This has been a really fascinating year to witness the seismic changes in today’s global landscape. Many of us laughed at the whole Brexit movement because we knew for a fact that it couldn’t happen, until it did.
We’ve watched the debasing of American politics as the campaign dialogue races to the bottom of centuries-held norms of acceptable behavior among political office aspirants. Donald Trump has demonstrated such deeply divisive actions and uttered very shocking words that one almost wonders if Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus will come out and say this was a grand ole experiment to see how far crazy America would tolerate. The release of the recent audio tape in which he was heard referring to his predilection to sexual assault against beautiful women around him made me shudder. This is 2016. We cannot accept a self-confessed assaulter of women as a candidate for the highest office in the United States of America.
We’ve now got Theresa May as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister. We’ve got Angela Merkel as the most powerful woman in Europe and possibly the entire world for now. We’ve got Hillary Clinton as the first female major party ticket holder for candidate for US president. How can this be happening today? And then the grand finale (or at least I hope) of the verbal assault on women on the global stage occurred when my very own president, Muhammadu Buhari, in response to his wife’s criticisms of his administration said “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.” Wow. Very quickly after this, the hashtag #TheOtherRoom began trending with Nigerians and the world screaming out about this misogynistic message from a leader in today’s world who was standing right beside Angela Merkel when this statement was made!
I’m a 40 year old investment banker who also happens to be a wife and mother to three sons. I am constantly juggling, balancing and trying my best to have a fulfilling life which allows me to surpass my ambitious goals with a healthy and happy marriage, family and friends right beside me. I am always being told to work “harder than they do” and “lean in.” As hard as I work and as much as I lean in, I’m struggling to understand how to make sure that the decision makers and leaders in today’s global economy can see me and all of the other women like me working as hard as our bodies and minds will allow. Do we matter in the grand scheme of things?
Can men in today’s business environment see beyond the fact that I am a “young woman?” I recently sat in front of an allegedly well-respected man, possibly in his 50s, discussing my interests in board appointments and he called me a “baby” when I told him my age. I sat there in front of him as cool as a cucumber but I was furious. I doubt he meant to be condescending but I began to wonder when I would be regarded for the breadth and depth of my professional and personal accomplishments without being looked upon as a child. Nigerian society has an acute problem with sexism and ageism. We need to fix this quickly otherwise we will continue to lack the full range of tools, brain power, and efficiency to lift ourselves out of this economic rut, which predominantly older men have plunged us into. Young people today bring fresh ideas and a new way of thinking which is what has propelled technological advances globally. We must embrace the contributions of those under the 50 – 60 age bracket in Nigeria and bring women along for the journey too. We don’t want to be in the trunk or back seat either. Sometimes we want to drive.
We also have to see more women as competent and capable of the highest offices in the land. The banking and legal sectors have managed to get this right given the vast numbers of mid-level and senior women in these fields. Notwithstanding this fact, out of 25 commercial and merchant banks in Nigeria, only 3 have female chief executives. If women represent 50% of the population, when will we start to represent 50% of the executive suite? How can we succeed at pushing this agenda if our own President can demean his wife on the global stage by saying that she belongs in the kitchen and other private areas of the home? The assuring part of this #TheOtherRoom debacle is that the private sector always leads the public sector so while I have no doubt that women will continue to shatter the glass ceiling in the private sector, our government is woefully behind in its actions and thinking.
As I and many other women work incredibly hard to differentiate ourselves in our careers and soar new heights, I am asking you if you see us? Just because I don’t grace the newspapers in the style sections and ensure I am in the spotlight for things other than my passion topics – female empowerment, financial security, international finance – do I not matter? Just because I am not 50+ doesn’t mean my experiences don’t count. I’ve worked in Central and South America, North America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. I’ve had an almost 20 year career in finance and entrepreneurship with major global institutions. How can I be referred to as a baby with a silly head nod to boot? Can we scoff at Mark Zuckerberg for being 32 years old in the face of his achievements? That would be unwise. Larry Page and Sergei Brin, co-founded Google in 1998 when they were 25 years old and I don’t need to tell you what they’ve done for the planet since then. Do you see so many of my female contemporaries who are brilliant, successful and brimming with ideas?
I was recently given advice that I should create a brand for myself as apparently this is all the rage de rigueur. Make sure that people know exactly what I stand for and make my opinions matter. I do this every day in my work place and in my community but do you see me? There are millions of women who are stepping up in their workplaces and earning accolades quietly. Do you even see us? I’ve heard so many stories about accomplished women with multiple Ivy League degrees and bonafide work experience to support their current position, only to be reduced to the demeaning and absurd objectification that they are where they are because they used woman power with their male bosses or some other powerful man lurking in the shadows. Do you see us? Do you see the millions of hardworking, well-educated, multitasking women out there who are contributing to their families, supporting their aged parents and still making magic in the office? What is this notion about getting ourselves out there more? Why don’t you see us? We are everywhere, everyday.
Men are appreciated for being ambitious and assertive while women are admonished for being aggressive. Many of us are working towards the same goals. We want to be recognized for our hard work. I’m not speaking for those women or men who seek shortcuts through subterfuge and illicit means. I’m talking about women like myself – well-educated, well intentioned, hardworking, credentialed, honest. We aren’t perfect but we deserve to be seen.
I’m watching with excitement at the global rise of women and also with disappointment as male leaders are tearing us down. When leaders engage in this misogynistic verbiage, followers follow suit. Why do we have to keep referring to Bill Clinton’s misadventures with women when it’s his wife that’s running for President? Why are people so quick to crucify her for staying with her husband when he was publicly caught denigrating his office? Why is it our business even? Do you see Hillary as the candidate in all her accomplished and shining glory or do you see Bill Clinton’s wife who should be baking cookies and a cake?
Sadly America is quickly losing its exceptionalism in the world and the likes of Donald Trump are exacerbating the steep decline. Who is going to change the way the world looks at girls and women? We are. We as women will need to continue to demand that we are seen and heard and not misunderstood. One woman’s actions cannot represent the lot of us. In the case of Nigeria, you can’t get away with saying “Well, we gave them a powerful set of ministries to govern and they messed it up. Don’t expect serious responsibility again.” That’s not fair to the rest of the 3.5 billion girls and women on the planet. We don’t say “Well, Adolf Hitler was a man, Francisco Franco was a man, Sanni Abacha was a man. No more men in power again.”
We have to take equality seriously because it’s a political and social imperative. Women deserve to have 50% representation in classrooms, workplace, government, and beyond.
Can you hear me?
Aishetu Dozie is the General Manager and Head, Investment Banking West Africa, Rand Merchant Bank.