If you would have asked my mother how old I would be when I got married, she would have said ‘25’. Well, I’m over 25 and still unmarried so……..‘sorry mummy’. While my mother has taken a break from inquiring as to when I would get married, some nosey aunties are still watching my biological clock and expressing their curiosity about my unmarried status. I’ve maintained the same answer over the years, which is that I am focusing on my career. One of such aunties told me that the focus should be on getting a husband as I can get a career after marriage.

The fact that I can even express my desire to have a successful career is not lost on me due to how patriarchal our society is. However, it is still unfortunate to see that the people who encourage this do not see the effect it has on the economy. In order to keep the status quo and maintain power, injustices such as occupational segregation based on gender still occur. This is the distribution of workers based on their gender. It has resulted in barriers to entry for women, employers assigning jobs based on gender stereotypes, little to lack of women in management positions and gender pay gap. As if this was not bad enough, another dimension has been added.

A national telecommunication company was recently accused of discrimination against married women. They fired 322 employees with the majority (35%) of them being married women. They allegedly told these women, via text, that the reason for there termination was because they were not as flexible as the single women.

By firing these women, this company has lost out on the variety and experience that they added and all for what? (Seriously what? We don’t know yet as the story is still unfolding). Holding single and married women back, preventing them from joining the workforce and limiting the work experience that they have has negative effects on the wider economy. In fact, a recent study by Development Econcomics showed that businesses set up by women in Nigeria over the next 5 years will create 8.9 million jobs and bring in N19.7 billion to the Nigerian economy. What this and other studies show is that it is clear that more people in employment means more people earning and spending money in the economy. It means more taxes are paid which means more money to build and maintain critical infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and schools. It means reduced strike actions as teachers and doctors and other public servants can now be paid fairly and dare I say, the possibility of graduating from government-run universities without spending an extra number of years. How do they not get this?

Unfortunately, companies mirror the cultural practices of the society they are in and incorporate these stereotypes in how they run their businesses. I once worked for a company where I was the youngest female in my team and on one occasion I was asked to serve my team members pizza. By serve, I mean cut a slice, place it on a napkin and hand it to them at their work desks during working hours. I thought about resisting but decided to just go along so that I won’t be accused of bratty behaviour. In hindsight, I should have stood my ground and called out their unprofessionalism as while this may be expected of a young woman at home (story for another time), it should not be expected in the workplace.

Progress has been made on this issue; there’s no denying that. Inititaives such as #SheMeansBusiness launched by Facebook, SheLeadsAfrica and WIMBIZ (an NGO) provide platforms for enterpreurial women to come together, share advice, provide mentorships and make valuable connections that would aid their career development. However, we can still do more by taking regular baby steps. The next time, you are about to make a business decision – think. Have you allowed stereotypes be it gender, cultural or even class affect that decision? If no, give yourself a round of applause. If yes and you don’t want it to, rethink your choice. If yes, and you’re happy for these stereotypes to influence your decision, please give the labour market a heads up so that interested candidates know what type of employer you are.

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