Striving for Inclusion in Championing Gender Balance


Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that for Sahara Group, the recently commemorated International Women’s Day was more than just a day marked out to celebrate women, rather it was an opportunity to shift from being women-centric to striving for male inclusion in championing a more gender-balanced and enabled world

Globally, every March 8 is dedicated to honouring the achievements of women in all spheres of life. On that day, women from different backgrounds and culture come together to fight for women’s rights and address issues of bias. This year, its theme was a timely call to action for improvement of women’s situations globally.

This year, the 2020 International Women’s Day (IWD) themed ‘I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights’, which aligns with UN Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality, which also marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, was marked on Sunday, March 8.

Although they align their brand with celebrating IWD, for Sahara Group, this year’s celebration was somewhat different. They organised programs and events to include men which created an opportunity for them to engage and learn practical steps needed for supporting women at home and in the workplace.

It is projected that by the year 2030, the world will have 8.5 billion people and since women and girls represent half of the world’s population, they represent half of its potential. Each year, the International Women’s Day is set aside to celebrate women and advocate for equal social, economic and political opportunities for both genders.

But asides celebrating on one day, the conversations it produces usually outlast the day and create louder visibility for the issues women face in society. Also, on that day, it is quite common to hear people jokingly ask questions like “how may women’s day will we celebrate in one year, what of men’s day?”, with pockets of people arguing about feminism and the different forms of it.

Now more than ever, there is a sense of urgency in closing the gender gap as studies from the World Economic Forum have shown that the economic costs associated with the unlevel playing field has impeded the advancement of many nations, and when this gap is closed, GDP can increase by as much as 35 per cent due to reduction in unemployment rates.

A report by states that in sub-Saharan Africa, 45 per cent fewer women than men have access to the internet and if an additional 600 million women and girls globally gained access to the Internet in the next three years, GDP across 144 developing countries could be boosted by up to $13-18 billion.

In Nigeria alone, the rise of internet adoption and social media usage has provided young women with avenues to run online businesses which ultimately contribute to the GDP of the country, showing that when issues affecting women are addressed, everybody benefits.

In the workplace, inequality hampers productivity and growth of organisations as women and men bring different skills which can impact the financial performance of institutions.

For instance, it is widely claimed that the advent of women into architectural design and engineering saw the addition of accessibility capabilities such as ramps and disabled parking to building and street design. This is because being primary care givers, women were more familiar with pushing prams and wheelchairs and understood the importance of creating spaces that meet the needs of all people.

As a famous quote says, “If you do not have a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu” and although this proverbial table is not gender- specific, women are encouraged to shatter the glass ceilings and make it into top decision-making positions where they can create solutions for global problems and shape the world.

Doris Oji, Procurement Manager at Sahara Group and World Economic Forum Global Shaper believes there are many benefits that the world has gained as a result of increased awareness to the plight of women.

“Although we are far from achieving gender parity, there has been tremendous progress. In 2020, women’s leadership and representation in senior management roles have increased. For instance, the engineering sector which used to be a “boys’ club” has in recent times, seen women lead some of the world’s largest engineering companies, such as Mary Barra – CEO of General Motors, Marilynn Hewson – CEO of Lockheed Martins, and in Nigeria, Folake Soetan – Ag. CEO Ikeja Electric,” Oji stated.

Thus, by closing the gender gap at the top level of organisations, younger women are presented with positive role models who they can aspire to becoming in their various sectors.

With this year’s theme being #EachForEqual, the focus is shifting from being women-centric to striving for male inclusion in championing a more gender-balanced and enabled world. In Sahara’s Group’s celebration of IWD this year, more programs and events were organised to include men which created an opportunity for them to engage and learn practical steps needed for supporting women at home and in the workplace.

“Gender Equality is second nature to us at Sahara Group as the organisation is passionate about equal opportunity for all, creating platforms for all employees in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East to develop and grow without any ceilings, irrespective of gender,” says Ivie Imasogie-Adigun, Group Head, Human Resources, Sahara Group.

Ivie’s comment sums up what the norm should be across the globe, although, we would certainly have situations where deliberate measures would be required to provide buffers and incentives for apparently marginalise gender groups.

The fun part of the IWD celebration came alive at Egbin Power Plc, an affiliate of Sahara Group where the day was marked by giving the mantle of leadership to a young female engineer as the ‘CEO for a day”. This was keenly contested by two young women and the entire organisation held an election exercise to select the winner.

All through the campaign, it was refreshing to see young men supporting these women, canvassing for votes for them and extolling their leadership qualities. This type of collaboration and allyship is needed to create a gender-equal world in which all genders can thrive and advance.

Ultimately, the aim is to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 which aims to provide women and girls everywhere with equal rights and opportunity to enable them to live free of violence and discrimination.

According to the UN, the achievement of the other sixteen SDGs depends on the achievement of Goal 5 and so it requires a collaboration of all stakeholders and genders. Looking to the future, it is hoped that asides globally celebrating women on IWD, organisations create enabling environments and cultures that allow women thrive to ensure their contribution is amplified and appreciated each and every day.

Procurement Manager, Sahara Group, Doris Oji