08 Mar Of Biases And Hashtags
Last night, while speaking with Ezi, our creative lead at Speakout Africa on the designs to put up for the international women’s day celebration, I reflected on some of the biases I have faced while navigating life. This year’s theme, #Breakingthebias resonates with almost every woman irrespective of their colour of skin or social status.
Whether in society, work, or home, women are prejudiced. Assumptions are often made for us; will you resign after your baby? Will you turn down the foreign study opportunity because you are married? Can you cope offshore? These biases are established based on gender and nothing else.
For me, at the time I faced certain biases, they felt normal but as the years passed, I realized how ridiculous they were.
The year was 2014. I had just finished my NYSC and was seriously job hunting. Six months had passed and all I had was ‘stage 3’ of company A or ‘Dragnet’ at company B. I spent my time either traveling for exams and interviews or on the Nairaland job/career section. For this company, I had to go to Benin for my interview and was determined to get the job. The interviewer asked the usual why should I hire you? After answering, he started asking if love would not take me out of Benin city. I replied tautly that I was there for a job interview and all I cared for was a job and not love.
The tacit bias that my life and career were dependent on a man was appalling to me. Oh, I got the job and left after 7 months because as I already knew it would be, it was a terrible workplace- story for another day.
In 2015, I went for an interview for a management trainee role at an aviation fueling company at Ikeja. This was after a series of computer-based and paper-based tests. As soon as I walked into the interview room, without checking my qualification, the panelists- who were all men- decided I would be placed in the marketing department. As one of the men put it ‘You would be a great face for our company.’ He would go on to give other compliments which I did not find complimentary. When I spoke against the arbitrary placement, he argued it was not anything dirty like bank marketers. Red Flag! What broke Carmel’s back was being called irrational by one of the panelists for standing my ground on what the process should be as advertised during the application process.
A few years ago, I was working within Federal Ocean Terminal at Onne – Rivers state. The facility where we had lunch had a living quarter for expatriate staff who were mostly men. Every day, at the gate, security would ask me and my other female colleague for our ID cards while our male colleagues were given a free pass. Their reason was that they were avoiding women from harassing the men in the camp. I would always lose my cool. I demanded either they let me in without the humiliating process of showing my ID card or the men would also be asked to show theirs. I succeeded about 75% of the time while at other times, I would show my ID card to avoid wahala. This avoiding wahala is what I call bias normalization.
I think that women have normalized biases and see them as part of everyday life. So, they struggle and navigate through it. Those who succeed are hailed as ‘super woman’ ‘strong Black woman’ or other platitudes. If we are to #Breakthebias, then at the risk of being labelled difficult, obstinate, or bitchy, we must make a deliberate effort to spot and stop biases against women. It would seem however that the burden of ending prejudice against women lies on the very women who are prejudiced.
The biases could be broken through a culture of respect for women, ensuring inclusion at all decision-making levels. Recently, the National Assembly which is made up of over 95% of men voted against five bills that have the potential to reduce some biases women face.
The #breatthebias campaign does seek to pitch women against men as stereotyping is not gender-specific. While I have not experienced a woman-on-woman bias, my friend Dr. Ojiugo has had her fair share. in her words, ” During my pediatrics posting as a house officer, my senior registrar gave me a C in dressing because she said I was dressing like I was a senior colleague rather than a greenhorn. She constantly denigrated my efforts and almost sabotaged my presentation.” Dr. Ojiugo was left wondering the cause of the unfair treatment she received from the said colleague and for fear of retribution and being asked to repeat her posting she buried the hatchet.
Breaking biases require establishing a process and abiding by it. If the aviation fuel company had established a process for management trainees, I would not have been profiled for a marketing role. I have also spoken about the bias I faced as a left–handed person while growing up where people’s concern was how I would serve my future husband food.
Today, I join all women across the globe to celebrate International Women’s Day 2022. Here is to us spotting and stopping biases around us. To us (women) not propagating biases against our fellow women, to everyone irrespective of gender to amplify female voices around you.