Fashion, Beauty and Lifestyle
Women & Business: Is misogyny holding back the growth potential in Africa?
As a 26yr old businesswoman and teacher, educated in the western world and raised in North London by my Igbo mother, the initial thoughts of going international and bringing my business acrimony and skills home to our continent seemed like the only dream one should have – to give back to the motherland.
I embarked on Uganda. Not my mother’s land, but Africa nevertheless, with the abundance of sesame seed oil, shea butter and growing co-operatives, it felt like a good place to start.
My first thoughts were “will I be embraced? I am a Nigerian in Uganda with a thick British accent”. Most Ugandans were delighted that I was Nigerian. They felt a connection to me through the acknowledgement of Nigerian cuisine, TV programmes and our music is played heavily in the clubs and radio.
Phew! What a relief! To say Nigerians are the least favoured Africans is a serious understatement thanks to the politic chaos and constant claims of corruption and violence in the capital. The internal tribal conflict is a deep rooted issue too. I’ll save that for another time.
So I began my journey, visiting spas, hotels and health clubs, looking at the treatments, making notes on what seemed popular or common and the products and brands readily available on the market. My research taught me a lot and my analysis of how to penetrate the market with my brand became clear.
But what became even clearer was the disregard for women. Not just as normal civilians, but definitely in business. As a young, attractive female, I was up against being serenaded to pointless lunches and dinners with CEOs or managers who acted professional at first glance, but then revealed their hidden agendas, sometimes blatantly in front of their wives! The awkwardness of having to avoid calls or pretend that I was no longer in the country to avoid the entanglement of unwanted sexual tension was beyond unfair.
I found myself walking away from four very lucrative deals because of the ugly leer of a sexual undercurrent which would eventually ruin the professional relationship at some point.
What I found myself pondering on was:
how many other women are in my position, trying to boost the economy of Africa but being coerced into a power struggle whereby men, both old and younger are manipulating the agreements for sexual gain?
how damaging is this to the future of female entrepreneurs who have dreams and aspirations but feel like 2nd class citizens in a male dominated industry?
How many women have lost their dignity and fell victim to the attraction of ‘money over morals’, a culture so rife in Africa?
I begin to feel thankful on many levels: that I have an international empire which I can take to the USA, UK, or anywhere else, which reassures me. I have a supportive family who counsel me on my every move and my own lack of patience which sees me closing the door or hanging up the phone on anyone who seems to be spouting BS.
It seems as though to be taken seriously in business, a woman almost has to become a man! De-feminize herself with shapeless garments, pin her weave back into a bun, wear simple makeup and low heels.
On my 2nd trip to Uganda, I noticed that my ‘power dressing’ had rattled a few men who had seen me previously looking young and stylish, now traded in for dull and professional. But it worked. I was taken more seriously, people felt less inclined to invite me out for after-hour drinks and I commanded a level of respect which gave me more confidence about my mission.
I have the skills and the education to dress appropriately and persevere to succeed. Backed up by my former years as a tomboy in college, dressing boyish appeals to me. But why shouldn’t I not be taken seriously if I choose to wear a mini skirt with a blazer instead of bellbottom black trousers? In the western world, women at the top are some of the sexiest and stylish women I’ve worked amongst. They carry their selves like ladies and use their natural sexuality to their advantage and the men commend them for it.
African men may need to check themselves, think about how they would feel if this was happening to their daughter or wife. By respecting strong women and allowing us to express ourselves in the way that’s natural to our character, the benefits to our children, family homes and business environment would increase rapidly.
Women are natural ‘multi-taskers’, fosterers of education and fiercely loyal. By using our attributes to your advantage instead of against us, the economic growth of Africa would soar.