Ikokwu: Women Vital to Nigeria’s Socio-economic Development

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The Chief Marketing Officer of OVH Energy, Lilian Ikokwu, in this interview on the back of the just celebrated International Women’s Day, stressed the need for more women to be encouraged to play active part in Nigeria’s socioeconomic development process in order to achieve the desired results. Ikokwu, also highlighted measures put in place by OVH Energy to give equal support to both genders in and outside the organisation, advising women especially the youths, to take their destiny in their hands. Peter Uzoho brings the excerpts:

Do you think women in Nigeria are given enough opportunities to grow?

Well, if opportunities are looked at in two ways: conducive environment, and freedom to grow, on the first, which is conducive environment, I would say not enough has been done across all sectors to enable women to fully participate. There are still many gender-biased roles not only pushed by men but also women. Secondly, on freedom to grow, I believe women in Nigeria, to a large extent, have less restrictions to speak up or go for what they want. In the end, the desire to grow is a personal decision and the force to drive it can only come from us. Shirley Chisholm, the first African- American Woman to be elected to US congress, said, and I quote: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your folding chair”. Women need to make the move and not always sit back and wait to be recommended or appointed.

In summary, in Nigeria, we are not yet where we should be in terms of giving women the opportunities to grow but some progress has been made over the past few years. Women can grow more if we are more involved in creating the opportunities and taking the front seat in our empowerment.

How would you describe the role of women in nation development in Nigeria?

I believe in the quote from Hilary Clinton, which says: “When women participate in the economy, everyone benefits”. You see, women have an innate ability to multi-task and give full attention to all tasks to elicit desired result. The more women are included in nation development, the more efficient and effective that process is.

I think that Nigeria will blossom economically and socially if we allow more women to participate. The reforms required need the women’s viewpoint to drive the changes we desperately need. A nation’s development needs the input of both competent men and women. The women should not be left out!

Can you share some of the limiting gender stereotypes you have faced in your private sector career?

The typical limiting gender stereotypes I have faced in my career is that, you are seeing as being emotional. So a man can get upset at work and scold the team and/or protest about unsavory comments/situations, he is seen as a strong and objective leader. When a woman does the same, she is said to be emotional. This tends to keep women from voicing out objective criticisms and/or speaking out when situations demand that they do.

How were you able to overcome such limiting gender stereotypes?

I always tend to mentally step back and ask myself if what I want to voice out makes sense -is it constructive and does it add value? If it does, I do speak out sometimes with the passion it requires. Other times, I am more subtle so as not to step on egos. Women should never make themselves victims, rather find a balance that allows them preserve their mental health and own their voice.

Women all over the world, including Nigeria, face varied challenges such as socio-cultural limitations, workplace inequalities, among others. How has OVH Energy as a private company contributed to reverse the situation?

Yes, OVH Energy is very conscious about the gender balance in the workplace. Even though the percentage is still more skewed to men than women, the company has in place an equal gender employment policy that can see the ratio change as more competent women bring their ‘A’ game. The company‘s promotion at work is performance-based, thereby making sure that women can get to the very top of the organization if they put in their best. Both genders are celebrated and recognised across the usual national events such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, paternity and maternity leave, etc. We also have confidential and anonymous platforms to support any gender in reporting harassment or perceived biases of any kind.

What is your take on the rising cases of sexual harassment and other inhuman treatments melted out to women especially in corporate environment? How are such social malaise affecting the Nigerian society?

Speaking from a corporate environment perspective, sexual harassment can only prevail if an organisation is not responsible enough to put in place platforms that would allow both genders to report and also impose strict sanctions for anyone found culpable. I believe it’s a lot easier to manage this within the corporate environment than in the wider society. Sexual harassment is becoming a pandemic in our society today and should be tackled quickly as it’s now escalating to more rape cases. Sexual harassment eats away at the victims’ mental health and will affect the society at large if not curtailed.

What is your advice to young women out there?

My advice to young ladies is for them to develop themselves through acquiring skills, education, etc. Don’t leave your growth in anyone’s hands. Demand more from yourself so you can demand more from the society. Don’t accept to be a victim, don’t dwell on gender biases but focus on your aspirations and dreams. You are in charge!