‘…Let’s give women a chance to thrive’
By Godwin Okondo
WHAT’S the colour of the workplace in a patriarchal society? How do women fit in and excel like their male counterparts? In fact, how can a woman balance her workplace life with that of keeping a functional family without friction? These were some of the talking points at a recent Instagram session. It was a session curated by African Women on Board (AWB), in partnership with Ibiso Graham-Douglas-led Paperworth Books (PwB) to discuss safe workplaces for women in Nigeria held April 20, 2022. Also, author of Dear Alaere, Eriye Onagoruwa, was on hand to read and share from her fascinating novel that centres on women and the pressure that comes from the workplace and also being a wife.
The live session included discussions on how to make workplaces safe for women, as well as excerpts read from the book, a tale of a modern, professional woman in search of the elusive balance between keeping the job and maintaining the home front and societal acceptance. Safety in the Workplace Programme Director of African Women on Board, Esther Hadiza-Ijeaku, was also made input.
Speaking about AWB, Hadiza-Ijeaku described her organisation as a non-for-profit that “promotes women to leadership positions and create rooms for women who come after. We also stand against violence against women in the workplace.
“Today, we are discussing about how we can address the issue of gender violence in the workplace, to give women a chance to thrive. We launched in November 2021, and we have had lots of support from several organizations. We want to create a policy that addresses the issue of gender violence, as well as dealing with perpetrators.”
Speaking on what inspired her book, Onagoruwa said, “I was in a rot in my career. I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was stressed, and I always had migraine tablets in my bag everyday. I decided to create my happy space through Dear Alaere. When I started writing the book, I really had Nigeria in mind, Lagos, to be precise — the dysfunctional society we call Nigeria. I just wanted to shed light on it, how we contend with power, water, traffic and other problems we all face as citizens.
“Lots of people have heard or read several stories about Nigeria, but they really don’t know about the country, because it’s painted in a different light. So, I decided to use the office as a means to discuss Nigeria and the elements that make it difficult to live in the country.
Continuing, Onagoruwa said, “Dear Alaere relates the bias women go through in workplaces, and some of the problems women contend with. A lot of women are brilliant and resilient, but in the workplace, it is not these (attributes) that take you to the top. There are lots of politics played in the boardroom in the office, and if you can’t navigate through, you just get stuck in one place. What we tend to see is women getting the blame for other people’s mistakes.”
Onagoruwa expressed sadness that women are rather poor at playing office politics, and so are often left behind in the pecking order by their male counterparts who play it better.
“You have male colleagues and you’re doing better than them, but they are the ones moving to the top because they know how to play the politics,” Onagoruwa lamented. “I’m happy that AWB is helping women climb up the social ladder. We need to stay resilient, and remember that nothing stays the same forever. You shouldn’t allow things like childbirth or marriage limit you from reaching your potential.”
While speaking on the issue of ethnicity, Onagoruwa said, “There are some organizations where ethnicity has become a norm. There are cases whereby people from a particular ethnicity are favoured, or are being employed, and people from other ethnicities are being ignored. It’s not that these ones are better than those from the other ethnic groups, but because whoever is in charge has made it a habit to favour those from the same place as him or her. So, what happens to the rest of the people? Do we pretend that they don’t exist? This is just to let people know that this actually happens in the office, and this is quite peculiar to Nigerians.”
She also shared her journey towards getting Dear Alaere published, noting, “This is my first published book. While writing this, I put it out to foreign press and got a lot of rejection, and a few acceptances. I realized that a lot of people don’t know things about Nigeria. I decided to take it to where the narrative would be understood. So, I returned to Nigeria and I got more acceptances. Most of my editing were done by foreign editors, but I found Paperworth, and the rest is history.”