The 2021 International Women’s Day Theme is ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 World’. And the narrative goes like this:
‘A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.’
So, now let me share how I personally choose to challenge:
I choose to challenge the status quo
Who said farmers can’t understand technology, and who said women can’t lead?
At the Ghana Commodity Exchange (GCX) we agreed it was time for us to do something different. Introducing a structured trading system which, apart from allowing food crops and other commodities purchased through the Exchange to be available for Ghanaians, is transparent and allows sellers (mainly smallholder farmers) to sell their crops for fair prices and buyers to access quality food, safe crops – all of which are guaranteed by the company.
Our team works daily to promote inclusivity for youth and women, and is seeing more of both playing increasing roles in bridging agriculture and technology. Financial inclusion is also a firm part of the agenda, whereby our company and systems create guarantees which enable lower-income earners to access affordable loans using only their commodities as collateral.
We work with many market actors across the ecosystem, but a large number of our membership base is smallholder farmers farming food crops in a traditional manner – who are now using technology to market their goods. COVID-19 has shown us just how important technology has become in every area of our lives. Thankfully, technology is central to the GCX proposition.
A great example of women leading in the civil society sector during this COVID-19 era is Juliet Amoah, Executive Director of Penplusbytes. Penplusbytes is a not-for-profit organisation driving change through using new digital technologies to enable good governance and accountability. As part of the response in managing the COVID-19 crisis, the organisation created an ‘Info for All’ Digital Platform.
COVID-19 affects vulnerable groups the most, and marginalises them further as they struggle with access to information. Penplusbytes worked with the Ghana language Bureau and Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations to launch a social media campaign to spread information about COVID-19 among vulnerable communities, such as the elderly, those with disabilities and other disadvantaged people in 10 main Ghanaian languages – using technology such as audio playbacks and braille infographs, all on a mashed up tech platform.
Their project also sought to inform and educate the general public about the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus by increasing public awareness on scientifically proven steps for reducing spread of the pandemic; and on using media information literacy (MIL) principles to get the public to appreciate good news from mis/disinformation and the possible weaponisation of content being generated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I choose to challenge pre-conceptions and wrong perceptions
A summary of different studies reveals the following Perceptions about Gender & Leadership:
Perception is important – men are more likely overall to be chosen or rated as leaders, in part because they have more assertive personalities and thus spoke up more. But when groups interacted for more than 20 minutes, men and women were equally likely to emerge as leaders. (Personnel Psychology 2018)
The Women Leaders Global Forum unveilled the Reykjavik Index for Leadership, done in partnership with Kantar, which looks at perceptions and biases in the G7 during 2018. The study revealed that the gap in perception between men and women is very small – in G7 countries, only 66% of men viewed women equal to men for leadership positions across 20 sectors vs only 72% of women. In other words, women were only slightly better respondents (by 6%) than men. This doesn’t help to correct the perception.
Constantly distinguishing between male and female leadership and maintaining a narrative about differences between the sexes rather than their styles, content and form of leadership keeps us from recognising the essence of strong leadership. I believe that leadership is for the courageous and compassionate. I don’t define it by gender. Leaders are needed most in times of crisis, and crises like COVID-19 need the efforts of everyone. Men and women should therefore contribute equally and be recognised equally.
I choose to challenge Discrimination
In a ‘millennial world’, older workers are not favoured when it comes to employment. The thinking is that they will not bring any ideas to organisations, and perhaps slow them down. What they don’t grasp is the wealth of wisdom many older workers bring when it comes to critical thinking and cultivating harmony in the workplace.
The converse is also true. People find it hard to reconcile youth with leadership. But the youngest Prime Minister New Zealand has ever had is a woman, and she has been recognised for her stellar leadership at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
I cannot stress enough how valuable I believe diversity in the workplace to be. The range of ideas, the depth of analysis, and the dynamism of execution are all at a peak when different minds, different cultures, different sexes – basically people of different dispositions, come to the table.
The different perspectives only enrich the work. People must therefore be selected for their unique offering, provided they identify with values of the organisation or the cause. As a leader, I get to play a role in shaping this for the organisations in which I have influence. Through GCX, I get to do this on behalf of our members and partners too.
I choose to challenge Bias
These include perceptions that successful, competent women are less ‘nice’; that a strong performance by women is due to hard work rather than skills; and assumptions that women are less committed to their careers.
You’d be surprised by how many women are nervous to share news of pregnancy for fear that their bosses will not approve because it means more time off for maternity leave. Both male and female managers will tell you it’s bothersome hiring women, because at some point they are likely to go off on maternity leave. Jacinta Arden became Prime Minister, discovered she was pregnant, and went on to lead her country (firmly and compassionately) through the pandemic anyway.
We celebrate Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala today, but we recognise that her ascent was not an easy one because despite her unparalleled qualifications, experience and fitness for the role of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO); global politics and both conscious and unconscious bias moved some powers, notably the Trump administration, to block her candidacy. Thankfully, competence, skill and hard work trumped!
I choose to challenge conventional wisdom
Conventional ‘wisdom’ says that women may be in leadership roles but they have no power.
In the public sector of Ghana today, women in political office have occupied very influential positions. We have had a female Chief of Staff, Attorney General & Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Communication, to name a few. Given the influence wielding these roles endow, they cannot be considered ‘token’ positions. While we may still have a long way to go, we shouldn’t deny the progress that has been made.
The same goes for civil society and the private sector. Women are creating new businesses and leading the entrepreneurial sector in Ghana and other parts of Africa. At the height of the pandemic in April 2020, Nora Bannerman led Sleek Garments to manufacture PPEs locally; creating jobs and reducing the need to import goods that could be obtained locally.
In order to reduce the burden of the few testing and diagnostics centres in the country and increase access to these services for more Ghanaians, Pamela Zormelo has led a team to establish Omni Diagnostics. With the continent’s growing population, without new businesses there will be insufficient jobs to cater for the growing youth numbers over the next three, five and ten years. These factors tell me that women have the power to influence policy and also the power to create jobs.
Women have the power to bring about change. Those who choose to challenge do just that.
>>>the writer is a Business Leader, Chartered Marketer and Communicator. She is currently the CEO of the Ghana Commodity Exchange. For more of her insights on leadership, visit tucciivowi.com