Last Saturday, it was house full at the Goethe Institute as Nigerian Ambassador to the Ivory Coast and career diplomat for the last 33 years spoke to the many lady writers present. The person interviewing her was our good friend, Gloria Mwaniga.
Here’s what we gathered about career, especially for working women:
Madame Ambassador said that in Africa (and places like Nepal), the worst thing that can happen to a girl is early marriage, and I agree. When a girl of high school age is married off, it is like shutting off the tap of her future. All potential is stopped, and her life comes to a crashing halt. She becomes a mother. And that is all she will ever be in her life. “Imagine,” said Ambassador Imefoa Chinbwa, “if Hillary Clinton had been married off at 14 to some old white man in Texas.”
It reminds me of the story where Bill Clinton met Bob, Hillary’s first boyfriend, at some function.
“Aren’t you glad you dumped Bob and met me?” Bill said. “You would never have been First Lady.”
“Had you not married me,” Hillary retorted, “You’d never have been president.”
“True, true,” Bill Clinton nodded, feeling magnanimous. But Hillary wasn’t done.
“But had I married Bob,” she said, “I would still be the First Lady.”
The Ambassador said once a woman has the qualifications, she must now work twice as hard as the men in the workplace, because it is sheer laziness that prevents a lot of folks from progressing.
Be punctual, put in the hours, be polite, push when you need to, deliver quality work and don’t be one of those people always watching the clock. Sheer hard work, she said, often pays off in the end.
She then said: “If your father has taken you all the way through school, from nursery to the university, when you begin working, put aside some savings every month so that you can pay for yourself and do a Masters’ course.” You can never have enough academic papers.
The Ambassador said when one gets married, a good husband is one who will sponsor you for that PhD at 30, seeing as you already got your Masters’ in your twenties. It is true that many Kenyan men are nervous about ‘over’ educated women, but men must learn that whatever she earns is for the family pot (which can be loosely interpreted as ‘plot.’).
Then she said you must ALWAYS volunteer for the ‘dirty’ or hard assignments at work, stay late and give up weekends if it means it will take you farther in your career. Be like the hard working hen in the fable.
‘Who will -?’ asks the boss, and before he can finish, your hand is up like ‘me, me, me.’
So what if your colleagues think you are a boot-licker? The boss will think you are a gem, and when that promotion opens up.
Lastly, she said everyone needs a workplace ‘sponsor.’
A senior figure whom you identify as your mentor, seek advice from like a daughter and who plays the role of a godfather or protector and watches out for your interests.
A man called Tom Olang told madam ambassador what a ‘sponsor’ in Kenyan slang means.
She laughed. “If you as a woman try to carry sexual favours for your career, when the next nice and new young thing comes along, you will be dumped like a hot potato or kicked out of the organisation altogether.”
She did say being a lady boss, after all the hard work and all, is very good.
“The higher you go, the cooler the climate.”