ways and let the man feel that he is in charge. As much as this sounds cynical, it really isn’t. It is about genuine respect and also quite important, understanding in a marriage.
(Sidenote: I also noticed that the camera kept zooming in on Mrs. Ibukun Awosika. Balancing powers at home and in the workplace is her turf. Beautiful woman)
In concluding the conversation, Asue pointed out the need to talk to the men as well. Mothers, parents, need to teach their boys without a mindset of certain gender roles; teaching them to respect and support their female counterparts. And men need to be empowered to support women and given the room to join the conversations.
It really was a full session; and believe me, this is only a summary of plenary session 1!!
Notes from the other sessions from day 1 of the WIMBIZ Annual Conference to come soon. And you can also follow the conversation online with the hash tag #WIMBIZAnnualConference and on the handle @WIMBIZ.
Note: These are my notes from the event and while the thoughts are correct, most of the statements have been paraphrased.