Gender bias in the work places is as real as real as gender parity in the workplace is not. Little wonder I grit my teeth to pains every time I hear young women complain about their female bosses, echoing the jaundiced notions of some of their male counterparts who are still floundering in the wave of bigotry in this day and age. What kills me most is the patronizing attitudes and the full of yourself jabs that treats the female gender as inherently inferior.
In a workshop I attended last year in Ghana, on the WADPI initiative with numerous other female counterparts from different institutions in the country, I made it a point to sit with the females and engage them in generational conversations about the roles of women in the seats of power. We were residing in the same hotel in Ghana for the following two weeks and I went out of my way to sound our hearts and minds on the unctuous issues that affect us as women in positions of responsibility in our various work places. I was not the oldest in the group, but perhaps I was the boldest. I started off by enquiring about their respective bosses, and whom they prefer to work with, whether a male or a female boss. Unequivocally, they all affirmed my worst fears when they chose the former.
I enquired further as to why, and what they would wish to change with respect to their female superiors at the workplace. Then the debate took a welcomed change. The antagonistic notions gave way to more candid revelations and accolades of the female bosses they deemed too strict and/or too bossy. I warmed to the conversation by insisting on what I hold to be true, that even though I like the company of my male compatriots, I preferred conversing with women because I learnt the most from women.
Once we hit the bottom line about the misconceptions, complete strangers from different institutions became acquaintances, facebook friends and lifelong buddies. In the mornings, we grouped together in one breakfast table and chatted till the bus came to usher us to the Kofi Annan Training Centre, where the training workshop was being held.
Life is too short, and there is little impact I can make as an individual but what I tell every woman that listens is that to be successful as a woman, you need to provide yourself with a female role model and a female mentor. Point blank.
When I started working in the Ports Authority at the tender age of nineteen, I innately warmed to one of the most senior women in the Ports at that time, by the name of Mrs. Sira Begay-Kah, who is presently the Director of Human Resources and Administration. In my own estimations, not only was this lady very intelligent, she was very professional, pious and result-oriented. She was the first person to tell me that, work is religion for those who wish to succeed in life. She inculcated in me the attributes of punctuality, leaving work at the close of the day, and being open to people from all works of life. She was moreover a good listener, and she made everyone who knocked at her door feel welcomed and important. It is little wonder that to this very day, I have never heard any respectable person bad mouth this affable boss lady.
Because females take failure too hard, and we are often times subject to more criticism that any human being can naturally stomach, the few women we have in authoritative positions are not complacent in the least bit about their roles and responsibilities. Their assertiveness and extra efforts to prove their worth is often times taken wrongly to reflect the attitudinal deviant behaviors of aggressiveness, strictness and the too serious/unfriendly jibes.
This cannot be said of men. Often, a deviant man is counted as serious in the positive sense of the word, which in all weight and measure is attributed to meanness in the case it is a woman who reflect the same attitude. Take the example of Hillary Clinton in this year’s US Election. This is a woman who has been harassed for her looks and even her laughter and had been persistently warned against appearing ‘aggressive’, ‘bossy’ and ‘shrill’ by her own handlers.
Yet her show of weakness in the Iowa State primaries against Barack Obama was what cause her election defeat in the 2008 democratic primaries and ended her initial clear advantage in the road to electoral college victory that year. Yes, I have been a Hillary Clinton supporter since her campaign against Barack Obama even though I recognized the utter futility of not supporting the charismatic, young orator.
I had nothing against Barack really. I love the way he loves his wife and takes to defend her to the point of infatuation. I loved the fact that as a black man, he had ‘The Audacity to Hope’, and through that got to the very top of his game. But really, black as I am, I preferred Hillary simply because I thought she was better educated, more veteran and above all, she was a woman. I think of myself first as a woman, and then a black person.
It is the same for me with patronizing Gambian businesses simply because the owner is Gambian. I believe in affirmative action, which to me sets the pace for empowerment. Yet I don’t believe in women playing the woman card to fill in positions. Clearly, we need educated and competent women who can take up their responsibilities and perform effectively in the national development agenda along with the men. Nonetheless, I understand it unequivocally that by virtue of my sex, I may not be as opportune as my less intelligent but naturally endowed male counterparts in the workplace. I am mainly sidelined and should I complain, I am bitter, negative and perhaps too greedy. This is the case of many women today.
Generally, we are taught to believe as young women that the world order is changing, that opportunities for women are endless. Yet sexism is still ingrained in the psyches of our people. In this Second Republic, where we have the longest serving Vice President who is a woman, and other women filling highly influential cabinet posts, some people still question the capabilities of women. While this year’s US Elections brings to the fore the pertinent issues of our times such as misogyny, racism, sexism and xenophobia, it must be used as a modem to break the familiar gridlock that implicates serious policy discussions at all levels regarding gender neutrality and equity amongst other things.
As Sallie Krawcheck wrote recently in, A Letter to Young Women, in the Age Of Trump, Trump has made it clear to everyone that the battle for us women is not over.
What Trump has made us realize as women is that it is still ok to take jabs on women that dehumanize the woman and break her down in body parts. I remember growing up and hearing, not just from men but women themselves, hounding their fellow educated women as uncivilized: cannot dress properly, is ugly, tasteless, cannot have a husband etc. Well, the time for change is nigh.
Time after time, women have been able to demonstrate their competence in every field, sphere and work of life, even though they have to do it many times ahead of their male counterparts in order to gain similar recognition. An average man, who is vocal and self-assertive can be anything in the society, whereas a woman who is well endowed and able, is left at the wimps and mercies of an affable leader in order to rise to similar heights. It took one man, called Donald Trump, in possibly the most advance country in the whole wide world to give women world over a reality check, that the battle that was fought in the 60s, 70s and 80s for women empowerment, is yet to be won.
Change for women must be a collective responsibility and not just the patronizing ones we hear every day in the media.
Women, who are competent must be included and allowed to flourish in their fields of work for the common good. If anything, Donald Trump has chided the entire world to take command of the issues concerning women and not just pay lip service to them. Whether he wins, which I pray to The Almighty God that he doesn’t; this is the lesson that Donald has taught not just to women, but to the entire world at large.
By Rohey Samba