She might not have had much to work with in the beginning but Dr Yemisi was determined to leave her mark and ensure that her legacy outlived her. Besides starting her own media company, IQ4 News, Dr Yemisi Akinbobola went on to win a CNN African Journalist Award in 2016 for her investigative piece about trafficking of young West African football hopefuls by fake agents. She later co-founded African Women in Media and is a Lecturer & Strategic Lead, Internationalisation of Research at Birmingham School of Media. She sat down with EVE Digital Editor, Njambi Mungai, to talk about her journey.
EVE: What inspired you to start AWIM?
Dr. Yemisi: Part of my journey involved running my own media outfit which put me right in the middle of the journalism landscape. It gave me a first-hand look into the challenges and opportunities that African women face. But it’s the training we got after the CNN award that really opened up my mind into how we support African women in the media, where are they, how are we connecting to each other or how we are learning from each other? It is not just about the gender issues, but also showcasing African women in media as experts in all areas of the industry.
So I went back to the AWIM page that I had opened a while back and reactivated it. I started by inviting friends and organized the first meetup at Birmingham which attracted about 50 people in 2017. In 2018, I took the conference to Nigeria and the turnout was more than I could have imagined. This year we brought it to Nairobi because of its vibrant media landscape.
EVE: What was the most challenging part of your journey in media?
Dr. Yemisi: For me it was being treated differently when people I was pitching to discovered that Dr Yemisi is actually a woman. Some would start doubting my qualifications or ability to get the job done. Others thought that I was too weak to take on a role. I have had instances where men try to help but end up being patronizing. The sad reality especially as a female entrepreneur is that people are less willing to invest in you because you are a woman. But it should not stop you. I try to show my daughters that they should grow up not letting their gender be an obstacle to what they really want to do.
EVE: How do you manage work and family?
Dr. Yemisi: Well that question is both annoying as well as valid. Because if it was a man sitting here, that question would not arise. But it is also very valid because the way our society is set up, women have to shoulder the family responsibilities as well as their career responsibilities without complain.
I am lucky to have a very forward thinking husband who has offered support all through. My husband is happy to look after our 3 children and doesn’t measure his manliness by how much he limits me. He is supportive of when I have to travel or take on long assignments. So it starts with having the right support structure.
Second, I have got excellent time management skills. Time management is one of those skills that will change your life. It will teach you the difference between important and urgent. If you come across a course teaching time management, please invest in that.
Third, find something you love so it doesn’t feel like a job. I love what I do and believe in contributing to society and having an impact. That drives me every day.
EVE: For women aiming for leadership, what tips do you have for them?
Dr. Yemisi: The easy answer would be just do it, but it’s not that easy. There are so many factors that come into leadership.
It’s also important to note that leadership is subjective. Don't assume that leadership only means being a manager or a director or CEO. There are so many areas of leadership such as how are you a leader as a junior reporter? How are you a leader in your role as a stay at home parent?
But here are the tips I live by.
I believe in the power of networking and relationship building. In being ready for when the opportunity presenting itself. Which means that even if you are not there yet, you are practicing, reading and skilling yourself up. Even if your organization is not offering these skills, you are finding them your own way. You have to be resilient, persistent and you have to have passion. Finally, have a plan, nothing happens without a plan. I have a 3 year plan, a 5 year plan and 10 year plan. I dedicate the months of October, November and December to planning for the next year. Also don't focus on 10 million goals, have that one thing and be the best at it.
EVE: In light of this year's theme Visibility and Showcase, what advice do you have for women who are trying to be seen or heard in their area of focus?
Dr. Yemisi: A woman has a job to make herself visible. If no one is blowing your trumpet, you need to blow it yourself. Especially in this digital age, you have platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter to let the public know about your achievements and plans. So many channels in which you can be the controller of your own narrative. Make yourself shine even when your organization is not making you shine
The other level is organizations need to commit to create spaces where employees are recognized for their achievements. To also create a level playing field where employees regardless of gender can shine if they so wish.
EVE: What is the role of organization and society in helping women achieve their goals?
Dr. Yemisi: Maternity rights is a big issue for women. Many countries have recognized that it’s not just maternity leave, it’s about parental leave. Parents should be given the opportunity to choose whether a mother can take 3 months off then a father can take the other 3 months to raise the child. Because truth be told, this miracle of life called childbirth does in the current setup end up holding back women in the career path. I have had three babies which means i have had to take 3 maternity leaves. This has impacted the growth of my career with male colleagues who we started with moving faster up the ladder because they did not have to take this kind of breaks.
The organization’s role and policy maker’s role is to first ensure the security of women’s jobs while they are pregnant and on maternity leave, they also need to protect and support the women when they come back from maternity leave. By ensuring that she is given a clean, private space to be able to express and store milk, to ensure that she is given flexi time to be able to go home early to look after her child. To protect women against unfair treatment. For this to happen, it will need support from the national level, societal level as well as international level.
EVE: What can we expect from the AWIM 2019 conference?
Dr. Yemisi: Anyone who works in the media industry from film, marketing, communication, journalism or academia will find alot of beneficial information and experience at this conference.
I would like to point out that the conversation is not for women. This conference is also open to men since we are talking about real industry issues. There are also a lot of men who are trying to further women’s rights and those who need to know more about women's rights.
The three day conference will have with speakers and panels to talk about global innovations, post truth and misinformation, violence and policy, public sphere, film and content among many areas, showcasing women as experts in their field. There will also be a showcase segment where attendees will be able to register and book themselves as speakers. We will create open spaces for women to represent themselves. There will be workshops where they can skill up and learn new things around investigative journalism, data journalism etc. Attendees will also get the chance to win awards through pitching ideas around free trade, migration, free movement in Africa etc. The awards come with a production grant of $2000 each.
The AWIM2019 will take place at the University of Nairobi Towers from July 25 to July 27. Get your tickets here to be part of the largest gathering of African Women in Media.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Evewoman.co.ke