Exactly 43 years after the United Nations ratified the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, corporate discrimination in terms of unequal earning potential, unbending societal norms and workplace harassment are some issues that continue to stare women in the face in a sluggish adjustment to gender equality. But MARILYN MADUKA, through her office as the People Director for West Africa, International Breweries Plc. is at the forefront of advancing what women can offer if given equal chances. She explains to TEMITAYO AYETOTO in this interview about the business sense of diversity in the brewing workplace. Excerpts
What’s the position of International Breweries Plc. as the world marks 2020 International Women’s Day?
Interestingly, we have had several conversations and one of the things we agreed on was that we didn’t just want to do the International Women’s Day as a tick box exercise and that we really wanted to seize the opportunity to get behind the issues that women still face in the workplace; this cry, this call, this urgent need for equality and how we can use this opportunity to move forward in that regard.
So, one interesting thing that we’ve done this year is that we have asked women to tell their stories and even men to talk openly or anonymously about some of the real issues that they face. Every day you wake up and go through things that often, nobody knows. But now, we want to open up the conversation that actually asks if you are aware that even in our workplace this is happening? So, I think this is one powerful thing we are doing, which is giving a voice to people who sometimes would be voiceless. Through that culture of secrecy and silence, you allow things to happen underneath the surface that you are not aware of. So that’s one of the things we are doing. We have also partnered with some people in the industry; I mean female leaders and female professionals we admire, one of whom is Bolanle Austen-Peters who came around and had a conversation with us. In fact, she was given a very exciting theme to speak on, called ‘The Collective Individualism for the Advancement of Women in the Workplace’. Now, we are saying to ourselves, what can we do to really harness that collective might and yet put a sense of individual responsibility to move the needle in gender related issues. We have something we call The ‘Women in Beer’ Network. It’s our internal network because we know that we don’t have too many women in beer. And so internally, we had one of those sessions where once again, we came together as women to talk about issues that we face, to hold hands, to learn from each other, to grow through each other and just to draw strength from our collective journey. We had week-long activities to buttress the theme for this year which is ‘Each for Equal’.
Touching on economic parity, EFiNA in 2019 released a report saying that women in Nigeria are still laid back in terms of financial inclusion. How would you access the progress of economic parity? Are we growing, stagnant or dropping?
I hear it, but I have not really seen gender discrimination in earning potentials because I will be honest with you, I’ve had a very fortunate journey where I’ve never encountered that and I’m very pleased, excited and proud to say that at International Breweries, one thing that we as a company will never do is discriminate in terms of pay based on gender. We are very big on what we call meritocracy. We believe in what we call pay for performance and irrespective of your gender, if you do a great job, you get rewarded accordingly.
Now, having said that, if I look more broadly into the corporate world, what I have seen is that sometimes there appears to be a ceiling whereby as a woman progresses in her carrier, it gets to a point where it’s harder to climb, possibly because the demands of the job may be at variance with where she is in her life at that time. So often, I’ve seen that as they go higher, several women take a step back. Their male counterparts don’t have as much of that barrier and they can go on.
I think any company that discriminates based on gender really has no business being in business if they are not willing to change it with immediate effect. It is totally wrong for you to have two people doing exactly the same job and just because of gender, you feel justified in compensating one person less. It should not be tolerated. Those companies that have come from that traditional way of thinking need to wake up, insist that enough is enough and admit that they were less informed and now know better.
How well do you think the public sector is creating a free environment for women?
I think that people who struggle with gender equality don't yet understand the impact and value of gender equality. Imagine, if you had only one hand, how effective would it be? It is better to advocate and practice having a balance that ensures you are better able to achieve the objectives. Again, I do believe that there may be some roles that are more suited to certain genders and there are some roles that are very gender neutral. There are also roles that women are more suited for by virtue of their nature and there are roles that men are more suited towards. When you bring all these together, you have a comprehensive whole that does not compromise your gender cum equality. We come from a traditional view of putting a woman in a box. Now, seeing women in the workplace and seeing the value they bring on a daily basis, we should have realised that life is about evolution. Women should be given more opportunities and in wanting to do that, we have to strike the balance but we have to be careful. 50 years from now, we may be in another situation where we have a different type of imbalance and that's why I really like the theme, each for equal. It’s not about putting one person down in order to uplift the other. It is about ensuring that you are lifting everyone up together.
People often see gender equality as synonymous with advocacy for women? Can you clarify?
If you look globally, there were certain roles that women were cast for which was more in the homemaker role and men were cast for the provider role. If each were respected in those roles, maybe we won't be in the problem that we are in today. What happened was that people started seeing the provider role to be more important and the homemaker role was seen as inferior. So, the dichotomies were being created by that paradigm, whereby we started marching on women and not respecting their contributions or seeing value in the job that they do.
And when any individual feels that they are being subjugated, it is only a matter of time before they start to shout. And that is the same reason why slaves get up and challenge their oppressors. Freedom is one of your integral human rights which you perceive internally. So if you add that to economics, a man only providing became inadequate. There are children to cater for and a single income could not always take care of the needs of the house. The need for a woman to also contribute then became more and more prominent. In addition, even in the roles that women did, they were not given an opportunity for self-realisation. If you look at Abraham Maslow's pyramid of needs, it is not a gender pyramid, it is a human pyramid whereby at the baseline you are more on physiological needs. But as you grow up the pyramid, you start desiring and come to self-actualization. It’s the same thing for a woman. If a woman is playing the homemaker role and not being given the opportunity to express the fullness of her potential, she also starts longing for more. So when we put all of these together, we get to a situation where the woman realises she has all the gifts apart from being a homemaker which she wants to explore and with more and more education and exposure, it then becomes apparent that there is much more she can give and contribute. But the man who has been so used to playing that role is not yet ready to understand the importance of sharing and opening the door wide. They see that as their power being usurped or challenged.
At International Breweries, what is diversity like?
I am very proud of what we have. Even companies that are not in male-dominated spaces like ours have not yet achieved the diversity numbers that we have. For example, we have female forklift drivers. It is typically viewed as a man’s role. Some of the women had never even driven a car before and we brought them in, trained them, and mentored them. We found out that not only were they driving, but were also top performers in forklift driving. Not only have we opened our doors to women, but we also don’t restrict them to the work that is traditionally viewed as mainly a man's job. One that really excited us last year was a female colleague that broke our record in brewing. In a team of five, she single-handedly was responsible for 40 percent of the results. Such a woman will become a trailblazer. And now the men are saying they want more women. Meanwhile, at the point we were moving her in they were doubtful.
Who are the women that inspire you?
I have different people that inspire me in different fields, someone like Mrs. Ibukun Awosika who is doing a lot. I have personal people who I look up to in my Human Resources space. Someone like Funke Amobi, I admire her greatly. Someone like Amina Oyagbola, I admire her greatly as well. These are women who are changing the status quo. Someone like Bolanle Austen-Peters who is in a different environment, I admire so much as well. One of the things I have seen as the common currency with these women is the strive for excellence; that is excellence in whatever field they have chosen to pursue. I think that across different genres where women are playing, they're doing great. Nike Davies-Okundaye of Nike Art Gallery is a trailblazer in driving art appreciation in the country.
Talking about the challenges that you have faced climbing the ladder of your career, how have you been able to tackle them?
One of the challenges I have faced is with men who are of the view that women should be in the home place or at least they have not yet come to the appreciation of equality. I don't say it with any sense of judgement. Sometimes it might be through their family background and the roles they expect women to play. Sometimes people don't yet know that you should have a voice and get affronted when you speak up, you have to learn to navigate that. I believe in respect. Then you realise as a woman, that you're also a teacher and you need to help them on their own journey of appreciating that equality is critical and they need your perspective as a woman for collective good just as you need their perspectives too as men. So, sometimes in my journey, having to balance where you have ‘masculine’ men who would not hesitate to tell you who you are is part of the challenge. I have had friends tell me they walked into a room and were asked if they are there to serve tea or coffee. I have not experienced such. I will even offer you tea but I’ll do it because I want to. In my role as a woman, I have no problem playing the role of a nurturer. I once met one of my colleagues and I went to him to offer him some cream. I'm a woman, I will do that for my children. So I don't think I need to separate my femininity from the job I do. So, for me, I am clear in my being and in my person. One of the things that have helped me is that I have grown to a point where I know I don't need external validation. So I use my own internal moral compass.
When did you come to this self-realisation?
I came to that self-realisation probably at one of the most challenging times of my career when I was having exactly these tussles mostly with male colleagues and constantly fighting and constantly feeling that I needed to prove myself. At that point in time, I was lucky that I was also on a personal leadership journey whereby I was trying to build myself as a leader and I started asking myself some questions, really deep questions about my paradigm. Being able to articulate my person then gave me a sense of confidence whereby I stopped defining myself and my success by the external lens. One of the things I realised was that I was also defining myself based on external views. I realised I needed to do a reset and start defining myself more from within. As we've seen the voice of society is not always the voice of rightness. And so if you allow the society to always be your yardstick, you will sometimes get it wrong.
As a woman, one of the things you need to do as fast as you can is to start to build your own inner moral compass that can then help you navigate through the challenges that you may come across. Have l had to fight for my shirt sometimes? Yes. Have l had to stand up to people? Yes. And have l had to stand up to bullies? Yes
What kind of support system should women have when climbing the ladder of their career?
I think you touched on a very critical point which is the support system. For a woman who is active in her career life rather than in the home, it is absolutely critical. I have a quote I like that says “you have worked for your money; let your money work for you”. I've heard people say they can't have house helps. That also means that you can't have a job that makes you close by 7 pm. So you need to, first of all, be clear on your priorities and what phase you are in. And then you need to build a support system that you can trust. You also need a partner. I don't know many women who have risen through the ranks and do not have supportive partners. You need a partner who is rooting for you, who is proud of you and encourages you. I know of women who have partners that said they need to quit their jobs. That the woman has to choose between the family and her job. It is hard for women to make those choices that by the virtue of their nature, their male counterparts will not have to make. So you need to set your priorities. Also, you must understand as a mother that there are times you will feel guilty. That guilt comes with being a mum in the workplace. So you need to know the things that will be non-compromisable for you even if you want your family life. You also need to be able to forgive yourself for not being there every time. As a mum, I have sometimes found myself singing to my children over the phone or reading a story over the phone or video calling. So you find ways of ensuring that you connect and bond even when you cannot be there.
If you would be speaking with men generally, what role do you think they should play to support women?
Because we don't have enough men advocating, it has become the battle of a woman. But I think that the victory of equality is not a woman’s victory. It’s a society's victory. It’s a country's victory. It’s the world’s victory and when you have that in mind then you know that you also need to be an advocate for equality. If you're in a position to hire, for example, you need to be able to say show me CVs of women. You need to say, let's take a chance on these women. I have sat in a conversation before where they were describing a woman as aggressive and they were talking about a man who was doing exact same thing and they described it as ‘’his drive for results’’. So I'm going to say, why have two labels for the same action? If behaviour is aggressive, it is aggressive irrespective of being a woman or a man. Don’t have gender slurs, things that you use as subtle ways to put down a woman. If somebody is driving for results, irrespective of a man or a woman, he or she is driving for results. Because when you use the labels, you make it seem some behaviour is fine for some and not okay for others. If your behaviour is not acceptable, it is nothing else but not acceptable. Open your mind to the idea that a woman should be given the opportunity of equality. You need to come to the point where you actually feel within you that a woman is equal. Until a man comes to that point, everything you try to do will just be lip service. Understand that equality does not mean uniformity. She's not the same as you and she never will be. But is she equal? Absolutely yes! You have sisters and you have daughters; anything that you would not want to be done to your loved ones, you should never be found doing it. You must be an advocate to promote anything that you will love to be done to your loved ones. There’s a quote I really love from Mother Teresa where she says ‘if there must be war, let it be in my time so that my children may know peace’. I think that should be the mindset. Let’s do it now, so that the future generations to come may have a better place.
Speaking from your economic lens, if Nigerian women were to operate at full potential, how much would they be contributing to the GDP?
Let’s go with 50/50. I think it could even be more. Let me give you an example, a friend of mine is into Forex trading and she leads a team. They had traded for the day and she had set a risk cap and one of the people on her team who is a young maverick ignored the risk cap and took a risk and made $2000 extra. He was celebrating but she said she was going to bar him from trading for the rest of the week because she didn't want that behaviour to be perpetrated. Globally they have found that female Forex Traders turn out more successful than their male counterparts in the long run because they are prudent. They take calculated risks and weigh the impact of their risks. It is interesting that as a man grows older and starts to have a family, his sense of responsibility begins to grow but a woman often from a younger age is already taking responsibilities. She already has that role of being a nurturer for others. So when you bring that into the business, you will find that often, women have the potential to probably be more productive than a man. So I think that there's a possibility that she could actually bring more.
Can you talk more about your passion and advice for younger girls?
I am passionate about younger girls. In my personal life, one of the things I do is run a foundation called Daisy Girl and we are about value-based education for girls. So, what am I seeing with younger girls? I think that because of the sensitive nature of women, I mean the ability to connect, perceive and be intuitive, a lot of younger girls have absorbed and internalised a lot of the messages that the society is spewing at them. Some of these messages are outrightly wrong and false. So when you absorb a wrong message that can even define your sense of self, you already know there's a problem. I have met too many young girls who don't have much confidence in themselves, who don't have self-belief and don't have much sense of value. And if you don't place a premium on yourself, how can people do so on you?. Be careful of the use of ‘I am’ if what you're going to attach to the phrase is not positive. In addition, look for people that you can genuinely admire not because of the wealth they have but because of what they stand for.