In Uganda, and regionally, there is the misconception that women don’t belong in the business world, and that are have exceptional qualities that separate them from other women. However, the truth is completely different. Women who eventually become successful are simply ordinary folk that just want to fix a problem so badly that they would do it themselves. In my daily interactions, I continuously come across businesswomen who were holding basic positions in companies, and just decided that it was time to forge their own paths, even though in the African business world, a woman has to work twice as hard as a man in order for her efforts to be acknowledged. It seems to be that the biggest challenge women face in the business world is overcoming the stigma about their ability, and this is even more true for working mothers.
The notion of “a woman in business” is a still sensitive statement in today’s modern world. On average, only 22% of senior management in the global business world are women (http://www.exponentialprograms.com/). This is because in most countries, especially in Africa, women are expected to stay at home and take care of the children, and even when they do work, they are not taken seriously and are left in lower-level jobs.
The expectation that women will have children, and the resulting need for maternity leave, is a huge reason for their marginalisation. Many working environments are not conducive to raising children, and simultaneously raising children and working can be a challenge because of this.
Recently, I worked on a social project with a young working mom as she was just returning to the work force. I observed the way she handled the different important aspects of her life – her family, her studies and her job and she managed to balance it all! Another more senior mother that I work with on environmental projects is also balancing her work and personal life, despite the challenges she faces on a daily basis. She just recently established two companies on top of having to raise two adorable, energetic children.
How do these women do it, when the system is working against them? It sometimes helps to have a supportive partner, but when that is missing, adjusting priorities, managing time effectively and respecting the time slotted to each segment in your life. Jack Welch says it beautifully: “Make sure your work-life balance plan fulfils your dreams and passions”.
As female business owners, we have to face the unfortunate truth that we will most likely be underestimated and undermined when we want to be taken seriously and engage with fellow business owners on an intellectual level. I have realised that the best thing to do is to be firm about what I expect out of an engagement, always act professional, and I often end up stunning people because of this!
There is hope, however, as gender is becoming a priority in many countries, and the United Nations has made achieving gender equality and empowering women their fifth Global Goal for Sustainable Development. There has been more discussion recently about different aspects of the business world including dress-codes, paternity leave, and a better code of ethics, in an attempt to understand what would make for a better, more gender-sensitive work environment. The solution to this is complex, and often involves changing the mindsets of the men in charge. As we start to do this, we can start to create a more adaptive work environment that doesn’t disregard women, and allows both parents to take care of their little ones, without compromising their career.
By Maria Auma
CEO of Blue Luxury Investments