Organised by Funmilayo Nihinlola Osuolale (2011 Scholar from Nigeria, PhD in Chemical Engineering, Newcastle University), Tinuade Jolaade Afolabi (2017 Academic Fellow from Nigeria, Energy Efficiency, Newcastle University) and Toyosi Tunde-Akindtunde (2011 Academic Fellow from Nigeria, Food Science, University of Lincoln)

On Tuesday 10 March 2020, students and staff from various leadership cadres at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) in Nigeria, gathered to attend a half-day event to mark International Women’s Day for the first time since its inception in 1990. The event was organised to promote Sustainable Development Goal 5 in achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls through a half-day event on ’Empowering Women in academia for Leadership Roles’.

A group of female members of NAWACS and ACPEN stand together smiling and posing for the camera

Members of NAWACS and ACPEN who attended the event

Every key group at LAUTECH was represented, alongside external groups, including the National Association of Women Academics (NAWACS) LAUTECH chapter, Association of Professional Women Engineers (APWEN), Ogbomoso chapter, and the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE), Ogbomoso chapter. The event brought together over 200 people, including members of the public.

The event was organised to challenge the bias that fewer women are found in leadership roles and aimed to encourage female attendees to actively strive for leadership positions by removing all forms of limitation. The event called for the few women in leadership positions at LAUTECH to mentor others and see the importance of collaboration to help others move into leadership positions and pathways, and sensitise senior staff members at LAUTECH to actively think about gender and seek for ways to have women inclusive administration.

It is found that STEM courses, and ultimately professionals in STEM, are dominated by males in developing countries such as Nigeria. The few females that venture into this male dominated arena are often side-lined and rendered invisible, especially in leadership positions. This dominance is pronounced at LAUTECH compared to other conventional universities because most of the courses offered are science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related.

In the Faculty of Engineering and Technology, for example, the dean, deputy dean, and five out of seven heads of department are all male. The Department of Mechanical Engineering has no female members of academic staff, while the Departments of Computer Engineering, Electronic and Electrical Engineering have one female academic staff member each. It is no surprise then that since the inception of the Faculty, there has not been a female dean and that female representation in other leadership positions are limited. the present Librarian is the first female among the principal officers since the inception of LAUTECH thirty years ago. It is with this backdrop that the theme of the event, ‘Empowering Women in Academia for Leadership Positions’ was chosen.

The event included a talk and symposium and was attended by university officials, including the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor M O Liasu attended on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Professor M O Ologunde. He was joined by other senior LAUTECH staff members, including the Registrar, Dr  K A Ogunleye, the Finance Officer from the Faculty of Engineering, Mrs Bakare attending on behalf of the bursar, deans of the Faculties of Engineering and Technology, Agricultural Science, Food and Consumer Science, and Computing and Informatics. Heads of departments were also in attendance, including the University Medical Director, Dr Olusola Onawumi, Information and Communication Technology Director, and Dr Baale, Pre-degree Science Programme Director, Professor Funmi Adekunle.

Two external speakers were invited:

  • Professor Stella O Odebode, immediate former Gender Mainstream Officer, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
  • Monica Orisadare, Director, Center for Gender and Social Policy, Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria

An equal world is an enabled world

Professor Odebode addressed the key theme of the event in her speech. She stated that the time of celebrating International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on the progress made while also calling for further change. While some progress has been made, she noted that women in society are often treated as less human and second-class citizens. She opined that ‘gender’ is a social reality with significance for conducting research, advancing knowledge, and developing innovation. As such, gender issues must be shared among families, social networks, and communities in order to make a change to achieve equality. She pointed out that gender inequality in Nigeria is a key factor contributing to the overall marginalisation of women and socio-economic inequalities and therefore, in discussing issues with family and at work, discriminating against women should be discouraged and women’s roles should not be limited to social and welfare committees.

She continued by stressing that an equal world is an enabled world. This can be made possible when male and female are given equal access to opportunities and resources, when everyone has the right to be what he or she wants to be, when there is no discrimination against any gender, when all forms of violence against all women and girls are eliminated. She pointed out that women lead differently to men and therefore it is important that they are represented in leadership positions. Women leaders are creative, transparent, lead with ingenuity, and resourcefulness. She ended her speech by challenging women to develop themselves and others by making time for themselves and build bridges with the present and the future. She urged women to mentor someone and create a platform to help others to achieve their goals.

Following the opening speech, speakers took part in a symposium titled, ‘Equality not female privilege nor male privilege, chaired by Professor T J Afolabi, Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at LAUTECH. Speakers included:

  • Dr Monica Orisadare, Director, Centre for Gender and Social Policy, Obafemi Awolowo University
  • Professor R O Rom Kalilu, Dean, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, LAUTECH
  • Professor E O Okunade,Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics & Extension, LAUTECH
  • Professor A T J Ogunkunle, Professor, Department of Pure and Applied Biology, LAUTECH

Discussions between the speakers addressed gender equality in society. The speakers covered factors that influence our actions and/or inactions directly or indirectly, including cultural, traditional, and religious factors. For example, Africans generally have a patriarchy background where the father is seen as the leader and the only decision maker. Africa also operates a capitalist system of government that puts a man at an advantage of controlling the finances of the family. Gender roles have been developed in response to these factors and as such, societal expectations from women on financial responsibilities, decision making, ways to speak, time spent at home in rearing children and homemaking, are far different from that of men. Therefore, it is not uncommon for women who deviates from these societal norms to be given names and subject to ridicule.

The speakers mentioned that the practice of ascribing definitive roles to men or women leads to gender stereotypes that often violate human rights and fundamental freedoms. For example, women have been stereotyped as home makers, even when in full time paid employment. Gender stereotypes put restrictions on the ability of men or women to develop to their full potential and enhance gender discrimination, often at the expense of women.

The reality is that it is neither a woman’s world nor a man’s world. Both genders have their roles to play in sustaining and developing society at large. Gender equality is a win-win situation for all and achieving gender equality is, therefore, not optional but a must for every society and organisation. The speakers emphasised that gender equality is achieved when men and women enjoy the same rights and privileges in all aspects of life and that bias should no longer affect our attitudes and actions.

Challenges faced by female academics to take up leadership roles

Some of the organisers and speakers stand together posing for the camera

Event organisers and speakers

Following the symposium, female attendees shared their thoughts about some of the challenges they faced to attain leadership roles. This included lack confidence, low self-esteem, gender discrimination, cultural norms, marital challenges, and a lack of support from female peers, to name a few. They indicated ways to overcome these challenges, with some stating that women should see themselves as unique. In their feedback about the event, A attendees shared that they felt more empowered as women, and that they should not feel inferior to men or feel they are a weak gender. Many felt that celebrating International Women’s Day had been a positive step forward and that they would try to pursue leadership roles in their professional and personal life.

Photos from the event are available on CSC Flickr