Since 2019 when the federal government approved women working night shifts, Nigeria’s largest container terminal, APM Terminals Apapa, began a concerted effort to create opportunities for women in its largely male-dominated operations.
Starting with the employment of female crane operators that same year, the company has gone on to introduce more gender friendly policies as regards its female employees. Women can now be found in previously male dominated roles such as the planning department and banksmen. With this year’s theme for the International Women’s Day being Equity for All, female employees across the three APM Terminals facilities in Nigeria take stock and review the company’s contributions towards gender balance.
One of such areas is encouraging women to not only aspire for leadership positions but to also undergo specific training programs designed to position them for roles in leadership and management. Already, at terminal levels across the country and the national level, APM Terminals has six women in management.
Senior Human Resource Business Partner, APM Terminals Nigeria, Uzoma Ngozi Ben-Ude, reiterates, “In APM Terminals Nigeria, we not only give equal opportunities to both genders, but we also actually go the extra mile to encourage female participation in some of the fields and roles where you have limited participation of females. We also ensure we have female representation in the leadership cadre of the organisation and create an enabling environment for them to succeed in whatever roles they have within the company.”
Not to confuse equality with equity, a distinction must be made between the two. General Manager, Legal and Corporate Affairs, APM Terminals Nigeria, Chinenye Miriam Deinde, while noting the difference, described as positive, the shift in the IWD theme from equality to equity.
According to her, “Equality means I share resources to people equally irrespective of their specific needs. Equity means apportioning resources to persons according to their specific needs in such a way as to level the playing field for everyone. What women want to see is employers looking beyond absolute values and determining what support each employee needs. Women for example may need additional support to be at par with their male colleagues.”
Additional support such as the APM Terminals Strategies for Success (SFS), a training program specifically designed to position women in the junior cadre and middle management level, for leadership positions.
For RTG Operator, APM Terminals/West African Container Terminals Onne, Goodhope Rowland, the International Women’s Day theme resonates on a more personal level. She stated, “I always look forward to every theme that comes with the International Women’s Day celebration. On a personal level, it’s usually an opportunity to get curious and learn something new about a topic. This year’s theme resonates a lot with me, when I think of not just the opportunity that I’ve been given to play in a unique space, but also the privilege of being well equipped to function and succeed in that space, regardless of social definition of concepts such as gender. Now that is what Embrace Equity means, it’s about fairness, giving people equal access to opportunities, dismantling, and strategically addressing systemic oppression and inequalities that potentially stall progress of any kind. Inequalities could be racism, gender discrimination and more, but in the context of the IWD celebration, it’s all about gender gaps and differences in the workplace.”
One cannot speak of equity without inclusion, enabling employees feel comfortable and confident of themselves, working in a way that allows them deliver your business needs.
Customer Service Officer, APM Terminals/WACT, Adaeze Ojukwu, said, Historically, the terminal and shipping business is a male dominated space, with unimaginable opportunities for women. Consequently, as part of its strategy of becoming a Safer, Better and Bigger Terminal, APM Terminals has been on a journey of enabling a highly diverse and inclusive workplace, actively enhancing more female involvement in the business, and ensuring everyone is given a fair chance to succeed in any capacity, taking into cognizance the differences and individual needs of each woman.
Adaeze adds that in her time with APM Terminals, the company effortlessly aided female employees realise their full potentials, while allowing for introspection on how to become better. This has expectedly led to an increase in the number of female employees with remarkable presence in roles that previously enjoyed only male presence.
“In APM Terminals Nigeria, women are also stamping their presence in leadership positions, where, along with their male counterparts, they are held accountable for progress in diversity and inclusion agenda, demonstrating APM Terminals’ commitment to the cause,” she said.
Making gender friendly policies and enabling equity in the work environment is not without its challenges and pitfalls. As with all positive ideas and policies, there is always the human element to look out for. Uzoma aptly captures this. She said, “Biases and stereotypes always come in the way of having a truly diverse work environment. There are stereotypes about roles that should be done by men and women and sometimes people are not open to the possibilities of having the female gender in certain roles and levels of responsibility within the organisation.
“In addition, people perceive creating an enabling environment for women as creating double standards and as such might not welcome the opportunity for inclusion, and we therefore can lose the huge benefit of having a diverse workforce where everyone is contributing from different perspectives and the performance of the organisation is enhanced.”
To counter this human element, Chinenye pointed the need for all leaders to be conscious of their individual biases. Specifically she said, “Bias is a big issue because it is unconscious. As an employer and a leader, you may not be aware that you have this bias. So we need to ask ourselves what unconscious biases do we have? It is important to shine the torchlight on these unconscious biases by confronting ourselves honestly if we are to make fair decisions.”
To ensure inclusivity, APM Terminals focuses on gender equity and inclusion right from the point of recruitment through the employee life cycle. Employees are mandated to undergo a Diversity, Equality and Inclusion training to create awareness about unconscious biases and how they can stifle equity in the workplace.
Uzoma adds, “We ensure that we demonstrate a duty of care towards our female employees by creating female gender sensitive policies and environment to ensure they can perform at their best. We also provide good health care system and have family support programs.”
Customer Service Officer, APM Terminals Kano, Fatima Yakubu Aliyu, throws more light on some of the gender friendly policies, describing them as encouraging to female employees to aspire further. She said, “As at the time I joined APM Terminals a few years ago, the Human Resource Manager was a lady. I was impressed; it was encouraging to know that I could also aspire to management.
“The company has a great maternity program; four months of paid leave and 6-month back to work program that allow you to resume later and close earlier than normal work hours. This way, it makes adjustment back to work after maternity easier on the women.”
There is still much to be done in ensuring workplace equity and closing the gender gap. However, the first steps begin with acknowledging the loopholes and the courage to make the necessary changes.