Madam Chair, Hon. Nana Oye Lithur, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Ms. Theo Sowa, distinguished guest, ladies and gentlemen.
I am privileged to be part of the graduation ceremony of the 2014 MILEAD Fellows Program. Besides feeling incredibly honored, your invitation has given me a great opportunity to reflect on the thousands of careers I have observed over the years. I have come to believe that of all the personal characteristics you will need to cultivate in the real world, in business, science, engineering, law and a host of other professions, one needs to equip oneself with a “Can Do” attitude and self confidence – traits shared by great leaders whose talents may have varied widely in most other respects.
It is good to develop one’s career – it is however bad to put the cart before the horse when you do not “discover” yourself first and find your purpose in life. In his book, “The Power of Purpose”, Dick Leider asked a simple question. “if you could live life over again, what would you change?” the answers were: To see the big picture, To be more courageous, and to have made a difference. Afterall, when you see the big picture, you come to the realization it is not about you…and then you develop the courage to bring about change, you dare to do right and make a difference. We all know how much more difficult it is to swim against the current than with the current. In my book ”Why are you here?” I eulogised our former headmistress of Wesley Girls High School, Mrs Clarice Howarth, nee Garnet, whom we fondly called Garnie. She left the shores of England in her prime, at the age of 24 to come to Ghana, returning finally to England only when she was near retirement, having devoted her productive years to the students of Wesley Girls High School. She was not from a poor home and she had attended an Ivy league school and was a brilliant science student. Why would anyone leave their home for a mosquito infested place where it was common knowledge that the Europeans could not survive there for long? What makes people do such crazy things – she was so busy developing and nurturing other people’s children that she did not have time to have children of her own. Such is the stuff legacy is made of. The essence of living is to make a difference in our world or the society we live in. It is only then will our hard work and development of our career yield successes, passion and profit that is fulfilling.
Madam Chair, when you are born a woman, you inherit a whole mélange of problems. Please allow me to mention a few…
It is sad to note that a lot of us women do not know our worth and it is for this reason that many of us have allowed ourselves to be suppressed into submission. This mentality, in my opinion, mostly begins during primary socialization in the home. In the past, as I am sure still happens in many homes today, where there is a tight budget, and families are compelled to make a choice who should go to school, boys were allowed to go to school while girls stayed at home to cook and clean. Even today, many parents encourage their male children to study what they perceive to be difficult subjects and their female children to take what they believe to be less challenging courses.
Though many women have overcome this stereotype and have climbed up the career ladder, the hurdles they have to jump over seem endless. This is referred to as the “glass ceiling” which is “the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.”
In a world where women now play multiple roles; mother, wife and worker, it is difficult for a woman to spend as much time at work as men usually can and do. Many a time, work colleagues go out together after work to relax with a couple of drinks and it is a well known fact that many decisions which should be taken in the boardroom are often discussed and arrived at during these informal periods. For a woman who is not only a career woman but a wife and mother, staying out late is usually not an option. She must head home to fulfill her other responsibilities of cooking dinner and caring for her children. In such situations, many decisions are made without her input, which can be frustrating.
Many women have been wrongfully terminated by the companies they work for simply because they got pregnant at the wrong time. Others have also been denied promotions for this same reason..
The Employment Standards Act 2000 (ESA) says that it is discriminatory to pay a person based on their gender: In Ghana, the labour law says “equal pay for equal work”; you cannot pay someone less or more because they are a man or woman. It says that women and men must receive equal pay when: doing substantially the same kind of work; requiring the same skill, effort and responsibility.
Yet It would surprise you to know that regardless of this act, in many parts of the world, women are earning less than their male counterparts who they perform the same jobs as. In the U.K., I know some female medical doctors who earn less than their male colleagues.
We wear several hats – Career women– Mothers – Caregivers, taking care of our aging parents, WE are the same people attending PTA meetings, helping with homework, etc.. Some play the very challenging role of wife, – Taking care of the home, having morning and night duties, as well as cooking and feeding the family.. even as schoolgirl, the list is endless – Course work, club membership, sports, church activities. Wow! Women are wonderful!
Because of these and others too numerous to mention, a lot of us women make excuses when opportunities come our way. We think our plates are already too full because of the numerous hats we wear so there are just not enough of us willing to take leadership positions. As if that is not bad enough, when a woman fails, it is used as a standard for all women likely to take up similar roles and it is as though the entire women folk have failed.
I share the sentiments of SHERYL SANDBERG that it is a shame that 30years after women became 50percent of college graduates in the U.S., men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and in industry. The same is true in Ghana and in most of the world. The implication of this sad fact is that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. …But why do we accept it? A lot is being done, but we need to do more. International Women’s Day, is observed on the 8th of March every year. It is a day observed by many countries worldwide and the focus differs from the general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements.
I am sure that at one point in time or another, we have all had the gender equality argument and though it is quite a cliché, I would like to talk a little about women empowerment. What does it mean to empower a woman? Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, economic and social strength of a person. Women empowerment can be summed up in 5 components:
- Our sense of worth
- Our right to have and determine choices
- Our right to have access to opportunities and resources
- Our right to have the power to control our own lives, both within and outside our homes
- Our ability to influence change both socially and economically
There is no point being empowered when there are millions that are not. We think of our mothers and we smile because we have fond memories of how they looked after us and encouraged us to be the best we could be. Many other women have achieved incredible heights and this just goes to prove that it is not impossible for a woman to do just as well or exceed the performance of a man.
As women, we need to encourage each other and stop making excuses. I would like to share with you what I call 6 nuggets I have discovered on my life’s journey
- Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.I know many people at the senior mostlevels of organizationswho are absolutely not leaders.They are authorities, and we do what they saybecause they have authority over us,but we would not follow them.And I know many peoplewho are at the bottoms of organizationswho have no authorityand they are leaders,and this is because they have chosen to look afterthe person to the left of them,and they have chosen to look afterthe person to the right of them.This is what a leader is.
- Work life balance is important. In reality, every person’s life is different; the idea of balance for one person may be completely different for someone else. We can have it all, but we need not have it all at the same time! It is all about ACHIEVEMENT VERSUS FULFILLMENT. Achievement is ‘DOING’ things and checking off your to do list. Fulfillment on the other hand is about “BEING”: It is feeling satisfied with yourself and the relationship you have with others around you. When both ‘achievement and fulfillment’ are in balance, we feel content with our lives.
- Though difficult, it is possible to shake off societal stereotypes and expectations. For instance, we know how women can be pressured to get married. A lot of us, when we hit thirty and we have not found the right man, just because society says it is time to be married, we look for the first person in trousers and “propose” to them. I call it the “Reduced to clear” syndrome. We should make the right choices and not allow societal pressures to influence our decisions – Choosing the right husband/partner is critical to finding and implementing your purpose.
- Develop a support system and don’t be ashamed to ask for assistance, either from family members or hired help.
- Develop our boy – child. We women are the ones who train the boys and create the monsters. Let’s train our boy child to know how to live with women and not lord it over them.
- Success in leadership is possible. Make the time for it and Know the unwritten rules. Open your eyes to opportunities, they usually appear in the form you least expect, Be an extrovert and not keep to yourself as this is a sure way to get your career to accelerate. Set goals for yourself and keep evaluating yourself. Visibility is key – prepare for meetings and ask questions, but sensible questions, volunteer your services and make presentations. If you want to succeed, you must know how to be involved in intellectual debate and develop yourself to be an excellent communicator. Have a strategy – talk to the right people because not everyone will give the right information and others may not want you to succeed. Select a mentor and learn from the person, even from their mistakes.
To leave you I will say to you these wise words from our very own Kofi Annan: “To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there”.
Congratulations to all of you and go out there, just DO SOMETHING POSITIVE, AND LEAVE A LEGACY! Thank you and God bless you!