The complex challenges women face

I am so glad to have you, I figure I am getting the same brains for less money”. This statement was made way back 1947 to Anita Summers, the mother of Larry Summers, by her new boss when she was hired as an economist by the Standard Oil Company.

Her reaction to this was to feel flattered.  It was a huge compliment to be told that she had the same brains as a man.  It would have been unthinkable for her to ask for equal compensation.

The blunt truth is that men still rule the world, of the 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are led by women. Women hold just 20 percent of seats in parliaments globally. A meager twenty-one of the fortune 500 CEOs are women.

Women hold about 14 percent of executive officer positions.

A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. The law of economics and many studies of miscellany tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and capacity, our collective performance would improve. Legendary investor, Warren Buffet has stated generously that one of the reasons for his great success was because he was competing with only half of the population.

Women face real obstacles in the professional world including blatant and subtle sexism, discrimination and sexual harassment. Very few workplaces offer the flexibility and access to childcare and parent sabbatical that is unnecessary for pursuing a career while raising a child. Men have an easier time finding the mentors and sponsors who are invaluable for career progression; while the women have to mostly prove themselves to a far greater extent than men do.

The 2011 McKenzie report noted “that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments”.

In addition to the external barriers instituted by society, women are however hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We tend to hold ourselves back in many ways; lack of self-confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back when we should be pulling forward. We internalize the adverse messages we get throughout our lives – the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for our partners and children. Compared to our male colleagues, fewer of us aspire to senior positions, we give up opportunities to earn more, power to create wealth.

Getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power to make wealth for us and our beneficiaries. Internal obstacles are rarely discussed and often underplayed.

African women have been called “a powerful untapped economic force” and will be absolutely integral in addressing the development challenges Africa faces.

Currently, African women constitute the majority of workers in the informal economy, unfortunately only about a third of women across the continent participate in formal economic activity. Cultural and social norms are often not supportive of women’s involvement in business, and many aspiring female entrepreneurs lack access to supportive networks and local communities.

I grew up in the home of beautiful women and aunties; I hardly ever heard anything about holding back as a girl child while growing up. My friends tell me I am 2% of the fortunate ones.

More women need to believe in themselves, in their dreams as well as solutions that they were born to solve.

I do not have the perfect solution to some of these deep and complicated issues but I try to rely on data, research, observations and lessons I have learned along the way. My column is not a self-help page, although I truly hope it helps. It is not a formal piece for corporate people, although I offer advise in that area. It is not a feminist speech nor a war against the male gender. Although I hope it offers an objective perception to every reader; male of female gender. As opposed to those ideologies we have held for years as Africans.

Whatever this piece is to you, I am writing it for any woman who wants to give the issue of wealth creation serious attention and make it part of her goals now and for the future. This includes women at all stages of their lives, from those who are just starting out to those who are taking a break and may want to hurdle back in. I am also writing this for any man who wants to understand what women –colleague, wife, mother or daughter-is up against so that he can do his part to create more opportunities for both gender.

My hope is that my message will be judged on its merits; this is a conversation we cannot avoid. Many women are not interested in wealth creation, not because they lack ambition, but because they are living their lives not as they desire but based on their limited exposure to economic empowerment and the internal obstacles they have been carrying with them since childhood.

Many women were given away in marriage when they were still very young with no opportunity to know themselves, make decision or even have access to good education.

This brings us to the obvious question of, HOW are we going to take down the obstacles that prevent more women from thinking or planning for wealth creation? Please share your thoughts and experience.

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