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International Women’s Day ‘21: Our collective decision

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Sir: A few years ago, I found myself in a strategy session, which included a number of senior executives from different industries. Frankly, I didn’t think I belonged there. I had received an impromptu invitation the day before to be part of what I assumed was only a brainstorming session. I cannot forget how I started to panic as the people around the table began to introduce themselves. “What exactly am I doing here?” I asked myself.

There was only one other woman at the table and by all ramifications and measures, “she was not my mate.” Somehow, I was the last person to introduce myself. I thought to myself, “What exactly are you going to say?” You see, I had just completed the compulsory NYSC programme six months before this meeting happened and I didn’t have a job at the time. In fact, I was invited for that meeting because I had been extended an offer to be the Brand Communications Manager for a faith-based organisation.

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I cannot remember what I said but I remember feeling very inadequate. I just wanted to go home. I hardly contributed anything when the session started because I felt I had nothing ‘meaningful’ to contribute beside these accomplished individuals. But the other woman at the table made me feel comfortable. She smiled at me, reaffirmed the points I made and helped me to believe in myself. That gave me more confidence to speak up and speak out. At the end of that meeting, I had shared several ideas that were taken on board and implemented.

We all know the different barriers that women face as they push forward in their careers and businesses, so I won’t delve into that. What I want to highlight, however, is the fact that overall success in closing the existing gaps requires collaboration. I’d like to ask you a question – when last did you speak up for another woman? When last did you open the door for a woman coming behind? When last did you stand your ground and do all you could to ensure that the other woman in the room is not treated unjustly? If the other woman in the room didn’t make me feel comfortable and affirm my ideas that day, I’d have most likely left that meeting feeling completely inadequate. Maybe I’d have looked incompetent to the men who were around the table. Thankfully, that did not happen.

Bias and inequality will not disappear overnight. That’s true. I believe, however, that more women can commit to standing up and speaking out for other women. We’re not all confident and bold and life happens to some of us, killing whatever confidence we have. In those moments, your confidence and boldness can rub off on another woman. Your voice can give her a platform to rise and hold her head high. I don’t believe all the women can get a seat at the table all at once, but I do believe the first few who are privileged to get there before others have a role to play in ensuring that more seats are created for other competent women and those women actually do occupy those seats. And when a woman is feeling inadequate and suffering from bouts of imposter syndrome? Please speak a word to encourage her and celebrate her achievements. Help her to shift her perspective. We all need one another in this journey because the existing gender inequality affects all of us. I’ll continue to choose to challenge the status quo. I will continue to speak out so other women can shine. I hope you will do this too. For you, for your friends and for the woman you may never get to meet.

Adedoyin Jaiyesimi is a brand strategist, communication experts and a published author. She writes from Lagos.

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