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Break the Bias, Closing the Gender Leadership Gap
08.03.22

Adaeze Nwakoby, Company Secretary/Group Head Legal and Human Resources for OVH Energy Marketing, talks about the status of women in leadership and the urgent need to break the bias.

When Adaeze Nwakoby began her legal career in the mid-2000s, she inadvertently walked into a male-dominated terrain where she had to work twice as hard to gain the professional respect of her colleagues. Having risen through the ranks to become a leader herself, Adaeze cannot help but notice the deep-seated gender leadership bias prevalent across Nigerian industries.

In her experience, the "bro-culture", overt patriarchy in the workplace, as well as other more subtle forms of bias against women sometimes preclude their attaining leadership roles,

"In the conventional work environment, it is far more likely that a female would be required to prove her capabilities than it is for a male to be”, she says.

According to Adaeze, despite marked advances in gender-equality over the last decade in Nigeria, women are still grossly underrepresented within the corporate leadership landscape here. 

"When I graduated from the Nigerian Law School back in 2004, there were far more male graduates than female, but today there is nearly an equal proportion of both genders graduating. Ironically however, the male-dominated leadership within legal academia, corporate law, and the judiciary in Nigeria has remained almost entirely the same way since 2004”, she says.

Again, in her words, a close examination of industries in the country – from oil and gas, to corporate legal, to healthcare, and even to the ultra-progressive entertainment industry – will show that while qualified women for leadership roles abound, opportunities for them do not.

“The outcomes are cyclical – the fact of very few women in leadership roles shape expectations and the value system accordingly: women are less likely to be given opportunities if the systemic paradigm is for them not to be, and with a dearth of female leaders as role models, young women are less likely to be inspired towards toward leadership”.

In Adaeze’s experience, the woman is sometimes vilified for the same attributes that would be idealized or overlooked in a man in her position. The strong, uncompromising woman is easily branded ‘difficult’, and the empathic woman is considered ‘too emotional’, in a way to suggest that for reason of her gender she is less capable than a man to take on the hard decision making the leadership role demands.

Nevertheless, Adaeze says, the tide is turning, howbeit slowly. More women are attaining C-suite management roles across industries in Nigeria, and these elite few are leading a spirited charge to inspire  more gender inclusion, and to inspire the next generation of female leaders to demand an equal seat at the management table.

In her opinion, organizations need to regard gender inclusion, especially at the leadership level, as a key area of focus. She believes that gender diversity in the board room allows for a broader perspective in decision making and a more strategic divergence of opinion, which would improve the quality of business decisions. She however emphasized the need to generally recognize that the push for gender inclusion is not an undue plea for attention towards women, but rather a conscious effort to fairly reward excellence regardless of gender. For women, she said that they must also realize that gender inclusion does not translate to preferential treatment, and as such, they must, just like their male counterparts, proactively stay abreast of relevant industry and political discussions, upskill from time to time, and develop essential soft skills to make them deserving contenders for leadership roles.

Finally, she said, everyone must self-examine for even the smallest gender-biases.

"Most people have unconscious prejudices that they have been conditioned to harbor by their environments. Unravelling these biases is an important step to eliminating them. A lot of our gender bias is rooted in our cultural, and even moral ideals. If we are to progress towards inclusion, we must unlearn and relearn on many deep-seated levels, as a society really”.

Adaeze believes that gender equality in corporate leadership within Nigeria is not a pipe dream, but rather something that is attainable in the short rather long term.  

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