‘Men and women should have equal opportunities to learn, grow, lead’

FOLASHADE EFIONG-BASSEY, group executive director, HR & Corporate Services at ipNX Nigeria, in this interview with SEYI JOHN SALAU, speaks on the significance of International Women’s Day and how organisations should make deliberate efforts to drive gender inclusivity. Excerpts:

Can you highlight some major gender issues faced by Nigerian women, as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021?

The reality of gender disparity differs considerably for many African nations when compared to the developed countries. In Nigeria, for instance, there are deep-seated cultural beliefs that fuel gender stereotypes and influence people’s dispositions towards gender inclusivity. One does not need to look far to spot the negative impacts of these beliefs and stereotypes on women.

On the economic side, a 2019 EFInA report shows that on average, women tend to have lower levels of education and income than men. They are also more likely to depend on others for their income and are more financially excluded.

There is room for increased women’s participation in the private sector. For instance, in a 2020 report by PwC citing the Nigerian Stock Exchange, female board members made up only 19 percent of the total board composition. These low percentages are also reflected in politics, where women account for only 11 percent of the Ministers in the Presidential cabinet, and 6 percent in the National Assembly. We must work towards improving inclusivity in no distant future by providing platforms that support and enhance the development of women, preparing them to take advantage of sociocultural, economic and political opportunities.

What is the way forward towards the attainment of a gender-inclusive society?

There has been some progress over the years. People are more aware of the benefits of an inclusive society, and we can see the rise of women leaders across all sectors; entertainment, sports and even the corporate world.

Interestingly, development agencies are focusing more on women’s empowerment. A case in point is the new gender strategy for 2021 – 2025 recently approved by the African Development Bank Board, which aims to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. I feel this is the way to go. As we continue to raise awareness and challenge gender stereotypes and discriminations, we must also continue to empower women, giving them an equal platform to thrive in education, economics, and politics. This can only be achieved if all stakeholders play their parts – male, female, corporate organisations, educational institutions, religious bodies, community stakeholders, and the government.

In what ways does gender inclusivity benefit society?

In its truest sense, gender inclusivity benefits everyone. Every individual, irrespective of gender, deserves an opportunity to reach their full potential, and gender inclusivity ensures this by creating a world without limit for all. Studies have shown that gender inclusivity can also stimulate economic growth. A report by the UN Women indicates that in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), half of the economic growth over the past 50 years is attributed to girls having better access to education. Companies also stand to benefit from gender inclusivity. A 2018 McKinsey Report shows that companies that are gender and ethnically diverse outperform their peers. This is how important gender inclusivity is to all stakeholders and the development of our society.

What is the role of corporate organisations towards attainment of gender inclusivity?

Like all other stakeholders, corporate organisations have strong roles to play if we must attain gender inclusivity, and fortunately, some organisations are committed to this already.

The bedrock of equality is education – companies should continue to educate employees about the advantages and possibilities that gender equality brings about. They are encouraged to launch initiatives that accelerate progress towards workplace parity. Organisations should have a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of discrimination and stereotypes, and both men and women should have equal opportunities to learn, grow and lead.

At ipNX, gender inclusivity is a standard we uphold. We believe that people should not be limited based on their gender and are deliberate about providing equal opportunities. All organisations should do the same.

How can women develop a long-term career plan?

For young women who are just starting out, having a long-term career plan is very essential. First, you must be clear about where you want to be and when. You need to set short, mid, and long-term goals. You also need to highlight your current strengths and competencies, as well as the skills that are integral to your career. Then, you need to identify the gaps in your current skill set that you must improve on. Identify resources that can help you bridge the gap, and take decisive actions. You must also review your career plan regularly to ensure that you are in sync with your goals and timelines. Career planning cannot be overemphasized, particularly for aspiring young women who are determined to challenge the status quo.

Any word of advice for aspiring young women in the corporate world?

One key take-away is to be open-minded to opportunities. Be prepared to spot opportunities and embrace challenges with a growth mindset. When it comes to building a successful career, challenges are inevitable and change is constant. Your best bet is not to view these two as negatives – they can spur your career growth in ways you never imagined. Women must continually hone their skills, developing and demonstrating expertise and competence in their functional areas. Expertise breeds confidence, and self-confidence is a powerful tool that fuels further achievement.

Finally, what does the IWD 2021 theme, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?

International Women’s Day is very significant, not just for women, but the society at large. It signals how far we have come on the journey towards gender equality by celebrating the social, cultural, economic, and political achievements of women locally and internationally. Beyond that, it also brings all stakeholders to the consciousness of the journey ahead towards equality, especially in developing countries like ours. The 2021 IWD theme, #ChooseToChallenge, calls on all stakeholders in different capacities to decide to help forge an equal world by raising awareness against bias in whatever forms, end discrimination against women, and take actions for gender parity.

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