It’s the end of Women’s History Month and with it all the content that revolved around this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, #BreaktheBias.
At ASPIRE, we’re constantly thinking outside the box, and, for this year’s celebration, we thought what if, instead of a list of high achievers or images of people crossing their hands, we shone the spotlight on everyday women in the corporate world who have been unfairly treated simply because of their gender? We know that stories are the lifeblood of every society, linking the past to the present and providing the blueprint for future generations to follow.
And so, for the first time, we turned over our pages to women from all walks of life to write their histories of bias. We asked what their experience was like, and how they handled it.
Some of the stories may sound familiar, others not so much. We hope that these honest, first account narrations will remind us of how far we have come, but how much farther we need to go to create a less prejudiced and more equitable society
(The stories have been edited for clarity and brevity)
Annual income: NGN4m
I had just started a family, was married for about 5 years. I had a 4-year-old son and had been trying for another.
I worked as a publicity manager/ credit control manager for a generator company. Back then it was the foremost amongst others. I worked closely with the Managing Director. In fact, we were only 3 persons reporting directly to him; his secretary, P.A and I.
In my second year in the company, in 2001, I became pregnant. I was very excited! Nobody noticed my growing tummy because my job entailed going to meetings and organizing billboards et al. So this one day, as I was strolling into the office, my M.D was also driving in, he stopped to greet me and we chatted a bit. While doing so, he noticed the changes in my body and asked, “Is there something swimming in there?” My response was “yes” and I went about the business for that day smoothly.
Only for me to get to work the following day and I was served a letter relieving me of my duties/responsibilities in that office. I was asked to immediately hand over to another woman who was single and was also rumoured to have been dating the MD. No reason whatsoever was given for the termination. Since then, I have never worked for anyone. I resolved to start my own business. I immediately registered a company and I have been thriving ever since.
It was a nasty experience because I had a young family. My (now late) husband was an architect, so I was the only one who had a ‘somewhat’ stable source of income.
I vowed never to work for a ‘one man’ business again! I never worked for anyone although I later took up a temporary job with the E.U. where things are done properly.
Annual income: NGN120m
My boss (a male) was fond of bad mouthing me in front of other people at evaluation meetings and always insisted that I wasn’t good. He would rather promote and push my male colleagues as he felt a woman should be at home.
It was frustrating for years but I kept on persevering, developing myself and ensuring my work was top notch. My break came when my MD gave me an assignment that was make or mar. I put my whole heart into it and with prayers, I delivered results that had never been seen company-wide. At this point, my boss could no longer spin his stories and I was liberated, given the right evaluation and promoted. Perseverance, focus and quality work always pays.
By focusing on my work while continuously developing myself and selling my story when I could, I was able to overcome gender-based bias at work. I also got mentors that advised me on what to do.
Annual income: $100,000
I faced discrimination at work on account of my age, but I looked beyond it and made sure it had no effect on following my ambitions.
Annual income: NGN2.5m
I have had male clients talk down to me simply because I am a woman, but each time, I speak up for myself.
Professional who owns her company
Annual income: NGN5m
I was in a business meeting with a group of men and I was asked to serve the refreshments because I was the only woman in the room.
I spoke up for myself, refused to do it and ensured it never happened again.
Annual income: NGN1.3m
I was assigned to an event in Abuja but it was later reassigned to a male colleague because according to my boss, it wasn’t wise to leave my child and husband for 3days.
I said nothing and just took it in good faith.
Name: Mrs O
Annual income: NGN2m+
A male colleague (the legal officer) and I went for an official assignment outside our station. We helped resolve a community crisis amicably, and our colleagues (on that site) gave us money to thank us for our intervention. The legal officer took a bigger sum and gave me something smaller.
I immediately rejected it but he retorted that he is a man [and thus deserves a larger share]. I told him to keep the whole money to himself or share it equally. He reluctantly took the latter option. I also reported the case to our Regional Head.
Sharing really personal stories that may have really affected the people involved can be a bit daunting, which is why we have chosen to keep respondents anonymous. Bias can happen to anyone at any time, and we hope that these stories inspire women in similar situations to take the right action while serving as a teachable moment for organisations and businesses.
Breaking the bias is more than lengthy words and fancy images, and, as these stories prove, would require the right policies to make sure that everyone is treated impartially, regardless of who they are and what they believe in.
Happy Women’s History Month!