By Mayowa Amoo
Women are at the heart of the smooth functioning of the globe. At the most basic level, they have multiple identities as unique individuals, professionals/entrepreneurs, wives, mothers and also carers. It is unrealistic especially for the woman to view work and family as separate worlds. They both overlap and interact. This piece, through the eyes of a man, examines the overlapping challenges faced by women at home, at work and in the society at large and how all stakeholders can help to make their lives easier and more successful in our common interest.
The “constraints” faced by ladies in their pursuit of economic and financial autonomy (or career), are classified and discussed here under three headers namely domestic work, child and family care and professional barriers. As will be observed, government and private sector employers have major roles to play in alleviating the burdens of women in careers in Nigeria. This writer recognises that women are not a homogenous group and they do not all want the same thing at the same time. Their attitudes, character and personalities are different and therefore not every matter in this piece will find peace within every woman or indeed man.
As further foundation to this article, if a woman is married, she needs to have a-priori chosen a morally supportive husband. That must be gotten right. In addition, even if the home is dual income, the husband should be secure enough to encourage his wife to wholly keep her earned income – so as to achieve a sense of autonomous financial security that all ladies crave. Ever heard: “My money is my money while his money is our money.”? Now, the conversation around home and career economics of womanhood for the interest of all stakeholders begins.
The biggest argument against domestic work is that, depending on the author, her approach and underlying assumptions, Nigeria potentially loses up to 10% of its GDP as opportunity cost of encumbering ladies with domestic duties. Domestic work done by women (unpaid) is deemed a subsidy for the rest of the economy and a time tax on women throughout their lives. After all, we all depend on our wives’ and mothers’ domestic work.
To address the above, men and women need to invest in things that make life simpler and easier – pay for a full time nanny, housekeeper, order groceries online, hire a cook, etc.
Despite its benefits, informal support, especially that which is procured from rural areas perpetuates social inequality especially against young girls who should be in school up to as far as they wish. It is high time government deepened and extended its conditional transfer programme to target young girls and encourage them to enrol in and complete school. I digress.
Children should also apply themselves fully to home chores and view this as a way of further strengthening the family and preparing them for their own future independent family/career lives. Boys and girls should be brought to task in that regard. Working mothers should not have to choose between childcare for instance and pursuit of a successful career. Nigerian companies should support both. That should be the start of the much touted corporate social responsibility – safeguarding and promoting the lives of the future generations.
It need not be over-emphasised that it is at home in families that future workers are born, their skills are nurtured and their health maintained. Leaders at home, at work and in government at all levels must align our thinking and develop cradle-to-grave, full life cycle initiatives that support the creation and promotion of families – the vital socio-economic unit required for national progress.
In the professional world, women need supportive bosses as well as access to role models that will give practical advice on how to make successful life (not just career) journeys. Most times, men hold the position of power and they can help, so women need to reach out, while being careful of sexual harassment and exploitation.
Most couples work full time and spend little quality time together let alone with their children. Employers must deliberately and consciously admit that the prevailing work arrangement and culture today needs to change. The cost of resisting change is being borne by families through burnout, depression and arguably suicide. Employers also lose great staff. Flexible working hours and provision of on-site child care could be a competitive advantage that cements employee loyalty.
Employers do not have to do so many things. A focus on few, high impact interventions would do. For instance, women could resume and close work at 9:30am and 3:30pm respectively while men maintain the status quo. Men should be allowed to opt for similar arrangement if they choose to. Women and men could also voluntarily consider having a discontinuous or “staggered” career.
Women who find themselves in hostile employer environments can choose to become “Boss Madams” by opting out and pursuing entrepreneurial careers. Nigeria could become the female entrepreneurial capital of the world where ladies have well rounded lives anchored on viable personal choice. Government policies could thus target women-owned businesses for affirmative action such as contract awards and access to finance. Launching a business together can also help husband and wife achieve integrated family-work lives.
Overall, in order to assist women make their additional multi-billion dollar GDP contribution, we all need to change – spouses, employers, employees and government – we need to shift our minds to begin to view child care and elderly care as a private responsibility in public interest. Home management in its broadest form is not in any way inferior to career work – corporate leaders must believe this and espouse it. Accommodation of family in work life is a key feature of positive economic, labour and social policy. Men need the most encouragement to voluntarily engage at home especially in child and general family care.
It will be a very long journey but it has already started with the very first steps. We can do this!
Photo Credit: Pexels
Mayowa Amoo is an investment banker based in Lagos.