It’s not about you, woman

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One of the things which frustrates me most about women in the workplace in Zimbabwe is the apparent lack of role models for young women to emulate.

I say apparent lack because this is a false shortage, created by the fact that women, even those who are top performers in business, shy away from the spotlight and deliberately choose to play down their achievements. Quite who this false modesty benefits and how, remains a mystery to me.

What is very clear to me is how this disadvantages not just the present generation, but the ones that follow.

While a measure of modesty is understandable and perhaps even desirable, a lifelong habit of placing your lamp under a bushel is not really helpful at all.

For my bashful business boss sisters, the message is this: It’s not, in fact, about you. It’s about all the other women whose lives stand to be transformed by your story.

In March I was asked to speak at a girls’ high school in celebration of Women’s History Month.

The head of this school was a woman, and all she could do was implore me not to mention the name of her school in the press.

Yes, I accept that we have to be careful, this is Zimbabwe after all, and you can get arrested for just about anything.

Ask Honourable Moses Mzila-Ndlovu. But to raise children in this culture of fear is sadly demoralising. What are we modelling then?

After addressing approximately 400 young women who listened intently as my co-presenter, Tina Dooley Jones, PhD, and I talked to them about the empowerment of women and the need to recognise their own strengths, I walked away feeling like we had barely scratched the surface.

How many of these girl children will make it through high school? How many will go on to be high achievers in business?

Not because excelling in business is the only valid measure of success, but because women are in fact incredibly useful in business, and would make a huge impact on the economy.

These are some of the facts presented by Dooley Jones:

Women are exceptional financial managers

Women are more successful at reaching consensus on important global issues, across a wide range of disparate views

Women communicate better than men

Women handle stress better than men

Women are able to work longer and harder than men

In several ways women are better business managers

Women are better at innovation,

Women have better people skills

Women are better at strategy development

I have a friend who holds a doctorate in animal nutrition and has built a brilliant career for herself.

I asked her to blog for a project I am involved in, and listened aghast as she made excuse after excuse.

I repeated to her a quote I have heard used often on myself: “If you want a job done, give it to a busy person.” She was not to be persuaded.

The real reason for her reticence I fear, is a dread of the limelight. But how will your nieces and neighbours know what one can do with a degree in agriculture?

How will they know that there is excitement in feeding cows and chickens?

Should we really perpertuate the habit of only celebrating people after they are dead?

If your contribution is valuable, and I believe it is, then why keep it so low-key that people start making sweeping generalisations about the dearth of successful, serious businesswomen?

Or perhaps the theory is that serious businesswomen don’t court publicity? You have to ask yourself: “What is the cost of this choice, or that choice?” And the cost of your reticence is that the nation is poorer!

Paging through our business papers, you will find very little of women’s voices, and women’s stories.

You may in fact be tempted to believe that the media itself is guilty of a measure of symbolic annihilation where women are concerned.

Not so. It is women themselves who deliberately hold back, creating the impression that there is really little to be said about them.

I have a database of CEOs of top companies which I often use as the basis for guest lists for business events.

On that list are about five women. Yes, just five. Looking back over the year, I observe that out of 30 possible appearances, the women leaders only made three. Most of the men, on the other hand, almost always turned up.

Similarly when one attends regular business networking fora, one often faces a sea of male faces, with only the occasional relief of a female.

This is not because women were not invited, but because they have chosen not to come. They don’t want to “put themselves out there”.

I once heard a first-time father say of his newborn daughter, “I love her so much, I want to share her with everybody.”

I thought this was a brilliant expression of ubuntu/hunhu, as opposed to the thought school which says, “I love her so much I don’t want anybody else to get close to her.”

Of course, it remains to be seen what the proud father will do when said precious daughter is fourteen and the people who want to share her are sixteen-year-old pimply-faced youths with brand new driver’s licences. We’ll see how far his sharing spirit extends then!

However, I digress. My point with this sentiment is that when we have something wonderful, we ought to share it.

And, as the statistics show, our businesswomen are phenomenal.

We’d like to share them with everyone, and particularly with younger women, so they can know what is possible.

More importantly, they can know that if it’s possible for anyone, then it’s possible for them too. Don’t shine for yourself, shine for other women.

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw