I am building a little network of friends over here. Just like me, they lived a relatively comfortable existence in the West and came over with this disillusioned romantic ideal that they could make a difference and just like me have not exactly given up but just trying to get by without offending anyone.
There is one particular female friend of mine, our lives seem to be almost parallel, when she talks about her experiences in this country it makes me feel better in the fact that “it’s not just me”. She is used to the fact that when you are at work, your opinion counts irrespective of which level of management you are in. Here, it’s all about status, if you are not high level management, you are just supposed to do what you are told, and complain that it is not going to work to others just like you, but nothing changes because the person you are complaining to has about just as much autonomy as you do.
She too is working for a multinational, thinking that at least the mindset would be a bit more advanced, but just like me is learning to hold her tongue and get by until she can build enough capital to start something of her own. At least, when you are running your own business, it is on you to dictate the course of your business and surround yourself with people who you feel will contribute to your success. With any job, especially when you are the new person. It’s just like being the last born in the family, you can’t pick and choose who you want, and they were before you entered.
The glass ceiling, Ghana as with everything else is now starting to join the party. It is slowly shattering but sometimes it feels like some of the women bosses are there to fill a quota as opposed to being truly qualified. I remember when I first came to the country I had a wonderful female boss. She was strong but fair and truly deserved to be in her position. She knew her job and she knew how to lead so she would give credit where it was due but could also give you a bollocking if you trod on her toes. If one of her guys messed up, she would defend them openly, but behind closed doors would give them a slap.
She spent a lot of time abroad and so for her it wasn’t about “being the boss”, we would regularly have meetings and everyone was free to air their opinion. She pushed forward the people who she felt deserve it and encourage those who were lagging behind to strive for more. Obviously there were one or two who were just happy in their position (and getting their side deals), but she tried.
She pushed me to interview for a certain position, I aced the interview but was told that I would not get the job. When I asked the director for feedback, he said that for this role, although I was the best candidate for the role, he would prefer to bring in an expat. It was a bit of a slap in the face, no actually a big slap in the face but at least he was honest. She wasn’t surprised when I moved on, she told me that she would have loved me to have stayed but she understood.
Since then, I don’t think I have experienced anybody like her. I don’t think this is a problem solely with Africa, I think that some women in high positions feel that it took them so long to get that they feel you too should go through same. I remember when I was working for the government. I had been there less than a year when a position came up for promotion.
I was already doing the job with the addition of being the photocopy person and well I wasn’t going for the position of head of cardiothoracic surgery. My female boss said that I had not been there long enough so she would not endorse me. Luckily for me, my head of unit (male) asked her why not, she gave him the same excuse, and he asked her if she thinks I am not competent enough to do the job. She said she did, so he asked her what was the problem, long story short she begrudgingly endorsed my application and I got the job.
So anyway, back to my friend, she was asked to take on a role by someone she knew. The lady had a reputation in her previous company as being a bit of a cow but they had always been pleasant to each other. She took the role, but is now wondering if she made the right decision.
The lady,(I will call Madam Z) had been in her previous position for 10 years, had been passed on for promotion and became miserable. The reason Madam Z got passed on for promotion in her other company was not because she was not a good manager, in fact she was technically brilliant and very efficient. The trouble is that she came across as a bit of a bitch and so the company wondered whether she would make a good leader.
Since the two have started working, Madam Z has shown to have no people skills, apart from hello, every interation is done remotely and often quite condescending.
For example, they sit two seats away, yet every communication is done via email. My friend had to request for a phone. The notification came through from IT that the phone had arrived and so she went to go and sort it out. The IT people had said that there s no phone port, and as she has just started she as she was hot desking so when she has a permanent place of abode they will fix it.
The next day she gets an email in her inbox please follow up with IT for phone. Like really, this is a person who has more degrees than me and lobbied at court on Human Rights issues, I am not sure if she had to wait for an email for common sense but ok.
That same day there was a meeting, apparently there was an issue with stock and there was a lot of arguing between her boss and another member of staff but there was no solution. So my friend steps up with an offer of a solution. Her manager shoots her the death stare and totally ignores her then goes back to arguing and showing off her Bogga powers. Well she is the boss afterall.
On another occasion her boss tells her that they have to start looking at the weekly targets as well as the monthly targets. Now a target has to be measured against something. She was not told whether she needs to split the monthly target in 4 or a percentage share each week, so she asks for more clarification. Her boss felt that repeating the same thing 3 times but without actually answering the point was sufficient. In the end she gave up and asked somebody else.
After a meeting one day, the boss asked for any comments, my friend came up with a few suggestions, not realising that it was just a formality but her opinion was not really in question, it was something her boss remembered used to be done in the old company so though she would apply it here. The boss actually got a bit offended when the suggestions were raised and gave the old “that’s not how we do it here”. It surprised my friend because the culture they had come from was one of innovation but she was talking to someone who was technically good but innovatively not so good. So I told her what my mum told me, shut up and keep quiet, you can’t change the world, and you definitely can’t change Africa. Her boss has waited 10 years to get to where she was and she wasn’t going to pull her up with it. So, get on with it until an opportunity presents itself to move up whether it be where she is now or somewhere else.
I remember a guy I used to work with, every company he moved to, he would bring along his best guys and he’d look after them, put them in decent positions and bounced off them. He took care of his own and in turn they took care of him. He is one very successful man because he knew how to use his resources well. I guess that’s the difference in the species, but maybe because they have been at it much longer than us females. I hope we get it one day and start helping each other instead of being a bitch and forgetting our colleagues when we have perceived to have made it. I am not saying my friend should be in a better or worse position than she is now, but even in my short time I see what she has to offer, and I feel the frustration in her wanting to pour it out but being told to keep a lid on it.
For her boss, I see many like her all the time. They are the ones that perform very well in exams and as such perform well in interviews. They are technically brilliant and have enough technical knowledge to get to where they are. Then they get stuck in a rut because, the higher you go it is not about how well you can manage but how best you can lead. In these multinationals these days, they are very big on this 360® feedback. When your subordinates continue to say that they are not gaining anything from your leadership, well you got a short term gain but in the long term, you end up at a traffic light which is permanently on red.
Sometimes, when a person gets passed over in such a manger, you wonder what they are lacking especially when they are doing well but instead of asking “what am I lacking”, we think that it is because we are not liked or we are too good at what we are doing. Sometimes though you do have to look deeper and look at what you are doing to hold you back. Yes, sometimes it is the power of others holding us back, sometimes it is ourselves.
Being a good leader, yes you have to be strong to survive in a man’s world. You have to know when to fight. You have to make sure you are on top of your game. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be a bitch.