The Saga of the Nigerian Business Woman

, Magazine

Business is work and work is done for cash or kind. Because we tend to define business as work for cash, we do not consider the work done in the home as business. Yet we pay our support staff for the work they do in the home. But parents, mostly mothers, grandmothers, and aunts, do the same and more. They cook, clean, and drive the kids, and sometimes dad, to work. They do the work of several support staff and they do not get paid. In fact, it is expected of them and they may not be appreciated for all they do.

Work done in the home or outside the home either for cash or not is business. In fact, business in the home has important ramifications and should be considered the most important business of all as it is raising children who will become the next generation whose decisions and actions affect the direction of the country and the lives of its citizens for generations to come. In this part of the world, more women tend to mind the business at home either solely or in addition to having some business outside the home. The work inside the home should be counted as part of the informal economy and be appreciated for its import. Maybe then we will begin to appreciate women more whether they are in business in the home or outside the home.

Business outside the home (or from the home as the case may be), ranges from micro, to small, to medium, and finally to large sized corporations. Statistics show that from micro to large, the number of women in business tends to shrink from being more than men to being much less at the corporate level. Women in micro businesses tend to do business to augment family incomes and take care of their families. Women in small businesses includes women who have grown their micro businesses as well as young educated women also augmenting their income and/or following their passion. Women in medium businesses also tend to be women who have grown their business or on a lesser scale, have bought their business. Women running large corporations or in top positions tend to be few and far between worldwide and tend to have grown through the ranks to the top or inherited the business. Hardly do we see women who grow their business themselves to large sized corporations.

But at the end of the day, women in business are just people handling their business. Why do we even have to talk about women in business? Why don’t we talk about men in business? We talk about women in business especially because women in business tend to be treated differently from men in business. They are even treated differently from women in business inside the home. The men, and sometimes women, treat them negatively and sometimes as inferior. God Himself created men and women to have dominion over the earth and to subdue it, to be fruitful and to multiply. He never said, let us make a woman so man will feel better about himself. So what went wrong? Blame women. Blame the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters that raise men.

From when they are born, girls are taught to take care of things and get things done. They are taught to be independent but not show it. They are taught to have an opinion but not say it. They are taught to act well but not better. While boys on the other hand are cuddled. The girls and women around them tend to do everything for them so they don’t learn how to take care of themselves. They don’t learn how to do things on their own. They don’t learn how to solve problems, and take charge and achieve things. So men don’t learn how to be the men God created them to be. And this is why men feel inferior. Women do better because they have been trained. Men need to make women inferior because they do not know how to be equal to them and are intimidated by them. If boys are raised to do more for themselves, achieve for themselves, and work with girls as equals, when they become men, they will treat women with the love and respect they deserve.

So women are natural born achievers. Women are more caring, inclusive and good at multitasking. They are already in business in the home. They are already in the business of taking care of others. They are already in the business of making things happen. So it follows that they will excel in business outside the home. But like in the home, they are faced with challenges outside the home. From not being taken seriously, to being ignored, women face a lot of challenges in business that men do not.

Like men women get into business because they want to, because they have to and because they are forced to. Women want to follow their passions just like men. Women want to be able to provide for their families just like men. And women sometimes have to take care of their families just like men. Some women even have multiple businesses. Women would like to augment their family’s income, or have some economic dependence, or have more time for themselves and their families, although this is a misconception as statistics show that starting a new business tends to take a lot of time. 

Some women have to start a business because their husband lost his job, his business failed, he is unable to work or he has died. More older women who are not ready to retire are going into business as it gets harder to find paid employment due to ageism. Some do it to give back to society.

But some women in business compete with other women. This is the negative side of women in business. Men seem to support each other because they intrinsically know that if one succeeds they all succeed, and they also realize that if they help one today, he will help them tomorrow. This is something women need to learn. Yes women in business tend to be treated differently but women should not allow this to deter them and be ready to stand up for themselves. They should stick to their values and there will be those who respect and admire them for that, including men.

The motivations, methods and outcomes of going into business vary but we find that some businesses are more male-dominated like engineering while others are more female-dominated like trade. But profitable industries attract both men and women. For example, we see more men going into beauty and cosmetics, entertainment and events as these industries boom and the barriers to entry drop. In a country like Nigeria where the ratio of men to women is about 50:50 with an overwhelmingly youthful population, the country will benefit from having more women in business to increase the national income.

In an ideal Nigeria, both men and women will be equal partners, men won’t be intimidated by educated and successful women, and both will work together to build the best life for their families, where everyone, including the children, will be happy, fulfilled and thrive. It isn’t fair when only one partner gets all they want and the other is deprived. This leads to unhappiness, depression, abuse, broken homes and worse. Men and women can sit down and discuss honestly what they want out of life and how to get it. This does not necessarily mean that the women should be in business. It totally depends on what she wants but they should support each other inside and outside the home. If both parents are happy and fulfilled, the children will be happy and excel, and grow up to raise children who excel and the cycle will continue. This will lead to better health and greater wellbeing in our homes, communities, societies and country. Indeed it will be a fearfully and wonderfully made man that supports his woman to be all that she wants to be.

This article was written with input from my wonderful community of family and friends, young and older, male and female, local and abroad, retired, employed, in business and one student. I am grateful for their time and contribution and I believe it has made for a great article.

Oye Atilade is a Total Value Consultant. She has over 20 years experience in Technology, Health, Finance and Retail, across Nigeria, the UK and the US. She holds a BSc from Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria; an MSc from the London School of Economics, UK; and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, USA. Email: oatilade@; Twitter: @oyeatilade, @ arabalelimited; Mobile: +234 (0) 816 082 0196.