‘Women have been subjected to stereotypes that limit their potential’
Atinuke Odjenima is a human resource professional and Principal Partner at Leadscope Consult International, a business management consultancy and training firm, where she helps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) structure and manage their businesses for effectiveness, profitability and growth.
As a nation builder, she expresses her passion for good governance and leadership on the platform of the Hindsight Development Organisation, a non-profit leadership organisation that raises, nurtures and grooms a new cadre of African leaders.
She authored, ‘Living Leadership Daily,’ a personal development guide to live an intentional leadership lifestyle.
Atinuke bagged a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree in Botany from Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) and a Masters degree (M.Sc) in Public and International Affairs from the University of Lagos. She is a senior professional in Human Resources (SPHRi) and member of Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (ACIPM).
A John Maxwell certified coach, speaker and trainer, she is an awardee of the 10 Outstanding Young Persons in Nigeria (2015) of Nigeria Junior Chambers International.
In this interview with KEHINDE OLATUNJI, she speaks on women’s role in nation-building and development and other gender-related issues
What inspired you to pursue a career in social entrepreneurship and national development?
My belief in the potential for a fulfilling, peaceful and prosperous life for all drives my passion for social entrepreneurship and national development. Despite the challenges we face, I am motivated by the opportunity to create a better world. My goal is to help people achieve their full potential by supporting organisations in developing policies, processes and systems that enable individuals to contribute to national development.
For me, living a better life is not just a choice, but a responsibility that we must embrace as individuals and society. By empowering and equipping individuals, we create a ripple effect that transforms families, communities and countries. This is why I am dedicated to social entrepreneurship and national development; they have the power to catalyse positive change and create a better world for everyone.
In essence, I believe that we are all leaders and have the potential to drive meaningful change. As such, I am committed to using my knowledge, skills and resources to contribute to this effort.
What have been your experiences raising and grooming a new cadre of African leaders at Hindsight Development Organisation?
My time at the Hindsight Development Organisation has been a challenging and fulfilling experience. One key realisation that has emerged from my work is the lack of self-awareness that many individuals face. Many people struggle to understand their true potential and the reasons behind their behaviours. To address this, our organisation prioritises providing people with the necessary knowledge and tools to unlock their full potential and become effective leaders in their families and communities.
Our work has also shown us that people from all backgrounds share a common desire for a better life filled with love, peace and material provision. Despite differences in approach, it is inspiring to see how people from diverse backgrounds and cultures come together to work towards this shared goal.We are committed to nurturing a new generation of African leaders who possess the skills and knowledge required to promote sustainable development in their communities. We firmly believe that every person and community has the potential to make a positive impact, and we are passionate about empowering individuals to realise this and thereby create a brighter future for all.
As a leadership development expert, how would you rate the current national leadership in Nigeria?
I hold the view that the current national leadership in Nigeria has various shortcomings. One of the primary concerns is the lack of proper grooming and preparation of leaders at all levels of government, whether elected or appointed. Although every individual possesses leadership potential, deliberate efforts must be made to develop these traits and skills to lead effectively.
Unfortunately, many of our current leaders got their positions through connections, opportunities or a misguided understanding of what leadership entails. Some prioritise personal ambition over the welfare of the people or country, which can be detrimental to effective leadership.
Regarding leadership performance, the current administration has encountered significant challenges, including security issues such as terrorism, kidnapping and clashes between herdsmen and farmers, as well as economic problems such as inflation, high unemployment rates, and a declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Despite these challenges, I believe that the present national leadership has not performed satisfactorily and has not risen to the occasion of effectively leading in difficult times.
In challenging times, leadership competence and capacity are put to test. Regrettably, the current administration has not exhibited the required leadership qualities to address these issues effectively. As a leadership development expert, I believe that it is essential to groom and prepare leaders who possess the necessary competence, vision and commitment to the common good. This is not only critical for the present leadership but also for the future of our nation.
Out of 109 senators that will be representing their constituencies in the 10th National Assembly of the upper house, only six are women. Are you satisfied with this?
Absolutely not! As someone who strongly advocates for gender equality, I find it utterly disappointing that out of the 109 senators in the upper house, only six are women. It is disheartening to see that despite formal support for gender equality in politics, the Nigerian government has been hesitant to implement laws to improve inclusiveness. The fact that political parties have not done enough to encourage women to stand for office is equally appalling.
While some political parties have included gender empowerment principles in their manifestos, it’s nothing but lip service until concrete actions are taken to ensure more women are given opportunities to participate in politics. Women have been subjected to stereotypes that limit their potential, with their leadership capabilities often relegated to the ‘other room’ and kitchen. We need to recognise that women have value and contribute meaningfully to politics. They bring unique perspectives, ideas and initiatives that enrich the political discourse. It’s time we took affirmative action to ensure women’s proper representation in politics and encourage their full participation through policies and their implementation.
What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing women in governance and leadership today?
There exist a multitude of challenges that women in governance and leadership encounter, which encompass socio-cultural, economic and political limitations. Some of these challenges include unconscious bias, lack of mentors, difficult expectations and sexual and gender-based harassment.
Unconscious bias arises from beliefs in gender stereotypes and subconscious attitudes about female abilities, resulting in doubts being cast over their capacity and qualifications. Female leaders also often lack mentors who can offer support and guidance, which is a common occurrence for their male counterparts. Access to strong leadership mentors can be a valuable resource, providing knowledge and helping to set critical goals while holding them accountable for their personal advancement.
Female leaders frequently face challenging or different expectations compared to their male counterparts. They are taken less seriously and are less likely to be granted authoritative roles, typically facing lower expectations. Additionally, women often report feeling compelled to balance respect with likability, conquer preconceptions and confront cultural gender-related expectations.
As women progress into leadership positions, they are also at risk of sexual and gender-based harassment. Such harassment includes unwelcome physical advances, offensive remarks or innuendos and unwanted sexual attention.
In your view, what specific policies or initiatives could help increase women’s representation and participation in governance?
To increase women’s representation and participation in governance, there is a need to change cultural norms through media campaigns and education. Rules and cultural norms surrounding marriage and indigeneship often put female candidates in disadvantaged positions and even disqualify them from running for office. For instance, women may become stateless once they are married, with their state of origin claiming they have adopted their husband’s state, while their husband’s state refuses to recognise them as indigenes.
Leadership development and socio-political programmes can help empower women by providing them with training and mentoring to develop their competencies for political positions. Older women can also serve as advocates and mentors for younger women. Through mentoring in politics, guidance and training programmes, women can prepare for political positions and improve their political abilities.
Economic empowerment is crucial since poverty and illiteracy are socio-economic factors that limit women’s ability to run for public office or even vote. Women should learn how to make money and fundraise.
How do you think gender bias or discrimination in society should be dealt with?
It is crucial to start promoting gender equality and removing biases from an early age.
Within, families and parents should ensure that their children understand that gender should not determine one’s abilities or limitations in certain areas, such as cooking or cleaning. Parents should encourage their children to embrace their unique qualities and recognise the beauty in both genders.
In schools, it is essential to introduce sensitisation programmes and re-orientation and awareness programmes early on. Dividing classes by gender should be minimised to avoid creating a mindset that one gender is better or that there is a need for competition between genders. Teachers should also undergo re-orientation programmes to eliminate any structured biases they may have, such as the belief that one gender is smarter than the other.
The media, both traditional and social, should also play a vital role in promoting gender equality. Content creators and influencers have the power to shape people’s minds and should work towards removing gender bias, even in subtle ways. Advertisements should avoid promoting gender stereotypes, such as portraying cleaning products as exclusively for women or sports as only for men.
Organisations should also make an effort to create a diverse and inclusive workplace that values and respects all employees. Training programmes can help raise awareness of gender bias and discrimination in the workplace and teach employees how to prevent and address these issues. An open-door policy and resources for employees who experience discrimination should be provided to create a culture that encourages employees to speak up about gender bias and discrimination.
What actions do you believe companies can take to promote gender equality in the workplace?
To promote gender equality in the workplace, it is recommended that companies include it in their recruitment policy and enforce strict adherence to its implementation. Recruiters should also use structured interviews, where standardised criteria are used to grade responses and reduce the risk of unconscious bias.
To ensure that women are not earning less than men in equivalent roles, companies should be transparent about wages. Additionally, they should provide women with opportunities to prove themselves as capable leaders who can deliver results and achieve set goals through adequate promotions and assignments.
Finally, inter-gender mentoring should be encouraged to improve gender equality in the workplace. This allows individuals to learn different working and leadership styles, which can promote gender equality.
How do you think women should be informed and involved in issues related to women’s rights and gender equality?
To promote gender equality and women’s rights, it is important to provide education and awareness. Women should be equipped with knowledge and information about topics such as gender stereotypes, gender-based violence and women’s empowerment through workshops, seminars and training sessions.
Moreover, it is crucial to involve women in decision-making processes related to women’s rights and gender equality. This can be achieved by having women participate in policy-making, advocacy and other decision-making forums. By doing so, we can ensure that their voices are heard and that their needs are addressed.
In addition, women should be provided with safe spaces where they can openly discuss issues related to women’s rights and gender equality without the fear of being judged or facing retribution. Such safe spaces can be created through women’s groups, support networks and community-based organisations.
Overall, engaging women in issues related to women’s rights and gender equality can help create a more equitable and just society for all.
What advice would you give to young women who aspire to be involved in governance or politics?
Women should have faith in their abilities and recognise that they possess the necessary skills and qualities to lead at any level within their capacity and competence. They should be aware of their legal and social rights to aspire, desire and compete for leadership positions, whether in public office or private corporations.
To enhance their leadership capabilities, women should engage in lifelong learning, particularly in areas most crucial for effective leadership. It’s important to note that productivity and performance are not gender-specific, and thus women should strive to hone their skills, increase their leadership abilities and deliver excellent results without bias or excuses.
Women should come to the table fully prepared and confidently demonstrate their worth. By doing so, they can make a strong statement about their true potential and capabilities.