"Where are the other women?" My conversations surrounding women in the workplace

01 January 2023

As part of International Women’s Day 2023, we’re celebrating the Inspiring Women from our MBA programmes by digging into their experiences around the theme of equity.

Full-time MBA participant, Tola Amure, shares some of the meaningful conversations she has had with colleagues, exploring equity in the workplace.

The alarm startled me awake at 6:30 am and though my head throbbed from poring through documents into the twilight, I sat up quickly. The day was a big day, negotiations would kick off on a transaction that started 12 months ago, and we were finally steps closer to closing the deal! Just as quickly as I sat up, excitement changed to mixed feelings. I remembered the negotiation team’s attendee list; 19 men, and one woman. I had been one of the few women in a room many times, but this time it was just me. As I rubbed the last hints of sleep away from my eyes and stood up from the bed, I wondered, “where are the other women?”.

“Where are the other women?” is a question I had asked myself many times before then and was a conversation topic that had sometimes come up with people I’d worked with. 

In one of these conversations, Clara (name changed), a finance executive at a multinational oil and gas company and the only female in her country's senior management team, revealed that some organisations don’t have cultures that support women to remain in the workforce. She had observed a pattern where women join her organisation and leave as they approach middle management. Most of them seemed to leave around a similar stage in their life, seemingly choosing family over career after not being left with many choices. Having observed this trend, Clara created flexible structures, a supportive environment and guilt-free passes for the women in her team. Clara’s team had a 60:40 men/women split vs. 90:10 for most of the other teams in her organisation.

Another conversation with Temi (name changed), an investment banker, hinted at cultural dynamics. Temi had noticed cultural dynamics sometimes meant that some women waited to speak until they are asked, at the cost of their “visibility”. Temi also thought that cultural perceptions of women being less ambitious than men meant that women don’t readily raise their hands for challenging opportunities, either because they believe they have achieved so much already, or they doubt their abilities. More often than not, they are as capable as the men taking those opportunities. In sectors where technical skills and hard work are almost a given, visibility and taking up opportunities can make the difference between who gets promoted and who doesn’t, and when that promotion happens. Temi’s conclusion was that women need to be conscious and aware of the impact of not challenging these perceptions.

Gary (name changed), a diversity and inclusion champion for a consumer goods company, shed some light from a different perspective. His organisation had set diversity and inclusion goals which included increasing the proportion of female leaders in the company. However, the day-to-day actions were incongruent with their goals. Male managers still had a subconscious bias towards hiring males. The plan to move from the current gender distribution to the target was not operationalised. Not much was being done to nurture and retain female talent to ensure there is a pipeline of potential female leaders. His organisation was talking the talk, but not walking the walk. 

As the driver’s voice calling my attention to arrival at our destination brought me out of my reflections, one word reverberated in my head - “intentional”. How are organisations being intentional about gender diversity? How are managers being intentional about supporting women in the workplace? How are women being intentional about taking bold steps or speaking up against biases? How are women, who have walked the path, being intentional about pulling others in or up?

Today, as we celebrate all women, the pacesetters who have gone before us, those who are carrying the torch now and those that will come after, let us be intentional about having more women at the table. Let’s be intentional about keeping women at the table. Let’s be intentional about making our voices heard, not once but often. To truly #embraceequity, we have to be intentional.

Happy IWD 2023!

Discover more Inspiring Women on our MBA programmes


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