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Up the gratitude, ditch the attitude

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
30 April 2016   |   2:03 am
How much attitude do you witness all around you daily that makes you wonder why we just cannot treat each other with just about enough decency, manners and compassion befitting a human?


How much attitude do you witness all around you daily that makes you wonder why we just cannot treat each other with just about enough decency, manners and compassion befitting a human?

From the woman that cuts you in traffic to the office witch who behaves like she’s always getting up on the wrong side of the bed… From the old gossip who has the 411 on the goings-on at your estate and relishes any opportunity to dish the dirt on her neighbour’s daughter who happens to be the same age as hers but head and shoulders above when it comes to beauty, to the diva in your circle who shows up at every party only to spend the whole night hissing at her suitors, side-eyeing the competition and scoffing at the entertainment while eating her weight in finger food. It is as is we are constantly surrounded by women – and it is almost always women – who live in the imaginary hair salon in their heads, filing their nails, popping bubble gums and mastering the art of giving major ‘tude.

My professional life has taken me from journalist to editor to publicist to marketing director, and I am proud to say I have batted off my fair share of divas in every step of the way. The writer who got offended when she was told her work did not suit our publication? Check. The publicist who – as Nigerian as she was – point blank turned down my press request as “the label does not work with African publications”? Check. The client who asked for way more freebies than her budget accommodated (and on most occasions, got them, as a new client) and yet had the audacity to complain her expectations were not met? The intern who had the cheek to say blogging about style was beneath her? Check. The celebrity who asked to be paid for a cover shoot because “You are using my face to sell magazine, abi”? Check. You name it, I have seen it.

Now more on the side of branding and marketing, I am further from the media frontline where the clash of the titanic egos occurs daily. And I cannot thank God (and my boss!) enough for that. Don’t get me wrong: occasionally, I still get the attitude – most recently from a prospective Nigerian writer whose call I happened to take on behalf of the editor who, after being told the editor will be the one getting back to his sample work I asked him to email over, proceeded to send me an email asking why I had not responded and ring my phone off the hook for two days until he was told in no uncertain terms to wait for the editor’s response. But these days such experiences are few and far between.

In the last two months I had the opportunity to be in the company of engaging, entertaining and inspirational women. First at the inaugural New African Woman Forum and Awards in London on 10-11 March in the presence of leading ladies such as HE Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, Obiageli Ezekwesili, Bineta Diop, UN Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, Nigerian architect and business woman Olajumoke Adenowo, not only the New African Woman in Business Award winner but also the cover star of NAW’s latest edition. They all exuded grace, elegance and a quiet confidence.

Then at the African Development Week 2016 in Addis Ababa between 31 March-5 April, I got to interview H. E. Mrs. Fatima Haram Acyl, Commissioner for Trade and Industry, African Union and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, GAVI Chairperson and the former Finance Minister of Nigeria. Mrs. Acyl was an absolute charm even as I accosted her for an interview while she was standing all by herself outside the conference hall while Dr. Okonjo-Iweala indulged my request even though she was about to leave the venue.

What became obvious to me, in the presence of these inspirational women, is that the wider one’s circle of influence, the lower her insolence. The bigger the gratitude, the less the diva attitude. These women were divas alright – powerful trend-setters, shot-callers, game-changers – minus the attitude. There were no side-eyes, no sneers, no sass; instead they carried themselves with infinite grace that comes from an innermost sense of confidence that does not require any outwardly shows of power. Their demands go way beyond a first class plane ticket, or the latest Birkin bag, they all demanded fair play, equal pay and gender parity.

We are in a world increasingly dominated by so-called influencers who love themselves almost as much as Kanye loves Kanye with a constant craving for self-publicity to rival the whole Kardashian clan. Our mogulettes in the making (or the faking!) go about every minute of life Snapchatting each mundane moment looking at the camera, doe-eyed, as Beyonce sings ‘Slay bitch’ on the car stereo or posting #islayok selfies on Instagram, giving little thought to the fact that there may be a reason success and substance are not too far from each other in the dictionary, and that followers and likes hardly ever constitutes influence beyond smartphone screens, and, without a firm foundation, insta-fame can diminish as instantly as it came.

While marketing offices across the globe may be interested in an influencer’s social media following; without substance, will she still be as relevant when countless others are in the making every second, or will she graduate on to calling the shots in the boardroom?

Sadly, often enough, our divas du jour forget one eternal truth: you may have to brown nose the same people on your way down whom you pooped on on the way up. I recall an emerging designer, back in the days, who not only cut all ties with me after being on the receiving end of this truth, but also went on to badmouth me in the industry. Let’s just say, she is no longer the freshly minted currency, and for that attitude, she lost would-be life-time fan. Often enough, they confuse cockiness with confidence, arrogance with assertiveness, stinking attitude with standards. The result? A miserable mess of meanness.

Just remember how much awe and respect women like Banda, Ezekwesili, Diop inspire without even having to flex ‘fierce’. Just remember how respectfully we speak of Prince who passed away two weeks ago – despite an illustrious career as one of the entertainers of the 20th century, a musical genius who could play any instrument he laid eyes on, a fashion icon who married masculine and feminine styles seamlessly, we never saw Prince having nonsensical twitter rants about his God-like talent. His was calm, quiet, confidence. Be like Prince – up the talent, ditch the ‘tude.