A lot has been said about the challenges faced by women in business and being a new age man who is surrounded by powerful women I was a bit sceptical about the need to support women in business. Not that they do not deserve it, but I somehow felt we were past the age of gender inequality.
So much has been achieved in that field and many business organisations boast of female executives. Many of whom are even outperforming their male counterparts. So in my mind, women were already getting enough support and further empowerment would soon lead to another gender imbalance and this time, in their favour. Before you shoot, understand that I am but a man and my view has since changed. The harsh reality however, is that many men still harbour the same misconceptions that perpetuate the discrimination constantly faced by women. Some are well aware, and many totally oblivious but all unjustifiable.
Without being scientific, the following recommendations are more of a common sense guide for any man truly intent on righting the wrong in how our female counterparts are treated. It all begins with understanding that we are one. The media has created a divide between male and female, and called it a battle of the sexes. As dramatic as that may sound, we are all on the same quest and our roles aren’t in conflict but are complimentary. It is important to understand this because it has been made to seem like empowering women is ceding some of our historical power as men. Hence the term “battle”. So educating a woman or supporting her as she raises her business profile is not only a plus for her but it also empowers men as well. We all win.
It is undeniable that the empowerment of women has opened up many opportunities for the girl child. However a lot still needs to be done to raise them to decent levels of equality in the business world. Growing up, most boys are taught that girls are weak, often indecisive and emotionally unstable. This shapes the way we treat them even in the world of business. As a result, women in power and authority have to put in twice the effort to earn the same respect and recognition as their male counterparts.
There are numerous examples of women who have achieved phenomenal success, but these are the exception and not the standard. They are mavericks. The rest are forced to settle for mediocrity in order to conform to society’s norms and not upset the status quo. They hold back in fear of embarrassing us by showing how intelligent and gifted they are.
Giving the green light
Solving this begins with telling our woman an eight word phrase: “It’s okay. Go ahead, you can do this.” Backed by bold actions such as unlocking capital through opening up the family’s coffers. Availing key resources(which are traditionally controlled by men) for use in production and service delivery. This becomes a powerful first step in our quest to effectively support women in business. This also involves rallying the support of the entire family structure. ncluding the extended family members as they play a key role in affecting the treatment that our female entrepreneurs get. At times it may require a man to be bold and assert his authority in defence of his partner or daughter’s economic plight.
Levelling the playing field: “Un-disqualifying” the achievers
It is sad to note that we still live in a world where some men feel threatened by women’s success. The idea of a woman achieving more than them “emasculates” them. Thus they deliberately keep women in positions that allow them to maintain their dominance over them. This can be through discouraging female executives from furthering their education. Frustrating them out of careers and keeping them in the background to play a secondary role.
I know of many women who chose to forego getting their masters degree because at that level, “no one will want to marry me.” Quite a significant portion of African men are intimidated by a woman of power. We were just never exposed to such a phenomenon. Whenever we do come across it, we fail to rationalize it and that’s how phrases like “she slept her way to the top” find audience. This discounts the woman’s efforts and in essence, attributes her success to a man. Let us desist from making such comments and acknowledge the positive contribution of women in business.
Respect and empathy: Walking in her heels
Respect goes beyond due regard for rights in the formal set up. It also involves consideration for the dignity, feelings and wishes of others. What this means to the man, is that before you speak, think about the consequences your words will have. Do they bring any discomfort? Regardless how she is dressed, you are not obliged to express your opinion- unless she is your teenage daughter.
A sad truth is that women have been so exposed to all sorts of belittling talk that they simply dust it off and ignore most of it, despite how unsettling it is to them. It takes a little empathy to comprehend this. Imagine being one of them and living in such a world. Where you are constantly exposed to all sorts of demeaning comments all based on how you look. Avoid being one of those men and keep all your conduct professional. Even as we celebrate our women, let us be cautious and mindful of the thin line between chivalry and harassment.
Being the brawn to her brain
What’s even more sad is that most men are aware of the actions and the grief that their colleagues put women in business through. This to such an extent that they have a hard time even allowing their own partners to transact with other men. One of our primary roles as men, is to protect not only our families but also those who depend on us.
This begins with speaking out against abuse and discrimination in any form, and this includes gender discrimination in business. It also involves adopting a zero tolerance attitude towards those who heckle the fairer sex. We could even take it up a notch and be in our woman’s corner when she needs it.
One woman once narrated a situation where she had to deal with a group of male miners. They did not take her seriously and she wished there could have been a man by her side. “They would have listened to me,” she said. It is a sad reality of the world we live in. So let us not hesitate to give our endorsement to female entrepreneurs whenever they need it. In many instances, our presence is all it takes.
Not too tight: trusting her enough to set her free
Most women in business, especially the married or betrothed ones have to answer to someone, first their parents and then their partners. From an early age, they were given the curfew as a protective mechanism. In many instances this extends even beyond marriage and often creeps into their business activities. In our bid to protect them, are we not stifling their growth by imposing too many restrictions?
There are numerous cases of women missing functions because they were scheduled at odd hours. Women leaving jobs because the hours demanded were eating into their family schedule or declining trips because the rest of the delegation was male. The idea is to be gender sensitive and focus on building an environment that is conducive for women to thrive.
This means encouraging them to focus on their core business, removing the barriers that limit their progression and providing the support to accomplish their vision. This involves incorporating them in our planning and organisation, as well as being sensitive to their feminine needs and gender roles.
The modern woman in business has surpassed insurmountable odds to get where she is in terms of gender equality and empowerment. It is time we set her free with the trust that she can take care of herself. She is responsible, has the temperament to handle power and the capacity to achieve her goals.
We must encourage her to pursue her dreams. To never to hold back in fear of making her man look bad. Let us respect her and treat her with dignity. Let us admire her beauty without perversion. More importantly, let us realise that her true beauty lies in the essence of her character. She is intelligent, wise, kind, compassionate and caring. So her success is not just hers alone. It is also of those to whom she is a wife, mother, aunt, daughter or friend.