Can the African Woman Have It All – A Successful Career and a Successful Home? (pt. 1)

Folorunsho Alakija/image credit: forbes.com

Can women be successful in their careers and still keep their homes or families? Or is it a case of sacrificing one for the other? It is said that behind every successful man, there is a woman.

But can we look behind a successful woman and find a man? Is it possible for women to have it all – a successful career and a happy home? And why can’t the woman have it all? Please let’s put aside feminism and chauvinism and look at this issue dispassionately; purely from the perspective of an HR professional.

For a very long time I held the view that women, particularly, African women could easily have a successful career or business and still be able to keep their homes (families, husbands and children) intact. But my recent experiences have made me to rethink this view. When I got married in 2014, I had to relocate to Cape Coast after living and working in Accra, the capital city of Ghana for a long time. This move meant that I relocated the headquarters of my HR consultancy business which I had just started to Cape Coast. Not relocating to Cape Coast would have meant that I needed to give up on marriage since my husband, like a lot of African men, was not willing to give up his employment for marriage as an African woman would be expected to do.

As a result of the natural tendency for men to love their jobs first before family, it is easier for them to make decisions in favour of their careers in relation to building a family than it is for women to do so. This is because a woman often would actually want to have both a successful family and a successful career and therefore would be willing to make compromises to make this possible. In a case where a woman decides not to relocate, she may have to forfeit family for career which might not make her feel totally fulfilled even when she has a very successful career.

So the woman is usually in a dilemma – to go all out for career or all out for family. In such dilemmas, the African society expects the woman to sacrifice the development of her career for marriage or for the development of family. In the case where a man even defers to her wife, his family and society might ridicule him for doing so; which then predisposes a lot of African men to never yield in terms of compromising for the sake of their wives. I acknowledge however that a husband’s refusal to compromise for his wife might not necessarily be because he wants to exert his male dominance but may be due to other factors; including love for their jobs which was the case of my husband with respect to my having to relocate to Cape Coast.

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Indeed, Accra is the business hub of Ghana ─ a very good place to start, nurture and grow a business. But Cape Coast is a sharp contrast ─ not as active, business wise; the few formal businesses there have their headquarters in Accra; and if you want to source for business from them, you need to go to Accra, an inconvenience in terms of time, effort and cost. This situation has affected the growth of my business. But for marriage, I would still be in Accra and my business would be doing well.

Secondly, just about the time the business started picking up with one or two corporate clients, I got pregnant. And when I did, my doctor advised me to stay off work till delivery. At that time, the company had hired two employees – an Office Assistant and an Administrative and Marketing Manager. When it happened that I had to stay off work, I handed over to our Administrative and Marketing Manager, but she couldn’t hold the fort so I had to suspend business until I delivered.

And now, after staying off work for over a year, I have to start all over again. When this happened, it dawned on me that it is not so easy for a woman to have a successful career or business and have a successful home without facing some challenges. In contrast, a man does not face the challenge of pregnancy and its effect on a woman in terms of her career.

I am sure a lot of African women can relate to my story. There are many career women who leave their jobs to raise their children or look after their homes. Sometimes as HR professionals and employers, we prefer to have certain positions filled by men instead of women for obvious reasons. Sometimes we wonder if a mother will be able to deliver efficiently at a given role or position. Evidently, some scholars have said that motherhood usually leads to a definite bias in employment against women seeking jobs in traditionally male-dominated settings (Heilman & Okimoto, 2008).

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Research indicates that though professional aspirations of today’s African career woman continue to rise, as soon as she becomes a mother her priorities are expected to change. The African society expects a career woman to be a good wife and mother before anything else; behaving otherwise often makes her lose respect. Many African women consider their role as a mother more important than their work or career. This is because the African society frowns upon a woman who attains great success at her career at the expense of her home and family. So can the African woman be able to fulfil society’s expectation of being a good wife and mother, and still pursue her career aspirations? I will say Yes, it is possible but not without support from her family, employer and society at large.

Maternity leave provisions are essential for a working woman to effectively transition from pregnancy to motherhood. In Ghana, the Labour Law, Act 651, makes provision for a maternity leave of at least twelve (12) weeks. The Act extends the maternity leave for additional two weeks if the mother experiences abnormality or gives birth to two or more children. The Act also makes provision for one hour interruption for a nursing mother to feed her baby. But as to whether these provisions serve the needs of the working mother is a debate for another time.

In the international circles too, there is a debate as to whether women can have it all – a successful career, and successful and happy home – or not. In her book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg indicated that women can have successful careers and family lives. She said women can still further their careers and have successful homes if they don’t slow down their careers before deciding to start a family, do away with unattainable goals, and make sure their colleagues are aware when women are held to different standards than men, particularly when women succeed.

But Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president of the New America Foundation and a University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, thinks otherwise. Having resigned as the Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department to take care of her children, Anne-Marie says in her article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, we should stop fooling ourselves as women thinking that we could have it all. She said women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich and self-employed. She criticises Sandberg’s assertions to the effect that Sandberg has oversimplified the issues, and that it will take more than a woman having an ambition to be able to successfully pursue her career and still maintain her family life. She intimated that women have very little or no control over most of the challenges that confront them as far as career – family life balance is concerned.

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But the question is: Must we forfeit our careers in order to have a successful home and family? I don’t think so. There are a few African women who have been able to successfully balance their family and career or business. In Ghana, we have Her Ladyship Justice Mrs Georgina Theodora Wood, Chief Justice of Ghana; Mrs Comfort Ocran, CEO, Legacy & Legacy; Mrs Sheila Yamusah, CEO, Airside Hotel and Deputy CEO, Best Western Premier, Accra Airport Hotel; Mrs Patience Akyianu, MD, Barclays Bank; and Mrs Edith Dankwa, CEO, Business and Financial Times. In Nigeria, mention can be made of Mrs Sola David-Borha, CEO Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC; Mrs Bola Adesola, MD/CEO Standard Chartered; Mrs Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Actress, Singer, Activist and Philanthropist; and Mrs Bola Olawale, Publisher of GEM magazine – a Christian/inspirational lifestyle magazine and convener of the annual GEM BSS Summit. Their stories are stories of hope, assuring us that it is possible for the African woman to have a successful career and be successful as a wife and mother.

Again, I take inspiration from the woman in Proverbs 31. She successfully navigated her roles as a career woman, a wife, a mother, and a worshipper of God. If she was able to do it, I believe we could too, albeit challenging. However, we need to examine the traits that enabled her to combine being a successful entrepreneur with being a successful home maker so they could guide us in successfully combining our family lives with our careers. Some of the traits she exhibited were diligence, trustworthiness, selflessness, conscientiousness, effective time management and good planning. Further, what can we do, as African women to keep our career goals and aspirations alive and still maintain our homes? Here are a few suggestions.

Continue in part 2


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